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What Does It Mean To Be A Digital Agency?

Remember when digital used to mean that you sent emails and you had a website? It meant that I, as a marketer, could personalize messaging to the viewer/receiver in a low-cost way and really deliver “right message, right time to right person.” Well, it still means that last part, but digital is no longer really about a specific channel.

So, yes, email and web are digital. But as smartphones and laptops and tablets and e-readers and who knows what the next big ‘screen’ will be – wearable, certainly, with Google Glasses and watches that double as smartphones – become more and more prevalent, digital is working its way through all types of historically “traditional” media.

Today, television programming is just another digital screen for consumption of media. You can DVR the programs that you like, watch them when you want to, and can take that programming with you on your portable devices. If you missed it on DVR? You can watch it on Hulu, Netflix or YouTube (although maybe not legally). The options are endless.

Depending on which article you read, somewhere around 20% of American households have connected their television to the Internet. Guess what, folks? TV is digital. And addressable TV? It’s here. Comcast will do its first trial test before the end of this year with a nationwide roll-out by end of 2014. This means you can now treat your advertising as 1:1, personalized. You can create and deliver content in real-time, and with digital production, at a much lower cost than ever before. TV now looks and smells like digital.

Radio is not fully digital, but it’s heading that way. In fact, car makers have been hinting that they may be getting rid of FM and AM radio in cars in the next few years. With the advent of “infotainment” systems in cars, streaming radio on the internet, and easy ways to hook up your music devices to your vehicle, the traditional broadcast style of radio may be rapidly declining.  Sure there still may be an audience, but ‘drive-time’ will look a lot different.

Today, you can still reach traditional broadcast radio audiences, but their method of delivery is changing. It’s not in cars or home stereos, it’s via screens. And it’s only a matter of time before the apps and stations figure out ways to deliver personalized advertising or go the way of pay-for-service models that eliminate advertising altogether.

Oh, but the mighty print campaign! “That’s not digital,” you may say. We have all seen the statistics about how many newspapers have moved to a digital and online format, “but people get their news mostly from television now anyway.”

You might think, “Magazines: that’s where I can get to my message to the right audience. Print ads targeted within highly niche publications.”

If you’ve thought these things and have not considered traditional print as a highly digital opportunity, then you’re missing out. Consider the tablet and e-reader.  A total of 43% of Americans own one or the other – and it’s all ages, races, and income levels – not just white millennials. (Check out the Pew Internet Tablet and E-reader Ownership Update for some good tables and graphs about who is using digital devices and what types of devices.)

Hundreds of magazines are now available to read digitally, so if you’re not thinking about how your ad may appear (or whether it will appear) in a digital setting, you may as well start calculating how your marketing dollars are about to get a lot less efficient. Assume that in the very near future these publishers will figure out ways to do addressable/personalized advertising content at the device-level.

Outdoor! Sorry. Even that’s moving ‘digital.’ Today, about 1% of the 400,000 billboards in the United States currently display this technology, and that number is growing. This technology means that messaging can be time-of-day relevant, tied to current events like weather or sports scores or traffic conditions (or any data available on the internet), and can be updated without the cost and lead times for production and placement.

So what does it mean to be a digital agency?

  • It means that all of these attributes of ‘digital’ – personalization via segmentation and targeting, real-time, low-cost production, and portable (or at least wherever the customer is) – have to be at the heart of the agency model.
  • It means that when faced with a new project or campaign request we ask, “How will our customers interact with us and on which screens (or paper – there can still a place for direct mail), and how can we create a campaign that delivers our messaging in the most personalized, real-time, low-cost way in THOSE places?”
  • It means that we start with the message and work out to the channels, whatever those may be.
  • It means, from our DNA, we are compelled to ask, “What is possible?” when we begin planning a campaign, and not, “How will it work in a specific channel?”

Photo credit: The Eggplant

Susannah Sulsar

November 13, 2013

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