‘Digital’ or ‘marketing’, to be or not to be? Do clients really care?

Research company Forrester is predicting that we’ll be dropping the word digital marketing for just marketing in 2013. You can see that two ways, digital just becomes part of the marketing mix and looses it’s identity, or it’s the ‘all things to all briefs‘ solution so no other discipline matters. Either way, Forrester are talking rubbish in my humble opinion.

But it has stimulated one of the most pointless debates I’ve heard in the industry for years – I’m not sure where Forrester are really coming from – it all smacks of ivory tower thinking. But then again, who cares what they think? Next they’ll be saying, will classical music be called just music in 2013?“

On LinkedIn it’s brought out the arrogance of a few digital evangelists. The facts are, we all work in marketing and the smart ones embrace what is best not what is trendy.

Within our marketing industry we have a complex mix of disciplines, channels specialism and now technology and they all thrive because different briefs need different solutions. There is no one solution fits all. Digital, in its many forms is great for some briefs, but fails on others. Big Media – TV and Out Of Home – still kicks harder than any to build brands and awareness quickly but fails on certain briefs.  And Sales Promotion is brilliant at driving… well, sales. The list goes on.

Only a fool would hang their hat on one. That’s why we opted for the term ‘integrated thinking’.

The problem starts with the problem that you can’t actually define digital as one thing, it’s like saying classical music – it comes in many forms and is just another form of music. So to say, “will classical music be called just music” is pompous. I think the phrase ‘inherently digital’, used in the Forrester report, really refers to technology linked. There’s a difference between digital marketing and marketing using technology. Is a digital poster digital marketing, or a poster that uses digital technology?

Take Facebook, the number one reason people sign up is for the promotions (number two is to complain), so is Facebook really Promotional Marketing? Anything that actions a response can be called Direct Marketing. Anything that builds a brand can be called Brand Marketing. Any thing that seeks to inform can be called Advertising (from the French word to inform). And anything that delivers an experience can be called Experiential Marketing. All of which you’ll find embracing digital. I can go on, the list is endless. So when is it digital and when is it a specialism? Is that why Forrester suggests dropping digital?

No one denies spend on digital is rising but dissect the figures and 80% of that is search. Leaving digital advertising as a smaller player in the market than many others. However, we are all embracing technology (the forth element) and that is changing the way we think and work, and not just in marketing execution – we all use computers and smart phones now, for example.

Today we combine elements, embrace technology and use different channels in different ways to try and deliver across the whole customer journey. From ‘pillow to pillow’ we can use a vast range of techniques and technologies to reach our customer at key touch points as they move through the day. Those of us who are genuine integrated thinkers, do this naturally. The fact is, we just have a bigger tool kit to help our clients achieve their objectives, and focusing o one tool is irrelevant. The real skills comes in how to use the different tools together.

And here is another debate, is social media really digital? Online obviously, but word of mouth is by definition social media, and 90% of conversations about brands happen off line (and that’s a well researched fact). So therefore it’s only 10% digital…debate!

Notably, most disciplines have dropped the marketing to be called by the first name. So the logic is, we call it digital and that’s exactly what most of us do.

Sadly people like their religions. We’ve seen this for generations as marketing people define their marketing tribes like football supporters and defend them as the best, whilst looking down on all the others. No wonder clients think we’re all a bunch of over grown egotistical public school kids. We need to grow up and stop being so petty. It’s not a game, it’s business.

And at the end of the day, the client wants to engage his customer, deliver his message and sell more. How we do that is less important to them than how well we do it, because results still matter.