It’s time to call ‘digital marketing’ what it is. ‘Marketing.’

Last week I attended Digiday’s Media Buying Summit with 50+ agencies from across the U.S. to discuss trends and issues affecting today’s media landscape, such as transparency, brand safety, and ad fraud among others. Digital media has certainly made the marketing ecosystem more complex, not just by creating new ways to reach consumers but also by giving them more control over those communications. Every week, new publisher platforms, ad tech vendors and data providers launch their products and crowd the space. So much so that it’s easy to get distracted by their shiny objects and overlook the marketing essentials that hold true value.

Amid conversations over Amazon’s lethal conquests and exaggerated speculation that TV is dying, I was happy to hear the industry-wide call for the death of “digital marketing.” Of course, I’m not saying that digital media doesn’t have a place within marketing. Our lives have become so immersed in all things digital that it has transformed our daily behaviors and become a critical part of the customer decision journey. But as Diageo’s CEO Ivan Menezes aptly explains, “It’s no longer about doing digital marketing; it is about marketing effectively in a digital world.” Menezes leads the world’s largest producer of alcoholic drinks, so I’ll raise a glass to that.

Mark Ritson, professor of marketing at Melbourne Business School, echoed this at the 2018 ad:tech Sydney conference. “Despite all the dreams of hyper-targeting and personal one-to-one marketing and the bullshit that gets talked, every effective measure shows since 2012 the effectiveness for every dollar spent on marketing in most developed markets is in decline,” he said. “And it’s in decline because we’ve mixed up strategy for tactics and tactics for strategy. And that’s because technology has become a distraction to marketing strategy.”

We can reasonably expect a continual deluge of new technologies that offer a dizzying display of choices for performance, activated insights, precise attribution and other whatnot. But brands that have developed business strategies based on fundamental marketing principles will more easily be able to incorporate the gems that align with their larger goals rather than be distracted by the shine. Digital has its place within a marketing strategy, but it is a tactical one, not strategic. 

The world has never been more connected, and our appetite for content has only grown. According to the Q1 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, nearly half an adults’ day is dedicated to consuming content. American adults are spending 11+ hours daily listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media. With that, it’s hard to find a single medium that was once considered “traditional” that hasn’t evolved into a digital form. Radio and TV both stream over the internet, newspapers and magazines are read over desktops and mobile, and vinyl billboards are being replaced with digital screens. Websites replaced brochures and catalogs years ago. The idea that traditional and digital media are somehow siloed from each other is ridiculous.

When I’m developing a marketing strategy for clients, my initial two questions are “what do you want to accomplish” and “who do you want to reach.” Once we have a clear idea of the target audiences and the best ways to reach them, we consider tactical options. But if we start with our toolbox and first pick up a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail. Instagram may have rolled out an AI-driven ad format, or Google may have launched a new solution to identify purchase intent, but brands shouldn’t chase down every innovation or its promise like the squirrel that it is. There is not one marketing tactic that is best for every brand or purpose. As media becomes increasingly fragmented and the consumer path to purchase becomes more abstract, it’s usually the combination of channels that brings the best results. Start with the purpose, then find the right provisions.

Is TV facing its demise? Absolutely not. The way we watch it has evolved, but that also happened when cable TV and VCRs disrupted the major networks. Our media habits will continue to change as new technology is introduced. Whether we integrate a medium into the promotional mix depends on a holistic marketing approach that is focused more on the strategic whole and less on the digit.

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