Alastair Duncan

Is digital now normal?

Posted by August 18, 2008
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Unilever recently announced that the digital team at HQ is being disbanded and the team will become part of the communications planning department. It’s not the first time that there has been effort to provide digital accelerant in companies where marketing is critical. Others that spring to mind are the original Interactive Brand and Customer Centre for Unilever which I worked on launching ten years ago. There was the e-commerce and internet unit at NatWest, when we developed the original PC banking and online banking apps at the time when many of my colleagues in advertising were telling me it would never take off. Funny old world, isn’t it?  Now that online banking is ‘normal’ in broadband Britain, is there a need for more specialist departments? I think there is.

I was prompted by the post below to remind you that we still need to think about the skills sets across the board in our industry. Even tougher economic conditions do not mean that suddenly, the skills shortage will miraculously disappear. We need more clever people who can invent, manage, develop, code and articulate the value of what all our businesses do. We need to make sure that the experiences gained in our companies provide better quality opinion and capability for the next project. We continue to need leadership and a sense of belonging to an industry that is still, let’s not forget, around ten years old. Simply being digital doesn’t mean you’re good. You have to have benchmarks as well as belief. Many of the multinationals will train their talent over time with the ‘learnings’ (as they say in Unilever world) you are bringing to bear now. Because whilst consumers have adopted digital behaviours, the world of marketing remains unclear about how best to organise to deliver the promise of digital.

Who has the right answers? That depends on who you were before you thought digital was important. There’s an old Irish joke about directions which goes something like ‘to get there, I wouldn’t be starting from here’. If you were a direct marketer, you claim it’s all about results and responses and contact strategies and accountability, and the web makes it easier to do all that. The reality is that it actually makes it rather harder since it exposes (on occasion) the minimal effectiveness of previous campaigns, and (on occasion) the difficulty of finding a common measurement metric across all areas of the marketing mix.  These two things may be, unsurprisingly, related.

Different agencies claim to have the answers. We obviously, have them all at mrm worldwide :-)  but credit is due to the efforts clients that actually need business results have made in pulling together a better balance of investment between search, display, and affiliates for example. There is a structural problem in the industry, in that the supply chain has pulled media planning and creative planning apart. Ironically, the digital marketing community is pushing hardest for that bridge to be crossed as everyone with a degree of experience understands that better work comes about as a result, in online campaigns at least. This is a specific detail that, in ‘normal digital’ campaign working, the advice of experts is sought, and requires specialism to deliver.

Where is it all going? I look forward to seeing the BIMA awards results, which I am sure some of the readers of this blog were busily putting to bed over the weekend. I do applaud the efforts to reshape these awards to celebrate the complexity of what we do, since it is enormously complex to make digital normal. And sometimes, we need to celebrate the work that isn’t ordinary along the way.

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