Digital First

Most organisations are very aware that digital networks offer many new opportunities to develop new relationships and new forms of value. However, while most have developed websites, apps and digital campaigns, many still struggle to develop these activities into a broader, more coherent digital strategy that delivers consistent digital results or really capitalises on the opportunities afforded by digital platforms.

I believe that this is a direct consequence of not putting digital thinking first. Many digital briefs are still generated inside TV advertising companies using legacy systems, practices and structures designed to make 30 second TV adverts.

I believe that if organisations want to use digital networks more effectively they need to put digital first. I believe that it’s time for digital thinking and thinkers, whether in agencies or the clients that employ them, to be engaged first, not briefed after traditional brand or advertising companies have had their say. You cannot create software and content that engage people using practices, skill sets and structures designed to create advertising. In addition, if you can build software or content that engages, it’s much easier to turn it into advertising that interrupts than the other way round. Digital is backward compatible: TV advertising is not forward compatible. In other words a digital first approach is an integrated approach, a TV first approach is not.

The shift to digital is not business as usual. Yochai Benckler, Harvard Professor and author of The Wealth of Networks:

“the change brought about by the networked information environment is deep. It is structural. It goes to the very foundations of how liberal markets and liberal democracies have coevolved for almost two centuries.”

Digital pioneers like Nike, Burberry and Red Bull have all grasped the importance of this shift and developed new approaches to connecting with people over digital networks. All now spend around 70% of their marketing budgets on digital and digitally amplified ‘non-traditional’ forms of engagement. Red Bull has it’s own content arm call Red Bull Media House which employs hundreds of content creators developing feature films, magazines, websites, not traditional advertising and marketing communications. Nike completely reorganised its internal structure in recent years so it can get closer to its customers. So while the digital pioneers all take different approaches, all believe that digital makes them more effective at connecting with audiences and has positive impacts on their bottom line. They know that digital technologies are significant drivers of competitive advantage.

In my experience there are three main reasons why organisations aren’t putting digital first:

  • Organisations still view digital as a communications channel
    Digital technologies have blurred the traditional boundaries between product and communication, however, many organisations still treat digital as a communications channel that sits in a silo, rather than a much broader environment for developing products, services and content that help develop businesses and brands.
  • A reliance on traditional processes and structures
    In my experience, even when organisations do try to expand their digital activity, many continue to apply processes developed to make traditional broadcast advertising. And while there are some aspects of the traditional approach that remain relevant most of it is no longer fit for purpose. As I’ve already noted, you cannot create software and content that engage customers using practices, roles and structures designed to create advertising that interrupts them. None of the digital pioneers are.
  • There is no clear alternative process
    In my experience the biggest reason many organisations are reluctant to commit more resources to digital is that there is no clear alternative process that helps then understand why and how they should use digital platforms to connect with their customers.

The advertising industry has a process, a way to get to better and more creative results. It isn’t necessarily perfect, but it is a framework for people to make better TV ads, a lingua franca developed over 50 years.

I believe organisations need a more formal approach to creating engaging software and content – one that puts digital first. A structured approach to building more meaningful brands and products on digital platforms.

And while there are many clear examples of individual digital agencies, consultancies and clients with successful viewpoints and approaches to digital, there is nothing approaching consensus about a new strategic and creative process that helps organisations consider how they can use digital networks to develop their businesses and brands.

Which is why I’ve created a Digital First Framework – a hybrid process based on best practices from a range of relevant disciplines I’ve worked in – software development, user-centred design, content production and brand strategy, that you can use for creating more meaningful digital products and brands based on clearer insight, more appropriate creative approaches and better defined targets.

Digital disruption will intensify

Digital disruption is not going away, in fact it’s about to intensify. Smaller and more powerful chipsets, 4G mobile broadband and ever cheaper sensor technology are making the Internet of Things a reality. New consumer-ready interfaces like Google Glass and Oculus Rift will significantly alter the way we interact with the world and one another. These and other changes will completely disrupt existing sectors like education, healthcare and transport. The next wave of businesses and brands will be built on digital platforms.
You cannot develop creative digital solutions for this world using legacy systems developed to create TV advertising.

You have to put digital first.

(Learn more about the Digital First Framework)

John, October 2013


To capitalise on the opportunities offered by digital platforms organisations need to put digital first. To do this they need a need a new strategic and creative process based on best practice from software and content production, not TV advertising. I have such a process.

Leave your comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *