General Douglas MacArthur once famously said that ‘old soldiers never die; they just fade away’. Is it time for the digital strategist to just fade away? Have we reached the point of maturity and integration in our industry that there is no longer a need for our role? Should we now simply be considered as marketing strategists?
Many episodes ago we discussed the future of digital strategy with Nectarios Economakis. In that discussion, Nectar stated that over time he believed the term ‘digital’ would disappear. At the time, he said that ‘as technology improves it will fade into the background and we won’t have digital strategists since all strategists will have a strong understanding of digital. He gives the example of the early part of the last century with the emergence of electricity and the fact that there were ‘vice presidents of electricity’ at the time to help drive that function forward within companies’.
Are we at that tipping point? After all, digital media is fairly mature at this point. It’s been around for years. Technology platforms, marketing automation and advanced analytics give marketers the power to create seamless and complex experiences. We are on the threshold of cognitive computing that promises to further simplify the delivery of digital strategies and eliminate tasks. We no longer need evangelists to tell us that digital media is important now that brand spending on this channel has surpassed traditional media. What’s more, the subject matter experts and digital practitioners have been operating in their fields for longer now and have greater business maturity than was previously the case.
Here’s the truth; while there are many digital native organizations, and many legacy companies are transitioning actively into becoming digital businesses, none of them are there yet. Regardless of what they say at digital conferences or the awards they collect for their work, no-one is delivering on the promise of exceptional personalized experiences for their audiences. I have yet to see a single instance of a digital media execution that anticipates who I am, where I am and what I want without me having explicitly made it clear. Further, it’s not just in-house teams that aren’t yet delivering on this. Traditional agencies are not yet fully transitioned into digital media while digital agencies are relentlessly tactical and disjointed.
Digital media publishers have no incentive to collaborate and share data, so it is incredibly difficult to build user experiences that take into account cross-platform behaviour. We have to contend with legacy systems and technologies that prevent us from easily and seamlessly connecting the dots.
Finally, we have to contend with the human element, something that many digital practitioners have difficulty with. They may individually be very skilled at their roles, but the relative lack of soft skills or ability to think beyond their immediate deliverables make is a particular challenge to align and integrate their efforts with those of their colleagues, something that is necessary to create seamless experiences.
In short, there is still a lot of growing up that digital practitioners need to do until they are handed the keys to the organization, while there is a tremendous amount of digital learning that organizations need to undertake until they can truly be regarded as digital enterprises.
The idea of a world where we don’t need to mention the word ‘digital’ is seductive. A fully integrated and pivoted organization is simply a digital company with marketing functions. That is how it should be. And Nectar is not wrong; that is what will happen one day. But we are not there yet, neither will we be in the foreseeable future. So until then, keep calling yourself a digital strategist. It’s not yet time to fade away.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.