We’re 20+ years into the commercialization of the Internet, and while every year seems to have a new watershed, are we at a tipping point in what we can expect from digital? Well, the digital gap is widening.
For me it started in marketing and has been a crawl towards encompassing an entire client business. In 1994, I was an advertising copywriter doing radio, TV and print when the web started to emerge as a marketing channel. The first interactive assignment was juicy — a web site for giant Nabisco. Our idea was a virtual community of metaphorical neighborhoods for the various cookie and cracker brands, a town hall for corporate communications and a fitness center for human resources. The easy part was the brochure-ware for products and corporate information, but we also co-opted inspiration from threaded conversations on list-serves and set up message boards. Two-way dialogue? Crazy. Should it be moderated? Whose job would it be at Nabisco – customer service or marketing? Producing the site was another matter. Few then knew how to code except a production shop over on West 39th Street called R. Greenberg Associates. (Note: A decade later, I’d walk through those R/GA gates again as a very lucky creative director).
The next challenge extended beyond marketing to sales. Our client Rayovac signed a media deal with Prodigy Online Service (owned by IBM and Sears then!) to sell its renewable batteries directly to consumers, brazenly skirting the sacred retail channel. Prodigy would handle the transaction and the client would handle fulfillment. What sticks with me still is more than the shift of sales to a digital channel but the idea you could use technology to actually streamline a well-established process. After all, just because things had always worked in a certain way (e.g., sales through a retailer) didn’t mean it was necessarily the best way for these pricier niche battery systems. The shift was true for the creative process as well. Instead of the agency creatives doing everything in our ivory tower, the Prodigy team did 80 percent of the creative (concept, copy, art) and 100 percent of the production. OMG.
As for many in marketing, the work over the next two decades was a diverse mix of online advertising, email, gaming, content development, media and ecommerce. Innovation would compete with best practices to achieve acquisition, conversion and loyalty goals. We’d learn to launch products online first, apply direct marketing principles to digital channels, automate media buying, and re-imagine storytelling of the 1950s through podcasts, video and now social platforms. Breakthroughs appeared regularly, whether it was technology-driven advances such as mega-compression or new digital experience such as self-destructing content.
Digital could do so much — articulate a brand story, attract new customers, involve them in R&D, give you a real-time quote, re-order groceries before you ran out and track your fitness on your wrist. Every day in digital has always been like finding out your favorite store has 10 more floors—and then fearlessly sketching out another two.
From marketing to product, experience and ops, the aperture for digital keeps widening.
This month, I completed my first 12 months in brand consulting. What’s different for me is that the perch now not only has a view of inbound and outbound marketing, but also across the client’s enterprise, which five years ago was not even on my radar. Now before media planning and ad briefs, we’re tasked to envision digital in business strategy, digital in customer experience, digital in operations, digital in product development, digital in employee engagement, and all those databases on insanely different platforms.
I still love the innovation and creativity in digital marketing. That work reinforces and extends a brand strategy. We know successful campaigns nudge the needle and even stunts can be brand acts. But what I’ve noticed is that businesses can cramp their potential if they don’t look for more lasting creative impact from digital across the entire enterprise.
Digital transformation is a journey of digitizing your entire business — from updating your brand for the digital era, redefining your value proposition, having a data strategy, and, of course, improving marketing and customer experience. Digital, not just in uncoordinated pockets but as a coherent and purposeful plan, can help you grow.
Where are the digital enterprise awards?
This time of year is high season for creative and effectiveness awards. I’ve served as a Cannes Lions Juror, an Effie Judge and a John Caples board member, and I respect them all, but in light of the tipping point we’re at now, it does makes me ask: Where are the awards for not only the ephemeral campaign, site or app but for a client actually digitizing their business? You know, hard deliberate choices that impact a business for years instead of a spike in sales, engagements or mentions.
From the clients I talk to, most do not lack for the volume or velocity of endeavors using technology, but the effort towards digital strategy seems to be focused more on communications and far less on the business itself. This includes marketing, but also tackles product, service, people and ops. There are exceptions of course. IBM, Burberry, and our client Electrolux all are emphatically digitizing their entire businesses and would make any nominee list.
Markets are moving faster. Customer adoption of technology is higher. Innovation, one could argue, may even be getting cheaper. What a great time to get the absolute most out of digital. It’s yet another good time to ask for —and award—more.