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Dropping the D

Digital photography
Digital music
Digital marketing

Enough already!

When are we going to just drop the “Digital” and call them what they really are? It’s easy to think this is a minor point, but qualifying something as “digital” is old-school, traditional thinking. No wonder companies have such a hard time becoming digital. This is not a new topic by any stretch and it’s generally created by the incumbent as a way to distinguish the traditionally accepted way of doing things with potentially new and disruptive methods. It’s a subtle change, but an important one because in some ways, de-legitimizes the new way of doing things and forces the new to prove its worth. Fair enough.In the “Innovator’s Dilemma,” we learned how disruptive innovation often starts off as an low-performance substitute for the incumbent technology. No one believes in it initially, but then after a few key iterations, it takes off and takes over as the dominant technology.

This theory has played out over and over again in nearly every industry from steel mills (b-school case studies galore) to telecom to photography. It is only a matter of time before we see this happening to digital and social marketing. As the tools to connect brands to customers and to other customers get better, more reliable and trustworthy, the more we will see a shift away from traditional means. If we apply social marketing to the graph above, I would say we’re still at the beginning part of the trajectory.

Those who are in traditional industries, like TV, need to adapt rapidly and learn to use the new technology to become relevant to their audiences. Take new Late Night talk show host, Jimmy Fallon. As an avid tech guy, he has made use of Twitter to generate a following of nearly 300,000 people whom he can directly engage with. He invited Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky on and Digg founder Kevin Rose. (The guy is clearly in touch with the digerati.) He asked his Twitter followers for questions to ask Cameron Diaz. He has even used it to help generate enthusiasm for his show, but even members of his audience. The other day, he picked a random guest — Bryan Brinkman —  and asked his Twitter followers to follow Bryan on Twitter. Within a day, he went about 30 to over 20,000 followers. This is how to use social tools to connect with your customers. Those who get it have already hit the ground running and are ahead of the curve and are betting their futures on digital.

So, what does this mean for businesses? Even though it’s been over a dozen years since the web started taking off, it confounds me that web and digital marketing accounts for a small percentage of overall marketing budgets. At some large Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen them allocate less than 10% of their budget on digital; the cost of creating and running a commercial can often buy them an entire years’ worth of digital marketing effort. Despite this, I’m not particularly concerned because it’s still early days and digital and social marketing will eventually take over as the dominant and become the incumbent way of marketing. At that point, they will simply be referred to as “marketing.” Period. That is, until another technology comes around to once again, disrupt the value chain and take over as the legitimate incumbent. You can bet that the smart money is already on it.

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