Digital: it is a revolution
One of the characteristics of any revolution is that the new things that come along don’t look like the old things they are replacing. It is easy to forget this and assume that the way to survive a revolution is simply to try and adapt the old things and hope that they can continue to work.
This is as true for the digital revolution as it is for any other and it is the reason that brands cannot succeed in the digital future simply by taking their existing approaches to marketing and hoping that they can give them a digital facelift. The digital environment is different. It is a connection medium, whereas the old media environment was a distribution medium. In the old environment the way we did marketing was by finding channels we could use to distribute messages to our consumers. Because the channels were expensive we had to use them to try and reach all of our consumers at the same time – so we called our consumers an audience. Marketing was all about targeting audiences and we measured our success through metrics such as reach and frequency.
There is no such thing as an audience in the digital space
Unfortunately, audiences don’t really exist in the new digital space. You can try and create them so that your traditional audience-based approaches to marketing can continue to work – but this is very difficult to do. This is because, in the digital space, consumers are not behaving as members of an audience and they won’t respond to a brand that wishes to treat them as such. In the digital space, consumers are behaving as individuals, looking to make connections with each often within various forms of digital community or platform.
Leverage the power of connection
If brands wish to participate in the new digital space successfully, they need to understand how to leverage the power of connection. This means abandoning the idea of maximising reach but focusing instead on ‘reaching’ very few consumers at any one time, but creating relationships with them that are hugely more valuable (or engaging) than anything that was possible using conventional marketing techniques. Traditional marketing was a channel and message game, whereas digital marketing is a behaviour identification and response game. You create valuable relationships by the way in which you identify and respond to the behaviours of individual consumers. Brands that realise this will succeed. Those that don’t will either not exist in 15 years’ time or will have become commodities.