Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Rewiring for a digital mindset

Published in Nov-Dec 2012

Individuals and companies will have to make a deliberate and disciplined effort to change their mental approach.

True realisation of digital requires a fundamental change in mindset.

Not impossible but it requires a conscious effort and rewiring of the brain (almost literally). Brain plasticity, a relatively recent concept in neuroscience suggests that the physical changes in our brain can create new neural pathways to learn and grow even in adulthood. Although the concept seems simple, the explanation of how and why it does is complex. Developing a digital mindset is also doable and while it seems simple, it requires a deliberate and disciplined effort.

A digital mindset is very different from a traditional transactional mindset. It is open, chaotic and evolving versus closed, selective and episodic. The transactional mindset has a mechanistic perspective, using a linear thought process, where every action has a measured outcome. A traditional 30-second TVC or a print ad is a passive stimulus which creates an outcome measured in terms of awareness or sales. The digital mindset is a quantum world where multiple connections and interactions have infinite unobservable impacts. A mere post on a brand’s Facebook page or a video on YouTube creates infinite outcomes, including possible changes in the stimulus itself, for example, Mashable.

Marketing and business overall looks different when you view it from a digital lens. It does not mean that traditional channels become redundant; their role is redefined in the evolving ecosystem.

Stephen Johnson in ‘The third place manifesto’ aptly describes a core premise of the digital mindset: “We live our lives in a perpetual state of beta.”

This is a very simple statement to understand but its implementation is profound.

It takes root in the essence of thinking about business. With a digital mindset, people and organisations constantly experiment, innovate, learn and optimise. It requires a fundamental rewiring of the organisation in terms of values, structure and culture. The digital world thrives on entrepreneurial spirit and values where culture guides an organisation more effectively than lofty mission and vision statements.

Legacy industrial age management practices and processes can become an organisation’s Achilles’ heel, preventing it from being agile. Unlearning old habits becomes as important as learning new concepts. People are self-motivated by a sense of achievement and not driven by a carrot and stick approach. Google’s famous 20% free time for employees to experiment gave birth to Gmail.

Marketing and business overall looks different when you view it from a digital lens. It does not mean that traditional channels become redundant; their role is redefined in the evolving ecosystem.

Consider the conversations that take place online about offline events like political statements, celebrity break-ups or controversial videos; and the manner in which people want to express themselves through posts, pictures, videos, etc., which in turn can be shared, liked, tweeted and pinned. Karlheinz Stockhausen, the great composer, said it best:

“We are all ‘transistors’ in the literal sense. We send, receive and organise and so long as we are vital, our principal work is to capture and artfully incorporate the signals that surround us.”

The ‘transistors’ create an overwhelming amount of information. This is forcing marketers to become curators who can recognise patterns and distil relevant content from the noise. And they in turn attempt to publish relevant content to engage and build relationships. This is a major shift in mindset from passive messaging using mass media to publishing content through interactive and viral channels.

As David Edelman put it in Four Ways to Get More Value From Digital Marketing (McKinsey Quarterly, March 2010), “Traditional marketers spend about 60% of their budgets on ‘working media’ (or paid placement), 20% on creating content,” while “active digital marketers tend to devote about 30% of their marketing budgets to paid media and 50% to content.”

The content creation is driven by insight, ideas, innovation and interaction – all of which are dynamically linked in the digital lens. Technology fuels and morphs the creative canvas. Therefore, it becomes incumbent on a graphic designer to understand the capabilities of technical platforms and scripts; and a planner to know how algorithms can be integrated to make the interaction more relevant.

The fusion and interaction of art and science has never been more exciting. And it’s not only catering to professionals or large organisations. Amateurs and SMEs can enjoy the benefits experienced by peers who are much bigger. Scale is not necessarily an advantage.

A smart SEO and SEM individual or small business could be as efficient and effective in marketing online as a large multinational. Platforms like Google and Facebook are fuelling the empowerment of small business and levelling the playing field.

In essence, Amazon, Facebook, Google and their brethren are building the pipes to make connections and giving people simple interfaces to communicate formally and informally with each other. Greater bandwidth is increasing the size of the pipes so more things can be sent faster.

What does this mean for the future? Imagination will need to be bigger and more daring. The interdependence of art and science will be more accentuated. Content and interfaces will be critical for brands to interact with consumers. The line between content publisher, media and advertiser will blur to almost look as one.

Only if an organisation rewires itself to embrace the chaos and complexity, can the true adoption of digital be significant in the way they build brands and products. Consider the disruptive change that iTunes created in the entertainment industry, redefining the entire supply chain, including making inventory virtual and on-demand, eliminating the cost of manufacturing, warehousing and shipping CDs to retail outlets; providing pricing flexibility to purchase a single song (eliminating the need to buy a whole album when a customer may only be interested in a few songs) and marketing directly to the consumer and creating the intelligent ‘Genius’ feature to understand customer behaviour in real-time in order to offer relevant content. In fact, with a single digital platform Apple rewired the music industry, eliminating the need for traditional support from logistics, music retail outlets and, if not currently then in the future, advertising or research agencies.

Another example of a disruptive platform is Amazon. Not only have they rewired the retail business, they are extending services to local businesses for advertising deals to Amazon’s huge customer database through AmazonLocal deals. It is a win-win situation since customers get deals tailored just for them and advertisers reach relevant prospects who are interested in their product or service category.

The ability to target prospects contextually eliminates the need for traditional targeting using demographic and psychographic data inferred from small research panels. Once the dialogue is initiated, the online relationship between a brand and customer should be viewed as a journey. It cannot be based on episodic campaigns which are weaved together under a brand strategy devised and locked in for the year. Brands have to look beyond online banners. Social media and CRM-based platforms enable brands to continue a meaningful dialogue with their customers.

The TV series Mad Men may have resurrected the nostalgia of Madison Avenue, but in reality, Silicon Valley has overshadowed the ad world through disruptive technology-driven platforms. The valuation (market caps) of old established advertising groups pale in comparison to the new-age tech giants who are redefining how we communicate. Will Madison Avenue adopt a truly digital mindset or will legacy continue to drag it down? Only time will tell.

Amin Rammal is Director, The Brand Crew, Firebolt63, APR & Digispace and Partner, Spark.