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Digital Thinking

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Digital Thinking


Lately, I’ve had a lot of discussions about the role of digital in advertising. On one hand, digital is so obvious and ever-present, that you can’t imagine any campaign without it. On the other hand, digital comes with little surprises — it’s all so standard. Digital as an afterthought. A quick fix channel, “ah right, we need to declinate this idea into the digital formats…” Sometimes I make the joke that the campaigns we worked on 20 years ago were more digital than those of today. Sadly, I don’t think I’m far from the truth.

If you think about it, millions of interactions between brands and humans happen on digital platforms (with or without advertising). We should all take it a bit more seriously.

I’d like to introduce something called “digital thinking”. We apply our technical knowledge when creating and communicating messages, but we can also apply this methodology when we build campaigns. Digital thinking is a spectrum. On one side there is mass media without even the slightest bit of targeting, and at the opposite side personalisation in a 1-to-1 fashion.

Let’s pretend it’s a scale going from 0 to 100.

Zero is the one-size-fits all message. The one that branding gurus like the most, because it’s beneficial to go for one simple message and repeat it like hell. It’s true, reach and repetition are important mechanisms to create a brand and give it a certain meaning. Nevertheless, it’s also an annoying way of advertising. Yes, the detergent TVC’s work, but I’m not happy if I have to watch them again.

Just a bit further on the scale, 2 to 5(+/-) somewhere, is the same simple message with at least some kind of targeting. Trying to eliminate some waste and increase the return on media spend.

Somewhere in the middle is where different target audiences get different messages all fitting in the same brand atmosphere. A sports brand might have different ads for bikers and runners. They all benefit from (and contribute to) the master brand, but at least these athletes can experience the message in a way that speaks to them.

On the extreme side at 100, the message is completely tailored to your needs. For this to happen we need the right tech and the right data to feed this tech. We can all agree that 3rd party cookies are not gonna cut it. So if you as an advertiser want to adopt personalization, it’s important to gather your own data and guard the quality of it.

Speaking about data, this opens a different approach to the subject. Quality data is imperative, which requires some form of established relationship between the brand and the person on the other end of the line. There is some history, there must be. This implies that personalization is not something one can expect at the very top of the funnel where we’re still building and positioning the brand. If, however, there is some relationship already forming, personalization can be a powerful tool.

I always compare it with buying a car. The reason why you’re attracted to brand A is probably because something speaks to you — the advertising, the image, your friends, reviews, discussions, .. a whole universe really. Some of these experiences are a very low number on the digital thinking scale, but others aren’t. The moment you step into the dealer and sit down with a salesperson, you can expect a completely personalized experience, you wouldn’t accept otherwise.

We can learn from this. If we build our campaigns based on real world behaviors, I believe it will be easier to discuss and understand campaign tactics = better performing campaigns. In today’s market, there seems to be only very low, and very high numbers on the digital thinking scale.

“It doesn’t matter at all since we’re building a brand over here folks!”

or

“It’s the most important thing, that’s why we need a performance agency!”

This spread is ridiculous and costs a lot of money. Instead we should treat campaigns as a journey: when do we want to emphasise general brand characteristics, when do we help the people that are interested in exploring the brand or products so they become more confident, and when do we encourage them to buy (on whatever channel). It’s the SEE, THINK, DO approach .. but integrated from the start. Not: here’s the above campaign, can you make a digital full funnel campaign based on that… guess what, it’s already a bit too late. From now on we can only try.

So sure, not every campaign can or should embrace personalisation. It might not be possible with the data you have. It might not be that beneficial for the products you sell (consider FMCG, why would you personalise campaigns). Or you as an organisation might not be ready for it as well. In the end it’s not about personalisation anyway, it’s about relevance. If a personal story can increase the relevance in a certain moment of the user journey, I believe you should consider it. If not, just look up until where the sales work for you.

All artwork generated by DALL-E.

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