Digital marketing is pointless

June 2014

They call that linkbait.

“Digital marketing is pointless”.

Well of course it’s not. Otherwise the headline wouldn’t have jumped out at you and you wouldn’t be here now. Reading this.

Then again, in and of itself, digital marketing IS pointless. If all you are doing is taking an analogue mindset and pushing that out through digital channels then you are missing the point. Wasting your time. And worse than that….. wasting your customers time. Unfortunately the non tech business world, especially via the conference circuit, is awash with ‘gurus’ saying digital just represents a new set of tools that add a bit of heft to your existing analogue marketing. Carry on doing what you’re doing but add this extra layer as a new distribution channel. A bit of LinkedIn, a bit of Facebook, some tweets.

You can do that. And it might be worthwhile. You might well think it is enough. That you have digital covered.

But being digital really is about a new way of thinking, as much as a new set of tools. It’s not something just for the marketing department, not a bolt on to existing ways of operating. Being digital involves rethinking how you work, how you generate business, how you service customers and ultimately how you think.

Two examples.

First off consider how in the tech industry it is commonplace to live stream conferences. For example, the excellent Le Web conference in Paris, or Google I/O or FT Digital. Each of these are expensive to attend, so why are they streaming them? Surely who’d go to the real thing when you can watch for free. That would seem to be the attitude in many/most other industries where conferences aren’t normally streamed, or indeed even recorded for later use. This though is like the lump of labour fallacy, where it’s considered that there is only so much work to go around and if you have too many workers we’ll all go to hell in a handcart. We’ll keep our conferences exclusive and only attendees will glean the pearls of wisdom that flow therein.

This is analogue thinking writ large. In the digital world you realise that scaling up events, by opening them up to virtual participants builds a bigger pie. Indeed a richer, more layered, more inclusive pie. A live streamed conference might double, triple the audience, maybe even way more. And if you have something worthwhile to say, surely the more who hear the better? More important than that though is that industries become less parochial, less like echo chambers where everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. As the scale and variety of the audience increases real world participation becomes ever more desirable.It is striking within the property industry that there seem to be conferences where marketing types go, and others for developers, or planners, or architects, or environmental types. So whereas in reality all these people absolutely have to work together to build a better world, what you get is standalone silos of self selecting conformity.

The second example is the analogue report in digital clothing. Nothing demonstrates the error of treating digital as a bolt-on better than the pdf version of a research report laid out in print format. Too often are the times where one gets emailed, or tweeted, or otherwise digitally linked to reports or research documents that are unreadable on a mobile device. These just scream ‘I DON’T GET IT’. The digital world must be approached ‘mobile first’. Why? Because that is how people consume content. On a mobile device. Or, to be fair, in print. Not sat at a desk.

These two examples may seem a bit ‘oh well, no big deal’ but they are not, because they encapsulate an attitude that means the big trends will be either missed, or misunderstood. Take the current vogue for saying London’s position as a powerhouse is assured because, as was said at #BaseLDN this week ‘Cities are factories of the mind’ and agglomeration effects are everything. This is lazy thinking that betrays an unwillingness to countenance what’ll happen as we move to gigabit broadband, an internet of things, Watson on tap and the rise of mainstream robotics. Cities do have big advantages, but funnily enough the world’s biggest fashion retailer, Inditex, is based in the back of beyond, and neither Apple, or Facebook, or Google (three of the most powerful, innovative companies in the world) have their headquarters in a city. The groupthink that now says that ‘the death of distance’ is a fallacy, might well itself be fallacious. With a truly digital mindset it is not hard to see a highly disruptive future for the built environment. And that mindset can only come from co-opting digital thinking throughout your organisation, not just as a marketing add-on.

Digital marketing IS pointless unless it flows from being a digital business. And being truly digital is where we’re all heading. You may as well embrace it. If only to keep ahead of the robots.

Antony