Are We Blinded By Digital?

Are We Blinded By Digital?

23rd July 2015

This is the fourth post in our 2015 Summer Series, where we give young talent in digital marketing a chance to shine in front of State of Digital’s audience. Here is Hannah Thorpe who writes about the thing she’s learned in her first two years in the industry.


In 2015 the UK will become the first country in the world where half of all money spent on advertising is attributed to digital media. This is a seismic shift away from the traditional investment in print media and billboard advertising.

We can read hundreds of blog posts each week that discuss these new frontiers of marketing – but just how accurate are these claims? Is it a new age of marketing, with millennials at the forefront of the workforce, driving business thinking in this direction?

The excitement of an ever-changing digital world can often leave us blinded by the latest advancements, without seeing the very strong correlation between new media marketing and traditional methods. It’s also fair to say that we don’t fully acknowledge just how applicable other skills from work or studies can be to the digital industry.

So fundamentally, it’s becoming all too easy to get caught in the chaos of the latest buzzwords without realising that the core pillars of marketing haven’t changed – Sell more, spend less, make more money. It’s crucially important to remember this when you enter the world of digital marketing; if you keep things simple and consistently remember that – despite all the new technologies – you are marketing to ‘people’ then its far easier to stay on task.

Early this year Anna Youngs looked at the Attention Economy; questioning the way technology has led to us being constantly distracted.  Whilst this may be true of our personal lives (as well as in our own individual jobs), I would argue that, as an industry, we’re constantly distracted by the newest trends, which sometimes leads us to forget about the  client’s ultimate business intent.

Commander’s Intent

When I first started working in the digital sphere, I was creating a brief for a campaign with a client and I knew it would be full of commanders-intentjargon and a series of complex aims. Given to anyone outside of a digital marketing department, it would mean very little. Now though, it’s clear to me that what’s truly necessary is to build a strategy around a refined, core objective, referred to in Made to Stick as Commander’s Intent.

An example of this can be taking when examining the marketing strategy of Spirit Airlines.

Spirit Airlines prides itself on being the lowest cost airline across the United States, so when it scored the lowest in the customer satisfaction index, did the directors panic? No. They were still the lowest price airline and so they were still achieving their objective.

By simplifying the mission in this way, the staff of the airline can make their decisions for the business on the basis of being the lowest price- should we increase staff on flights so customers are served quicker? Will that help you become the lowest price airline? If not, then no, it’s not in line with the business objectives.

Marketing, be it online or offline should be about helping a business achieve this top-level objective. Digital marketing is just a way of taking this traditional Commander’s Intent and communicating it effectively online.

Business Analysis

Whether you work agency or in-house, one of the first stages of working for a brand is to fully understand the industry. At theMediaFlow we often describe this as a piece of ‘Competitor Analysis’, where we look at both the organic performance and the on-page analysis of the business we work for, as well as their main organic search competitors.

But what is interesting, is that if you take this out of the digital environment, the principle of looking and learning from others in the industry is not new.

Those who’ve worked in marketing for some time will be familiar with being asked to complete a Porter’s Five Forces Analysis (or perhaps a SWOT grid), in order to determine the main successes and weaknesses of their business, and to use that as the foundation for any strategy. Before digital they might not have been able to use a tool like Searchmetrics to graph the visibility of their domain, nor been able to download the backlink profile of its competitors in order to determine key targets for outreach. The principle behind this of understanding the core of the business as an essential first step to a marketing strategy, however, remains consistent.

Understanding your Audience

audienceA fundamental element of marketing is to identify who your audience is, and what they want. In digital whether you’re looking to expand your keyword research or display unique content to each user, the ability to understand your audience and target it appropriately is a key skill.

The theory of dividing your target market into groups by common features (and hence emphasising different messages to each group) is not new. The ideas of student discounts, or a child goes free offer, is not something exclusive to digital. It is clear that market segmentation predates the creation of an integrated marketing campaign.

Scale this up to an international business that advertises online, and what you see is one of the latest trends – ‘personalised marketing at scale’. Big brands now are commonly utilising segmented groups to target their advertising. A result of this is that a consumer sees a tailored advertising message, or a selected group of recommended content (or products on their site, for example). The theory behind this is nothing new, but the mechanism by which they’re achieving it, certainly is.

An example of this is can be seen when in 2012, interactive screens were used by Plan UK in a London bus stop in order to highlight the discrimination taking place against young  women and girls. They used facial recognition technology to only display the video to women, whilst men were shown a screen to visit the charity website. This is a prime example of segmenting a market using advancements in technology, to effectively display different messages to the relevant individuals.

Understanding your Environment

The idea of a need to understand the environment your business is operating in is also nothing new. The PESTLE model, which was first originated in 1967 by Francis J. Aguilar, underlined the notion that to make a well substantiated business decision, it was important to consider the political, economic, social and technological environment (which was later expanded to include thoughts regarding the legal and environmental conditions).

This awareness of where your business is operating might sound outdated to those of us when we first think about digital marketing, but adapting your tone of voice on Twitter, or choosing a different hashtag based on others who have used it before, is exactly in line with these notions. If you can understand the implications of the messages you are pushing out via digital on a wider scale then the chances of success are much higher.

So what’s this got to do with my first year in digital?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past year is to keep it simple.

Digital is fascinating; it’s fast-moving and dynamic, and whilst you can easily spend days getting caught up in the maze of blogs about the latest tools, for me, that’s half the fun. Whilst you’re exploring and learning everyday, it’s still important to step back and remember the absolute basics.

So should blind panic sink in, and thoughts of “what on earth am I doing?” rear their ugly head, simply take a step back and remember the ‘Commander’s Intent’, and choose a tactic that sticks as close to that as possible.

Being able to see the bigger picture like this is a key part of working in digital (when an algorithm update has the potential to throw off a whole strategy). Ultimately, whatever digital tactic you use, you are still just marketing to ordinary people.


About The Author

HannahIn her first year of digital, Hannah has had a crash course in all things SEO, Content Marketing and Social. Hannah is now Senior Account Manager at theMediaFlow, working with clients to produce multi-platform campaigns through every stage from ideation through to completion.


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This post was written by an author who is not a regular contributor to State of Digital. See all the other regular State of Digital authors here. Opinions expressed in the article are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of State of Digital.
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