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Why a digital first marketing strategy makes sense now

(Image credit: Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock)

Digital first is not a new phenomenon. Disrupter businesses and start-ups have long adopted this approach as a way of making their marketing communications cheaper and more agile. Just look at OnePlus in China. They launched purely using social media and an influencer marketing strategy. As a result of the now well-publicised successes of a digital first approach we are increasingly seeing the big buck spenders getting in on the act, testing how this strategy might work for them.

Traditional marcomms strategies typically start with the creation of big budget hero creative content; usually for TV. This is then splashed across the networks with the help of a generous media spend. Then as the advent of digital has become increasingly pervasive, this content is then repurposed for digital channels. The problem with this approach is that it slows the process down and by the time the content hits digital media; the intended audience is either not reached due to poor planning or the content is not compelling enough to engage because it is essentially a watered down version of what came before it.

The reason that digital first is becoming so popular is that the digital world is fast. It can keep up with the changing needs, wants and attitudes of consumers. It is also fluid. Creative concepts can be tested and tweaked in real time. If one message isn’t hitting the mark it can be withdrawn, re-framed and re-disseminated within a matter of days; if not hours. Of course digital is also truly responsive. It is possible to have a two way conversation with consumers, whilst above the line content tends to be one directional, making it much less relatable to an audience that is becoming increasingly used to having their voices heard. This is particularly important for brands that want to forge closer relationships with consumers. Digital allows niche targeting in a way that mass media like TV does not. For instance you can devise a creative TV concept for the Cricket World Cup (which is happening at the time of writing) and know that you will be targeting people that enjoy cricket. However, with digital this broad category of consumers can be segmented down further into sub groups such as people that enjoy cricket and support a certain team.

Rough around the edges

The quality constraints of mass media are also removed for digital. Digital content is allowed to be a little rough around the edges. This means that all the effort can be concentrated on creating engaging content, rather than HD ready content.

As we have already addressed digital gives us results faster. We can measure in real time and tweak the campaign as it gets rolled out. This means that when it comes to translating the campaign into mass media (if applicable) you can be confident that the brand is being represented in the most effective way for the investment. One of the largest concerns that many brands have with mass media is that they have to put their money where their mouth is with little evidence that the campaign is going to work. This now doesn’t have to happen as digital can be used as the test bed. This is the exact approach taken recently by CUNA (Credit Union National Association). It had a number of challenges to overcome. The first was bringing together 5,500 credit unions under one banner to create a powerful unifying voice for the sector. The second was altering the commonly held perception that most people can’t join a credit union, or that credit unions were too small and local to provide modern table stakes. To overcome these challenges CUNA needed to reach a lot of people with their new brand message. Therefore a digital-first approach was taken to find people where they were; in the digital spaces they use every day. This strategy meant that local credit union leagues could activate their own media plan ensuring the necessary reach. Within just two weeks of the campaign launching four million people saw the creative content and 1.5 million videos were viewed to completion. As we all know change does not happen overnight or by viewing one piece of content. It takes multiple messages and what CUNA has achieved through this approach is an understanding of the customer journey so that each individual person can be reached a number of times with relevant messaging for them. They are also constantly measuring which messages are gaining the most traction and using this insight to tweak the media strategy in real time. It is also being used to shape the mass media strategy which comes later this year.

Digital can no longer be viewed as a bolt on – mass media’s slightly annoying and inferior little cousin that has to be placated. It has earned its place at the table and now, understandably, given the benefits it affords organisations in terms of reach, cost efficiencies and peace of mind that the message is right, it should be taking the lead spot in the formation of a comms strategy.

Ryan Arshad, Managing Director, BrandCap New York

Ryan is the Managing Director of BrandCap's New York office.