The last year has been an interesting one for me. I’ve always had a passion for sharing knowledge and helping my local community in whatever small way I can. It’s why we started and continue to run our Attention! events as we feel that there is a need to do something to educate others in new and interesting ways.
This commitment has lead me to two new things – firstly to join the great board at Silicon South and more recently to take the Chair for the Digital South group with Business South. Both are voluntary roles that just need my time and supposed knowledge. Both are great fun as well as helping to start to connect the dots in our region.
Being involved in both, along with my ongoing reading of others in the industry via Twiter and increasingly LinkedIn, has though made me realise that even within the world I work, there is a real lack of clarity and understanding.
This is around the word ‘digital’.
What exactly is it?
I asked the same question at my first Digital South meeting and after a lot of head scratching, we didn’t really come up with an answer. Broadly everyone knows but no one really knows for sure. And for now, we're all happy with that.
Back when we first started in the early 2000's, being ‘in digital’ basically meant you built websites and did some marketing on this thing called the Internet.
Fast forward fifteen years, and we now have a hugely wide range of ‘digital stuff’ – websites, social networks, apps, AI, online video, voice assistants, VoIP, crypto-currencies, cloud computing, Virtual/Augmented Reality and a whole boat load of other tech that we are only just starting to understand.
Is all of this stuff digital?
It uses the network that we’ve built called the internet to make it work so from that angle yes - but that’s not really very definitive is it? We didn’t call TV, analogue radio waves when it came out did we? And when I grew up, people who used to run ads in magazines weren't called print advertisers, they were just advertisers.
My personal feeling is that a lot of the things we lump into ‘digital’ shouldn’t be.
'Digital' was a term that was used to try and define to those outside of our industry that we were doing stuff as part of this new world.
‘Hi, I'm Andy and I work in digital’
‘Oh, you mean you do stuff with computers?’
'Oh, it all sounds a bit confusing to me. Can you fix my printer?'
But look around you now. EVERYONE has a computer – well a computer that fits in your hand that we call a mobile phone. There is almost NO line between our normal lives and digital lives. It invades everywhere. Our phones are never more than a metre from us every minute of the day. For god’s sake, most of us can’t even go to the bloody toilet without taking our phone with us. WE ARE ALL OBSESSED.
So why do we make this distinction? And why do we carry on lumping all new technology into the same pot?
The only excuse I can unfortunately make is that there are still a lot of businesses and business people who do not run their businesses or live in the modern world. And by that I mean they are not using the connectivity that we have around us, and changes in behaviours that most of the UK have adopted, to change their businesses.
Really anyone working building websites, building apps, running social media campaigns are in advertising or marketing. We just simply use the newer, digitally enabled channels to deliver the message. We should all drop the D word from what we do.
Those people that work in cloud computing, infrastructure and potentially apps, I would say are in IT – delivery of business data from one place to another for storage and processing. This usually has nothing to do with trying to build brand or generate sales. I accept that being good at these things can help with the above, but only in the same way 40 years ago, use of Word Processors could help creatives do their jobs better. You wouldn’t put the two in the same bracket then and we shouldn’t now.
Anyone creating content via video – I’m not sure what this should be called, it's tricky. Netflix is just TV available whenever you want. BBC and ITV is TV that is largely consumed on a linear basis. But both are still TV aren’t they? And if a lot of Youtube is also watched on a big screen then isn’t this TV in a much shorter, usually less professional format? Or is traditional TV just better produced video content? Whatever TV is, I certainly don't think it should go under the ‘digital’ banner. And despite what most think, it certainly isn’t dead. Not by any stretch. The chart taken from the ever informative Mark Ritson shows the effectiveness of marketing channels by ROI, not bad if you can afford it eh?
Source - Marketing Week
That then leaves things like AR, voice, AI, blockchain and the like to either carry the stone of the D word around their ankles or potentially go under a new banner like ‘new tech’ or potentially ‘emerging tech’.
Ultimately and regrettably, I still think there is a place to call things 'digital' for now. However, as an industry, we do have to think about how long we can keep using the term. It feels to me its meaning is becoming ever diluted and irrelevant.
Am I alone in my thoughts on this? I’d be hugely curious to hear from others.