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Integrated digital marketing is here to stay

Are we entering a 'post-digital world’?

I'm hearing more and more people saying we're heading into a post digital world. Although these ‘buzz-words’ tend to grab the headlines but I don't think digital is over yet.

In business, language is most useful when it communicates unambiguously. ‘Digital’ currently still means something distinct from ‘offline’. I certainly prefer ‘digital marketing’ to ‘interactive’ or ‘new media’ which never meant very much, even in the 1990s!

By the way, one term I really can’t get my head around is ‘inbound marketing’. Let’s agree never to use it!

[Editor's note: I think inbound marketing is here to stay as a term thanks to Hubspot Mike, since it's popular and helps distinguish between the benefits and approaches of digital marketing against online marketing. But I know what you mean, it essentially means the same as digital marketing!]

I believe we still need digital marketing as a way of emphasising the need for a strategy for how we use digital technologies to grow businesses. Many companies are still just taking their first steps into using digital marketing and the rate of introduction of new techniques mean that they need to develop a structured way to apply digital marketing approaches.

Integrating digital marketing with offline channels

One of the biggest changes in the last couple of years has been the emergence of digital as a brand-building medium.

Early internet pioneers tended to be ecommerce/ direct response marketers (building on Mail Order and the growth of Direct Marketing in the ’80s) but things have changed. In society generally, digital is now mainstream (why are offline journalists so obsessed with Twitter?).

We are now seeing a recognition by Marketing Directors and their ‘above the line’ creative agencies that people are spending significant amounts of their total waking time looking at screens other than TV; that means at least some ‘awareness’ advertising needs to move online, if for no other reason than to reinforce and complement TV, radio, press and poster advertising.

Achieving consumer (and B2B) engagement with digital media may not result in immediate sales but that’s generally the case with image building/ awareness advertising. We’re also seeing offline driving search; recently, I was training a very famous ad agency’s Account Management Department in Digital and they all know it’s increasingly important to their jobs; both as part of the user journey/ buying process but also in terms of how the ad agency is measured! (If they’re not searching, it’s not working!).

In the UK, Thinkbox and the IAB have done some very interesting work about how offline and online can work together; the IDM has shown that email and direct mail are a powerful combination. The problem is attitudinal but also structural, viz. the dreaded ‘silos’ (is it only farmers who like silos? Everyone else is talking about the need to break them down…). It’s just a matter of time though. This is the hottest topic in marketing right now; no wonder Econsultancy’s ‘JUMP!’ event was a complete sell-out last year and is sure to be again in 2011.

The future for digital marketing

Experience tells us that new media channels rarely ‘kill’ the existing ones. Instead all the media settle down alongside each other. There is some substitution inevitably, but look at the rise of ‘3-screeners’; sofa-surfers with iPad and smartphone in hand and TV on behind them. Fragmentation is increasing.

Currently ‘digital’ is generally understood to mean the 'new' marketing channels created by the invention and rapid growth of the internet and worldwide web. However the picture is already blurring: what about web-enabled TV? Mobile apps to let you scan your own groceries instore, outdoor ads with QR codes and/or cameras to allow interaction? Radio ads and posters telling consumers to ‘like us on Facebook’?

In the early days of TV advertising, it was considered weird/ geeky/ minority for a while: and rightly so while its household penetration was low. However as TV boomed and a set appeared in every living room, so marketers took it more seriously and diverted spend from other media. The ad agencies moved to build and integrate appropriate creative, production and media resources to create and deliver TV Advertising.

Soon planners, creatives and ‘suits’ in big ad agencies were all capable of working across TV, radio, press and posters. We’re seeing something very similar with digital and it’s happening right now. In 5 years’ time, we’ll be looking at a much more integrated marketing landscape and ‘digital’, if used at all, will just be a descriptor for a group of electronic media channels. As such, it won’t have the cachet it has today. Nor will Mobile. Of course, there will always be something new!

How does digital marketing change the way marketing services are delivered

I’m currently working with several of the big London ad agencies and they are all busy hiring very bright people who ‘get’ digital. Hard-pressed CMOs don’t want multiple suppliers.

The future of agencies, like the future of marketing, will be integrated; the ‘pureplay’ digital shops will either extend their resources to include offline or they will become specialist suppliers to (or be acquired by) the big ad agencies.

Client company team structures will require some painful re-engineering; many organisations have already grasped this nettle and forced together the offline and online teams. This, of course, is a natural and necessary process. Marketing is changing but then it always has been. It’s going to be exciting. Talented, well-trained, hard-working individuals in marketing have nothing to fear from the future; there will always be a need for specialists.

By Expert commentator

This is a post we’ve invited from a digital marketing specialist who has agreed to share their expertise, opinions and case studies. Their details are given at the end of the article.

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