There’s no such thing as digital marketing

I’ve been to a number of digital conferences over the last few years. And whilst the technology in that time has changed dramatically – along with the dazzling array of buzz-words and acronyms that accompany it – one underlying theme has remained 100% consistent throughout.

To succeed in the digital world, the most important thing you have to know does not concern Drupal vs WordPress or Maxymiser vs Optimizely. In fact it has nothing to do with new technology at all but has everything to do with old knowledge – knowledge that was developed in that far away offline world before the internet was even dreamt of. Because what you have to understand is good old advertising and marketing practice.

And this applies whatever your market, whatever your business model. Whether you’re selling automotive, launching a new product or raising funds for your charity, nothing has changed in the last 20 years except the technology.

It’s true, of course, that the technology has given us some new ways to do the same old things. Just as a car can get you from London to Bristol quicker than a horse and cart, social media can build brand friendly communities quicker than a membership club (and sometimes lose them quicker too). But just as travel is still travel, so advertising is still advertising, fundraising is still fundraising – whatever your medium.

And yet, even though this has been the consistent out-take from every conference I’ve attended over the last decade, it’s a sub-text which many of the speakers themselves are simply not aware of. And why should they be? Many are too young to have worked in (or perhaps even to remember) a pre-digital environment. What’s more, they may well have come into the business from a technological rather than a marketing background. As a result, they learn marketing as they go along and it’s entirely understandable that in the process they imagine they have discovered something new.

What’s more, the idea that the whole world changed with the discovery of the internet and that the entire marketing manual had to be rewritten with the advent of Web 2.0, has been pedaled from the outset. I remember attending a DMA run conference almost ten years ago at which speaker after speaker insisted that digital marketing was ‘not about the technology’. Whereas in fact, of course, that’s exactly what it was about then, is about now and will always be about.

Anyone who has ever done any teaching, training or lecturing will know it can be a great pleasure to see bright young minds grasping a concept for the first time. Suddenly the discoveries that were passed on to you long ago and that you now wish to pass on in turn, will appear to them as if fresh minted. For older ad men like me, there’s a similar pleasure to be had watching, listening and talking to many of the speakers and delegates at digital conferences. But it’s a pleasure that would be seriously undermined if they were learning those lessons and discovering those principles not in a conference room, but on one of my live jobs – on my time and on my budget.

Which is why the ultimate conclusion I have come to after all those conferences and conversations is this. When choosing the team you are going to work with on your next ‘digital’ campaign or appeal, don’t ask, ‘Do they know digital?’ Ask, ‘Do they know marketing?’


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