Over the past few years, there has been a debate in industry circles about entering into a post-digital age in marketing. I hesitate to call it a debate, since I have actually never heard anyone argue that digital and ‘traditional’ marketing should be kept entirely separate from each other. What I have heard, amidst much industry navel-gazing about job titles and terminology, is a healthy discussion about how organizations can best exist and operate now that digital is interwoven into all aspects of our day-to-day lives and marketing activities. This is where things get a lot more tangible and complicated. To help untangle the subject and the questions that arise (at least in my own mind), here is my kick at the can.
Are we truly in a post-digital marketing world?
Yes, but to quote Douglas Gibson: “The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed yet.” All client and agency leaders I know believe that marketing needs to be planned and activated in a holistic and integrated manner, but are at varying points along their journey to making it happen. It is difficult, particularly for larger and more established organizations. The most significant challenges that I have seen remain lack of executive-level commitment, resistance to organizational change, and lack of critical in-house skills. But it’s here, and it’s happening. If you need more convincing, Tom Goodwin has evidence.
In this new world, does the digital department exist?
Yes, in a new form. Marketing is both broadening to include a greater number of potential tactics and channels, and deepening to involve a greater degree of underlying technology, UX, and data analytical know-how. Marketing organizations, now more than ever, need people who understand what is possible and how to enable effective marketing using these increasingly sophisticated tool sets and skill sets. The new post-digital group (title TBD!) will own marketing empowerment, not marketing strategy. The group will accomplish this through capability building, operational governance, and tactical innovation.
In this new world, will the ‘digital strategist’ exist?
Yes, in a new form. In our post-digital age, we will abstract out the nature of media and focus instead on the nature of solutions. Agencies will be defined by how they solve problems, not by what they actually produce. And to think that a single agency can do it all, given the scope and complexity of marketing today, is absurd. The new Digital Strategist (title TBD!) will need to become both more of a generalist and more of a specialist. A generalist in the sense that formerly Digital Strategists will need to become capable of leading or contributing to overall marketing strategy planning rather than exclusively contributing to a digital sub-set. A specialist in the sense that Strategists will also need to become more focused on a particular area of marketing, in the same way agencies now have to do. Strategists, particularly those starting out, will need to ‘major’ in one of 4-different areas: Services, Connections, Content, or Canvases.
Planning in the post-digital age requires strategists that are far more T-shaped, capable of crafting ‘Capital-S’ strategy while understanding how programs can be empowered by core medium-agnostic marketing disciplines.
In this new world, how do I exist?
Good question. I will become either (1) a Post-Digital Strategist or (2) Post-Employed Digital Strategist.
Check back soon, and see.