Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Common Sense By-Pass At The Mention Of Digital

Why at the mention of ‘digital’ do people often undergo a common sense and marketing by-pass. And that as a result, a lot of nonsense is being peddled around the marketing communications industry, usually to the detriment of brands who are paying people a lot of money to explain to them how best to use these new channels.

The most important myth, you could call it an untruth, that is fast becoming ‘fact’, is the idea of a ‘digital consumer’. Suddenly there is this new persona that we are being presented with. We are being told how important it is to understand this ‘digital consumer’ who is, it seems, communicating in a way that’s totally new. The myth of the digital consumer who operates in a cyber world of his own is shrouded in mystery and making everyone nervous.

The sad consequence of this misconception, being put out mainly, I believe, by digital vendors, is massive confusion and decision paralysis. This was confirmed to me at Verge 2005, a major interactive forum organised by OgilvyOne. Original research by the agency, for the forum, revealed how senior clients realise the importance of digital channels to their business, but are largely baffled by the digital age and believe they haven’t really got a handle on it. I’m not surprised when they aren’t being given the facts.

There is no such thing as the ‘digital consumer’. There is no great mystery about how they think and what they want. These consumers are doing exactly what people have been doing for thousands of years – communicating with each other. The fact that technology is enabling them to communicate with each other faster and over distance is being perceived as something unique and extraordinary that needs to be controlled and pinned down.

Rubbish. People talk to each other – they always have. They are talking the same language and saying the same things, they are just not necessarily sitting in their front rooms, doing it over a cup of tea and the TV.

What I believe these new channels have highlighted is that brands and marketers have to step away from the ‘top down’ broadcast thinking that we (brand owners and marketers) tell them (consumers) what they should be thinking and buying. Instead, we have to realise that the interaction and conversation that really counts is the one taking place between consumers.

What the digital age has done is give people more and different ways to have conversations but have also made it so much easier for us to find out what these conversations are about and who is talking to each other (through digital boards, number analysis, chatrooms etc). This is what we should be concentrating on.

We need to be thinking about how to influence conversations that are already taking place between consumers. We need to find out who the important person is in the conversation (the protagonist consumer) and work with them.

In a way it has made things more difficult for brands and marketers. It’s more important than ever to come up with a good idea that can spread sideways rather than from the top down. We need to realise that as advertisers, we are no longer initiating the conversation with consumers – we are trying to become part of the conversation that these people are already having with each other.

That’s going to be difficult enough. So let’s not waste our time trying to figure out what a cyber consumer looks like.

Co-written with Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman Ogilvy Group


RG said...

Giles - completely agree with you. This whole notion of 'digital consumer' / 'digital xxxxx' needs to be debunked.

At the end of the day, it is still all about good old common sense and smart ideas.

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