“Digital at our core” might be the wrong core

There’s a new bandwagon du jour running through the advertising industry these days:  digital at our core.

Forget, for now, that this declaration of impending digital savvy is more than a little insulting to the professionals who have spent careers honing their technical and creative crafts to make online interactions the impactful, immersive experiences we now all want to be associated with and focus on the fact that most of our industry’s newly converted are almost completely missing the point.

Digital at our core is the wrong stake in the ground.  Astounding customer insights should be at an agency’s core.  With due respect to Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital in 2010 is tactical, not strategic.  Sure, it’s the shiny new tactic, especially with the adoption curve hockey sticks we’re seeing with social and mobile interactions, but digital, social and mobile prowess are pointless unless you have a reason for leveraging them.

Agencies need to be way more focused on helping marketers figure out how to rapidly identify potential customers (and the changing needs of their current ones) and driving them toward meaningful engagement, proactive nurturing and enthusiastic adoption.  It just so happens that the primary engagement, nurturing and customer service/support tactics live in the digital realm.  Digital is the tool; insightful, behavior-accelerating strategy is the blueprint.  I don’t care how cool your hammer is; it’s not going to design the treehouse for you.

If we continue to compete on tactics, our entire industry is going to be governed by a procurement system that rewards insanely quick turnarounds and the thinnest possible margins.  Purchasing professionals are not marketers; they are incentivized to squeeze costs out of the system, not figure out how to engage and nurture prospects toward more and better buying and consumption experiences.  “Digital at our core” might as well be a euphemism for “the fewest possible humans required,” rewarding the supplier (their word; hopefully, not ours) for meeting the letter of marketer/agency collaboration, but certainly not the intent.

Agencies that can best figure out how to win the strategic battle for the hearts and minds of an increasingly fragmented, fickle and desensitized marketplace have the best chance of overcoming the spreadsheet-driven procurement process and regaining a seat at the marketer’s problem-solving table.

We can only get paid for the value we provide by actually providing it.  Being “digital at our core” is the tactical ante.  Creating meaningful engagements between customers and brands through perception-altering customer insights is where the high stakes hand will be played.



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