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LETS GET DIGITAL* (*whatever that means)

Digital ninjas. Digital natives. Digital first.
Let’s get digital. Di-gi-tal.
Apparently “digital” is the future of everything and the death of everything else according a lot of things I’m reading and a lot of presentations I’m listening to.

But I’ve started to get a little bit twitchy about the concept of “becoming more digital”, possibly for one main reason.
I’ve got absolutely no idea what that phrase means.
And I suspect 99% of you don’t either (and in the old cliché, the other 1% are liars).

Now that’s not to say that it’s not true. We do all need to get more digital about things. I think my issue is that everyone I know has a different definition of what it means to turn a business “digital”. I think it has become one of those terms – like “start-up” – that’s becoming effectively meaningless as a result.

Agencies hire, fire, re-org or get the ‘experts’ in …but they mostly just end up going on what McKinsey called the “five year death march”. A load of initiatives get kicked off and then people get busy or bored and they never come to fruition (until someone else kick-starts the process all over again).

The other thing that agencies tend to do is hire a bunch of “digital” people and try and find a way to assimilate them with the “traditional” agency personnel. This is also a recipe for disaster because it means that digital becomes a department, rather than a set of behaviours (and therefore digital becomes an add-on at best and a ghetto at worst).

So, I think I agree with the fact that we all need to get ‘digital’. But I think it might mean something different from what a lot of people think it means for agencies.
– both “traditional” AND “digital” ones.

Now, I’m pretty certain for starters that it’s not about silly business card titles, hanging about in deliberately distressed garage workspaces and employing twonks on micro-scooters. And it’s not just about doing the telly ads you’ve always done but putting them on YouTube or Facebook in the absence of traditional client media budgets – that’s just cheating.

So, here is my twopenneth:
Digital is a mindset, not a silo
Digital is about experience, not initiatives
Digital is about people, not projects
Digital is about all your actions, not ‘doing things on the internet’
Agencies must act like the best companies in the digital world if they are to succeed. Google and Apple are not “digital businesses’ – they are ideas driven, creative companies that happen to operate brilliantly in the digital space. The opposite is true of companies like AOL who grew up in the digital era but feel like antiques. Companies like Lego and National Geographic paradoxically feel really ‘digital’ yet have been around decades before Berners-Lee wrote his CERN paper.

So it is my firm belief that in 2015, every brief is ‘digital’, every ‘project’ is digital and every customer is ‘digital’. If you aren’t thinking ‘digitally’ – nimble, adaptive, flexible, and accountable – then you are pretty buggered as an agency. And all the hirings, processes and initiatives in the world won’t fix it.

Finally, there is no such thing as a ‘digital native’. I don’t consider myself to be an ‘electricity native’ just because I grew up surrounded by it and considering it part of everyday life.

This article appeared in Marketing Week

Kevin Chesters – Executive Planning Director at mcgarrybowen.

Follow Kevin on twitter @hairychesters.