Why a traditional advertising strategy doesn’t work for digital

I have been thinking a lot lately about strategic planning within the traditional advertising sense. Having worked at a couple of ‘traditional’ agencies in my time, it has become obvious to me that the vast number of planning tools, strategy-wheels, comms matrix thing-a-me-jigs, and customer touchpoint & engagement model doovalackies that these agencies developed over the years are often lacking in something that makes them relevant in today’s digital world. These tools are often geared towards developing a campaign or series of campaigns, with an execution often lead through traditional media such as TV, & Print. Given the advent of social media, this methodology doesn’t work for digital. Here is why…

In traditional media, the advertiser controls the message. They set a campaign window in which a message is ‘shouted out‘ from advertiser to consumer. When the media budget runs out, the ads stop, and the message stops. There is a start and there is a finish. Simple. (Yes I know this is overly simplistic, and there are other things that come into play, but bare with me).

With digital, the message may be started by the advertiser, but could equally be started by an unknown individual. For example someone may tweet about a movie they have just watched, or their favorite new song they just heard on the radio. Once the message (initiated from the advertiser or an individual) is out there, it can also be echoed online by others at a very rapid rate. It can be commented on, forwarded, blogged about, tweeted, posted, etc. People can then start to comment, blog, tweet, post, about what other people have said about original communication. It spreads and evolves at a rapid rate from person to person and becomes an entity in itself in a somewhat uncontrollable way. A viral is not just a funny video on YouTube. It could be a tweet, an online conversation, a comment on a Facebook wall. A ‘traditional’ media strategy does not factor this in. It does not acknowledge that non-advertiser communication/promotion exists. It’s often just fixed on ensuring that the TVC to be produced has some sort of wow factor that will make it memorable, or that it shouts loud enough so that consumers will take notice.

The role of a digital strategy should be to try to influence, direct, and leverage this non-advertiser communication as it comes to life online, it must also try to predict how the message will evolve. As things are constantly changing and evolving, a linear process does not cut the mustard. With digital it MUST be a cycle of constant engagement, measurement, learning, refinement, and reengagement.

An effective digital strategy needs to factor in three spheres of communication, that are often overlooked by traditional comms planning:

Digital Communication Spheres

  • Campaign Message: This includes the core campaign message we want to control and broadcast ourselves. This can be done via a variety of digital channels, and covers all communication that drives product consideration by consumer. The message will be wrapped into a creative theme and may have a specific window in which it is “active”. Traditional strategy planning usually covers this one off pretty well. This has been the mainstay of advertising since advertising was invented.
  • Managing Influencers: In the age of the social web, managing what others say about us online is just as important as what we say ourselves. An effective digital strategy will consider these influencers and provide them with targeted communication that will ensure they are leveraged to the benefit of the brand. Initiatives such as blogger outreach programs may be effective in educating some of these influencers.
  • Corporate/Brand Presence This is the permanent online presence for the brand. Its purpose is to house the communication that about the product/brand that falls outside of campaign messaging. This could be in the form of: – Corporate “website” (doesn’t have to be a site. Eg could be a generic brand page on facebook) – Transactional messaging (ecommerce, data, CRM) – Brand protection & reputation management communications (online monitoring, product information, press releases, consumer guidance) – Search engine optimisation

In summary, traditional advertising strategy doesn’t work for digital because it doesn’t consider the “permanent and evolving presence” a brand can have though online channels. It also neglects to consider that the carefully planned campaign message being broadcast, can then be hijacked, manipulated, and distributed in uncontrollable ways though social media. A digital strategy sets out to manage and balance this ongoing communication as best as possible, whilst acknowledging that brand perception online is a constantly moving target. I am keen to see how agencies adapt to this challenge. So far, it seems to be a slow process. This has opened up opportunities for smaller, more nimble specialist agencies who understand digital comms better, to capture market share.

What do you think about traditional strategic planning processes? Know an agency who does integrated and digital strategy & comms well? Post a comment below and tell me about it.


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