Digital media & marketing strategy: What is ‘digitally-native’?

You don’t need a digital strategy, you need a business strategy for the digital age.

These words were trotted out at an Accenture conference a couple of weeks ago but, as business-related soundbites go, they couldn’t ring much truer and go a long way to explaining what I and others mean by ‘digitally-native’.

In the update of Media Quake I’ve described it as ‘digitally-native’ marketing consultancy for the media industry. What that reflects is the final abandonment of the digital as a media ‘channel’ meme. Essentially, being digitally-native is less about rethinking how companies communicate using digital media (though, you know, ‘duh’) and much more about rethinking a business with the rise of internet-enabled technologies as context. Here’s some thoughts on what all that means:

1. ‘Digital’ isn’t new media, it’s new technology

At Circus Street, one description we used to get this idea across was that digital is/was to media just as paper was. What could you do with paper? You could write on it, put it in an envelope and, crash, you have direct mail. You could blow it up really big, put a message on it and put it up outside; bang, you have outdoor. You could put words and pictures on lots of pieces of paper, wrap them all together and, wallop, you have a magazine. Digital is a new material, new tools, a new canvas. It is technology that people as businesses and consumers can use in a million ways. That means it impacts not just how you communicate what you do but how you do what you do and, in the end, what you do in the first place.

2. ‘The network effect’

A user may purchase a telephone without intending to create value for other users, but does so in any case.

That’s from the Wikipedia definition of ‘the network effect’. The network effect is the power of digital since that’s what the internet is, the connection of the world’s computers via a single ‘language’ or protocol (the internet protocol – IP – no less) to pass data. We all start to use it to extract some piece of value for ourselves and just by doing so we add to its usefulness for ourselves and others by extending its reach. And that’s before we’ve ‘done’ anything.

Then, because of the sheer scale, volume and reach of the internet, all that we do can be amplified, globally. So, if you are uncomfortable without a sense of control over how what you do gets discovered, engaged with, used and shared, you need a rethink. You need to become utterly comfortable with dropping the value you think you bring into the ocean and letting the world decide how far the ripple goes. Bear in mind though that most of the rest of the world is dropping things into that same ocean every second of every day. Yes, there are [lots] of things you can do to gain a disproportionate share of attention but you have no right to be discovered or discovered for the right things, just the opportunity.

3. ‘Brand’ has become more, not less important

When supply is close to infinite, how do we choose? All the four ‘p’s matter here – product, price, place, promotion. When you add these together, they add up to your brand. All that we do has to fit the perception we want to create for our message to resonate, for the ripples to flow large and unimpeded. If you do the brand thing right, nobody will ever search for the kinds of products and services you sell, they’ll just search for you.

4. Listen intently to the indigenous population

Even those of us who were in ‘at the start’ – oh, how boringly elitist that conversation can become – of digital aren’t indigenous; if you were born before 1989, then the Web hadn’t been invented. And, anyway, when did ‘the digital age’ officially start? It’s the same as wondering what night one went to bed young and woke up middle-aged. The point being that even those of us over the age of 30 who feel digitally-native were not born into it and, given it’s easy to see that it is businesses born of the digital age that succeed in it, we have to surround ourselves with the insights of the digitally-indigenous to really know what being native means. Insert cliched story about children engaging with technology here. ‘The young’, for example, just do not understand what ‘the old’ mean when they/we talk about online media as something separate to ‘the real world’. They see no distinction. Neither should a business that wants to succeed.

5. Learn a language

What better way to become ‘native’? There are many languages of the digital age but, at the very least, you should learn the hello, please and thank you of HTML (hypertext mark-up language). Hypertext is the link system Tim Berners-Lee ran with to enable the melting pot of scientists at CERN to more easily share documentation and so begin the World Wide Web. Understanding something about how to physically drop something into our ocean does wonders for understanding what digital is all about. Coding courses are all the rage these days and with very good reason.

6. Modern working

I’ve written before about how digital thinking leads to a new way to conceive of, not just what we do for a living, but how we do it. I summed it up as the power of the individual. When we think about people and businesses in this new, powerfully connected and democratised way, we get a better sense of the threats and opportunities they face. And our green cards for the digital age follow not long after.

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