With each passing day, in the articles I read or panels I attend, the same word is used more pervasively, but with increasingly greater abandon - Digital. The word is hot.
For some, Digital stands for all things that are good, optimistic, future-thinking, and en vogue. For others, it is a reason to get excited about numbers, data, processes, technology, and general techiness. And for many creatives, it is the new right-of-passage to coolness, a permission to flex those dormant art school muscles with youthful abandon.
The word's mere presence in the title of an article is an instant raison de l'attention, its placement in discussions around revenue is a license to think positively about growth and expansion, and if you put "Digital" in the title of a conference, fuhgettaboutit, you're going to sell out since no one wants to miss the action.
But what does Digital - talking about it, thinking about it, embracing it - mean for the media industry, and more importantly, what does it mean for all of us that are actually tying to make a living by delivering tangible value to our clients? (Alas, I don't make a living writing this blog post.)
On one hand, it is certainly about Data. If you really think about it though, the nature of the data itself is not being altered by Digital. Rather its quantity is increasing and so is our ability to generate it, store it, and analyze it to yield more interesting nuances... or at least die trying.
On the other hand, it is about Speed and Portability. Digital makes things smaller and more self-contained. It allows media to travel from place to place and from person to person, all the while maintaining quality through a permanence rivaled only by the Pyramids.
There are plenty of other things that Digital is all about -- Tools, Processes, Efficiencies, Interactions, Conversations, Activations, Engagement, and Commerce. We've all heard and read much about these, and yet I can go through each and every one, and show you over and over that none of these are fundamentally altered from their previous, pre-Digital form. Yes, they're better and faster and there are more of them, but we're talking expansion and augmentation within the same fundamental conceptual and procedural framework.
If we drill down further, to the core of what makes Digital different at the very basic level of how media and communications are experienced within the context of our culture an society, what it all boils down to is that Digital is forcing all brands - no matter the budget or the category or product - to start asking for permission.
As Ed Castillo aptly summized in his last week's posting, "The move from 'passive media' to 'customized media' requires the participation of the viewer; and in choosing when/where/how to receive their content, viewers can avoid the kind of messaging that typifies the era of passive media (most notably the :30 spot)."
In turn, it is now the job of marketers and their agencies to figure out all the places, without bias, where they can ask the consumer (or viewer or user) to choose to engage with their brand messaging. And in turn, agencies need to figure out all they ways in which they need to say, "Excuse me, here's something you may be interested in, and here's why." It's scary and daunting (not to mention a huge blow to the ego) but asking for permission is the only way to get a Digital consumer's time with brand messaging and content.
The good news is that ultimately, consumers will respond - after all, they like to know what all the brands are up to. It keeps them informed and thus empowered, connected to each other, and part of something greater than just themselves and their lives. They want to be invited to the party, and they will feel special for it. And as with any relationship founded on mutual respect, consumers will bestow rewards unto those brands that politely ask for permission with a passion and vigor heretofore unheard of in our industry.
This is the revolutionary aspect of Digital - where and how to ask consumers to spend time with Brands. As Digital continues its fertilization of media touchpoints, and communications planning takes a stab at assembling the full picture, brands will need to keep pace with all the different means and ways to ask for permission.
Creative and media briefs will need to be augmented, because in addition to the core message and RTBs, the message of the permission request needs to be defined, tested, optimized, adapted, deployed, and ultimately made effective. If you're not asking the consumer in the right way, they won't give you the time of day.
Being in the right place at the right time is of critical importance, but luckily, with Digital, there are infinitely more places to be, and getting there at the right time is a function of the brand's nimbleness and ability to embrace the tools made available. And if the consumer doesn't respond to this request, there will be plenty of places and opportunities to ask again, maybe this time in a different way.
However the Digital permission request takes form - in the immediate future, it's mostly short text, a small graphic, maybe an audiocon - it has to travel light, fast, and be everywhere the consumer may show up. Whether it be through display, search, interactive TV, video, mobile, digital books, you name it - Digital is forcing all of us to stand up and find a way to ask for the consumers' permission to be sold.
Mark Risis is Director of Interactive Advertising Sales for TiVo, Inc.