Ram (not his real name) is a CMO. He is also a close friend. And one evening, after a few glasses of wine, and talking about the problems that plague the universe, he confessed to me that he was going through intense helpless panic. I was completely taken aback. “It’s digital,” he said. “Each day, the stats get more scary for us. The fact that they are not watching TV, or how much time they are spending online. My boss’s daughter is on social media, and he has been bugging me for a social media strategy. And I don’t even have a digital team. By the time we hire a team for digital, our competitor will have got 4,00,000 fans on Facebook! We will be so behind.”
Long after Ram left, I kept thinking about our conversation. Would the hiring of a digital team really solve Ram’s problem, and his sense of panic? I began de-constructing the hypothesis: ‘Digital solves CMO problems’.
But what is digital? Facebook? Mobile apps?Conversely, what is not-digital? Print? TV? Billboards? Sponsorships?
Is that really true anymore?
TV is digital today. So are billboards, especially the shiny new ones that allow interaction. And sponsorships have become digital. Retail is now making the leap as well with hand-helds in shopper’s hands. Even Print is digital. So, digital is not in a place, or a specific specialty or discipline. In fact, our real lives and digital lives are converging every day – becoming inseparable; just as much as our work lives and personal lives are becoming so. And it’s becoming about anything that is a screen and allows interaction wherever we are – mobiles, tablets, and anything that allows us to touch or send a signal to something else.
So, is there really a digital and non-digital? Isn’t digital Everything? Tomorrow? Our lives?
In this scenario, will it really help Ram if he hires a digital team? Because that is what a lot of brands are doing today – hiring digital teams who are tasked to figure out a FB strategy. Or a Pinterest strategy. Or a mobile strategy. Or how to be the first one to have used Instagram in their industry. Ironically, the way ‘digital’ is given prominence is completely wrong. Digital is seen as the answer to every problem, a panacea that cures all problems. Increasingly, when marketers refer to ‘digital’, they start at the tactics, hoping to post-rationalize tools and tactics – a sure formula that spells disaster!
Because it’s really not about digital.
It’s about marketing.
And marketing has to create business impact or become irrelevant. Business objectives define marketing objectives, which inform marketing strategy, from which marketing tactics are derived. It’s about consumer insights, and determining how to create a marketing strategy based on the consumer insights. And consumer insights that show how consumers’ lives are converged using digital channels.
Ram will only be able to get over his panic if he continues to be confident about what his job as a marketer is. And that the tenets that he used yesterday about how to meet his business’ objectives has not changed. The channels he needs to employ to meet these objectives have changed, and therefore the tactics will change. And that cannot be left to a silo specialty called digital. It’s the entire marketing organisation that needs to integrate digital as a core facet. Digital has changed the marketing organisation – because it cannot only be about specialists in the so-called non-digital disciplines either any more. Print, TV, outdoor, digital – all need to integrate as ONE marketing organisation.
Let’s stop worrying about the tactics. They will change. Let’s remember what our real jobs are as marketers.
And knowing that we know the basics of marketing, lets sleep better tonight.
(The author is chief executive officer, VML Qais, and is based in Singapore. Views expressed are personal).