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Is "Digital Marketing" Dad-Speak?

"Get me a TV marketer,” said Don Draper -- never. Don Draper was the Creative Director on Mad Men, the hit series about the fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper. I think of Don Draper when I hear the expression, “We need a digital marketer," because "TV Marketer” is not an expression Don Draper would ever say. Don was more of a holistic thinker, who knew the power of insight in driving marketing, even though much of the great marketing in the early 60’s was delivered by TV ads.

I also think of my Dad. I remember him telling me about the Apple computer. How as a personal computer it would some day obsolesce digital computers. We were in our basement, which was more like a miniature replica of the Stadium Club at Giants Stadium circa 1976 than a basement. Dark, wood-paneled walls, wet bar, and right as you came down the steps: the shrine -- an Apple II Plus, a printer, and an Apple sweatshirt draped over the chair. My Dad sold Apple computers for a living. It was 1981.

That was the early 80’s, when the digital age started for me. But no one says “digital computer” anymore. We no longer say “personal” computer, either. As technologies become pervasive, we drop that once-essential modifier that defined a product. But we DO still say digital marketing, which sounds outdated, redundant and a little bit like Dad-Speak.

Brad Jakeman, President of PepsiCo’s beverage group, put it this way “There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing — most of which happens to be digital.”

Mark Floisand of Sitecore, says: “Today's consumers make little to no distinction between the digital and the real, the online and the offline. Digital is simply part of our daily lives, from working and shopping to sleeping and eating.”

But more than just a passé expression, there’s a bigger problem with the expression “digital marketing.”

1. “Digital Marketing” Create Silos In Organizations

That’s what Steve Muran, Practice Area Leader for Customer Engagement at Slalom Consulting, thinks. “Digital marketing creates silos that separate insight from facts and the right and left brain of an organization” pushing marketing decision-making up to the CEO level.

Silos decouple brand building from transaction-driving, so brand building loses it's measurability and accountability, and becomes simply a cost that someone else incurs.

Silos also limit agile marketing, the scrum, sprints, and rapid iterations that improve speed and predictability of marketing programs. Agile marketing works best when it starts with insight and hypotheses and concludes with synthesis and story telling. That is, when the left and right brains, the don drapers and the data scientists, work together.

2. It Can Also Make Marketing the Province of the Chief Digital Officer

One company had their VP of digital lead a marketing segmentation study, which suggested that the customer was simply the category user. There was no insight made at the back end for differentiating the company from other players in the space. As such, the data was only going to lead them to become more like their large, better funded competitor.

3. Digital Marketing Is Often Defined By the Tactic of the Moment

Whether it’s remarketing or native advertising, digital marketing is often defined by the tactic du jour. With marketing technologies growing at 170% a year, companies hiring solely for the digital marketing skill of today, are also hiring the person whose skills will be obsolete tomorrow.

Which brings me back to Don Draper. Despite decades of drinking Old Fashioneds, Don doesn’t obsolesce: he comes back from his nomadic retreat to reinvent Coke. But Mad Men is no longer on air. My Dad retired from Apple in 1998 as its oldest employee. Giants Stadium was closed following the 2009 season. The chuckling sound of the keys as my Dad typed away in our basement on those early keyboards now seems as musical and comforting to me as a song on a 45 vinyl record. For my Dad is gone, too. But his Dad-speak lives on. Every time I hear the expression digital marketing.

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