Three Reasons to End the Digital Revolution

March 17, 2012 12:06 pm

“You say you want a revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world.”
~ John Lennon

Revolutions are a necessary transition from one era to the next. They are also bloody, messy, and thoroughly unpleasant. None of us should want to live in a state of perpetual revolution, because beyond a certain point it blows past creative destruction right into destruction.

Digital RevolutionThe correct name for endless upheaval isn’t revolution. It’s chaos.

Is it time to end the Digital Revolution in marketing? Here are three reasons to think about it:

1) The biggest shifts have already happened
2) The future is no longer hard to predict
3) Adding complexity is ultimately destructive

The Biggest Shifts Have Already Happened

There will still be change, and plenty of it. But the titanic, tectonic shifts have already happened. The analog era is irrevocably over. Today, most major marketers plan for the year as a mix of paid, owned and earned. That’s a tremendous shift from 20 years ago. Marketers have not yet perfected the mix, but the basics of the feedback loop are now fairly well understood.

Paid advertising builds awareness. Owned deepens the story, overcomes objections, heads off customer service firestorms. Earned spreads product news and helps build goodwill — and receptivity to the next flight of paid advertising.

The next challenge is to optimize the feedback loop. Brands will need agency and client-side integrationists cross-trained in traditional and digital to focus disparate efforts into a coherent whole. These people are in painfully short supply, and a lot of re-training will be needed.

Still, the major shift to paid, owned and earned is complete.

What about mobile? While it still hasn’t entirely arrived, its future is becoming clearer.

Apple’s iPhone and Android have sketched out the basic ecosystem of devices and apps. Tablets like the iPad have permanently blurred the lines between desktop, laptop and phone. Consumers will seek (to borrow a phrase from ESPN) “the best available screen”. For most brands, mobile will work like the web: a mix of “help-me-now” functionality (e.g. QR codes on packs to help consumers), building awareness, and converting awareness to action.

More changes are on the way. But the major shift is complete.

The Future Is No Longer Hard To Predict

For many of us who are accustomed to revolution, this is a pretty damned contrarian notion. But what was the last shift in digital that had significant implications for your brands?

We’ve seen plenty of confusing new acronyms and platforms that have sparked operational changes in the agency world. But I can’t think of anything lately that is significant for brands.

For big brands, the basics of the ecosystem are now firmly in place.

The biggest aftershocks happen in search and social media and will impact small business. The battle for the future of social commerce will be fought more on Main Street than Madison Avenue. Google and Facebook know it. But, I digress.

Adding Complexity is Ultimately Destructive

“When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out?”
~ John Lennon

For me, the biggest reason to call for an end to the Digital Revolution is the danger of creeping complexity.

Big brands rely on scale. Yet we have been making it harder and harder to reach fewer and fewer people. The more complexity we have added to the banner ad ecosystem, the worse the results have been for brands. This should be both sobering and instructive.

It’s time to stop chasing the myth of perfect targeting. Marketing’s job is to socialize the idea of products as solving a need, and brand names as something familiar and trusted. Given this, a certain amount of waste is not only unavoidable but is actually critically important.

We are already confusing data with understanding. We risk becoming savant idiots: we will build vast data warehouses about which of our customers wear red socks and which wear blue. But we won’t know if that mountain of information will amount to a hill of beans.

Beware Frontier-Itis

“What a delightful thing is the conversation of specialists! One understands absolutely nothing and it’s charming.”
~ Edgar Degas

The final risk of perpetual revolution is perpetual distraction.

Beware gurus bearing fresh gifts.

Instead of building on the foundations that are at last clear, we will be tempted to endlessly fool with the latest bright shiny object. “Frontier-itis” is a seductive disease: it’s fashionable, fascinating, but never accountable. If you always live on the bleeding edge, it’s always too early to ask where the ROI will come from.

The Real Next Frontier: Unlearning and Integration

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
~ Alvin Toffler

Marketing’s true next frontier is about unlearning what we knew about a traditional-only world and unlearning some of the early and erroneous dogma surrounding digital.

It’s about abandoning what we thought we knew about both sides, and re-learning how to bring it all together.

The brands that get started now have a tremendous opportunity to gain competitive advantage.

It’s time to end the revolution and start building something that lasts.

Let the evolution begin.

Photo Credit: anarchosyn (Creative Commons)

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