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Digital Marketing is “dead”​ – Finally!

That’s right. Digital marketing is the end of an era. And for quite some time already.
What happened? Recently just before Cannes, I followed some controversies, and even if I wasn’t there myself, the web was full of people relating these stories.
The CMO of Calvin Klein, invited to chat with the Editor-in-Chief at Think-with-Google, talked about the irrational way to split marketing still today in 2 worlds: off and online. The customer behaviour we see is fluid and not functioning that way, and consumers tend to expect the same level of services, care and quality, whatever the channel is. So, surprisingly, seeing Google pushing in their columns could seem odd, but it makes total sense.

The end of digital marketing is here. I spoke to Marie Gulin-Merle, Calvin Klein’s chief marketing officer and PVH’s chief digital officer, at Google Marketing Live, about why it’s time to shift our marketing mindset. Watch the video to learn why she believes we’re now in an era where digital marketing is just marketing.

Digital marketing is marketing done with a different culture and experience.

I wouldn’t say I liked the word digital all my career. When I started in this industry, this didn’t have a name, we called it simply IT – Information Technology -and it was horrible to do business with such a tagline. Then it switched to e-Business which somehow was better as you started to report to commercial functions. Still, the scope of these departments was merely anything the business couldn’t spend time understanding. I remember being attached to this department early on because I was the only one in the company with the foundation of search and email marketing. I was doing marketing; it just happened that I was using different tactics to achieve the same goals. And as such, digital marketing back then and to some extent even now in the pharmaceutical industry is considered the easy road to marketing: do more with less, faster and cheaper. We all remember the social media fever with juniors running critical streams of communications and marketing campaigns.

Digital marketing was fashionable, and it was bound to die.

Putting prefixes to differentiate a capability to scale it later: I understand. Making it fashionable to attract talent, budget and political interest: I get it. But branding an ability to create a vacuum of people taking the titles and not going fighting in the commercial ring: is wrong. For too long, people understood that the next step in their career was to get closer to the money, and commercial and marketing departments are often the shot callers. What I witnessed too often is a rise of digital marketers getting appointed internally to “switch” the organisation from within, but the culture wasn’t there. People were the same: they were running their shop as usual. Marketing plans were still plans with somehow agencies’ jargon copied-pasted from previous pitches. Budgets present a year-to-year increase in spending, but not many people ask the fundamental question why? Why have a team held a black box of activities where all the measurable output the company understands is classical commercial goals?
The fashionable traits of digital marketing did help in the early days to test and fail. Still, some companies that didn’t have the right culture soon decided to question it again. I know a lot of C-level execs that were highly unhappy with such departments, sometimes blaming the talent pool in their regions (e.g. we need to have a centre of excellence in the US in the Bay area, this is where it is happening). But, again, this doesn’t seem right as a few years later, once they hired a new CMO that got it, they were back in a test mode with a world that moved on and integrated the digital component of the business to the point that it disappeared.

Marketing has changed, and branding has evolved.

Now people confuse all the time marketing and branding, and communication. Yes, getting your message mechanically out is tremendously simplified with a new way to understand, reach and penetrate new markets. But does it mean you created a brand that will last long in your customer’s mind? Nope. Having a team that understands the obsession of customer-centricity, calling people to check if they are happy or organising memorable experiences in real life that would connect your brand with your audience is still the hard part. Create an emotional response with a video, understand the beauty of minimalist product design, dare to acknowledge failure and co-create with your customer: nothing digital in here. We are back to basics with cultural attributes.
Now let’s finish with communication. It is essential not to mix the mechanical way of running short-term marketing activities around a product, the long-term activities around a brand and stories that will glue all of it together. Yes, stories are essential to convey relevance, teach and attract people to you. Personalities of brands that will go to your products would be impacted by how you talk to your audience (at all touchpoints). Can digital channels help; yes, for consistency and scalability reasons, but the core is the same. A story needs to move you; it is not because you will distribute it on Youtube that it would be better. On the opposite, the constraints of the channels would add more complexity to your organisation to adopt lengths, styles and formats to each audience type.
In conclusion, I feel lucky to have started my journey in this space so early, and I am even happier that now it is considered a business like anything else. Do I still have concerns? Yes, especially when I see the same fashion trend with innovation departments. A company that doesn’t innovate is bound to fail. If you can’t adapt, you will struggle in this world where anyone can sell anything quickly. Let’s be aware that no one owns digital or innovation. These are just new DNA branches of our daily activities that any team member should do. If we need a new department, it should ensure the company’s culture is sustained and tailored to the future we need to co-create.

Haider Alleg
Haider Alleg
Entrepreneur Haider developed a toolbox for bringing brand performances to life, helping organisations of various shapes and sizes navigate the unknown and generate growth. This led him to build Kainjoo in 2012, a fast-growing consulting firm supporting ambitious leaders from top 500 Fortune companies. With Allegory Capital, he supports regulated industries to innovate through portfolios of emerging tech and channels.

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