Stop Calling it Digital. Gain New Perspectives.

Conferences can do a lot of good. You get to network. You learn new things and gain new perspectives. You get out of the office for a couple of days. And, in the best case scenarios, you walk away with a new insight for a business problem.

For the most part, every conference I’ve attended has been fruitful. Sometimes the presentations underwhelm or the presenters miss the mark. Sometimes you end up in a sales pitch for a new product or service. We’ve all been there. But, usually conference organizers do their homework and recruit speakers who advance their industry. Usually.

I recently attended a conference for healthcare marketing professionals and one of the seminars was entitled, “Full-service vs. Specialty Agencies.” Coming from an agency that touts itself as full-service, I was intrigued. What I found was largely a discussion on traditional vs. digital and when to choose one [agency] over the other.

The more i listened, the more annoyed I became.

Because traditional, as you might expect, refers to advertising methods rooted in history: TV, radio, print and outdoor. But what does digital mean? If you’re a digital agency, what’s your focus?

At first this might seem like a simple answer. But once you really start to look at all the various mediums digital encompasses, you’ll start to question what a agency means when they say they’re “digital”.

My role at Daniel Brian Advertising (DBA) is Technical Creative Director. For most persons here this means I do digital. In this capacity I’ve struggled with the variety of projects that come my way and the expectation that I’m an expert at all things digital. I’m not, there are others far more qualified than I at several of the disciplines that get wrapped up under this umbrella.

In my experience, there are three pillars of digital (plus many undercurrents that unite them all):

  1. Online Advertising, which includes banner ads, rich display, pre-roll, streaming radio, SEM and social ads. These are online equivalents to traditional methods, updated and streamlined for this digital world.
  2. Interactive, which means creating blogs, websites, apps and email.
  3. Social, a large brute force that is heavily controlled by your audience, but full of nuance and driven by platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

My focus is #2. I am deeply involved in orchestrating interactive experiences, from UX to project management to design and development. I got it. No problem. My group will build the display ad, but you want to talk placement or CPM? That’s someone else, and they’re really good at it. Social is a different animal all together.

What about content or analytics? Remember those undercurrents I mentioned? These belong in that group. They aren’t pillars, they’re glue. They cross over all mediums, traditional included, and hold it all together.

With all this in mind, doesn’t the term digital seem too broad? By itself it doesn’t mean anything. Or, it means to much. And it means something different depending on who you’re talking to, and hopefully you’re on the same page. Be clear and say what you are. Be a company that builds websites, or does online advertising or social or content or CRM. Be a mixture of some of them or do them all. But be clear about what you are and understand what digital is; a catch-all, an industry buzz-word.

Stop calling it digital.