How Digital Empowerment Has Changed Marketing Communications

This article is also published in Brand Quarterly.

With almost a decade of social media presence, and brands talking to their consumers through other than the traditional mediums on digital platforms, even now, a lot of brands are still in denial and consider conventional mediums of advertising as the main platform of communication.

One of the reason’s that I can imagine is that a lot of people think that social media IS digital; and that limited thinking causes a lot of misconceptions. That is why first it is important to define the realm of digital advertising. This includes websites, mobile, social media, business analytics, big data, gaming, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, etc. with many of these technologies gaining in prominence since 2007 after the launch of smartphones, and now reaching consumers anywhere and everywhere.

Another question that comes with this explanation is “How is digital changing?” The most logical explanation is that it makes customers and brands connected with each other even closer. Digital technology is applied to people, equipment, information, etc., creating opportunities for brands to connect with people that were considered impossible through conventional marketing standards.

This brings not just a new way of communication but also introduces new logics, business priorities, and communication priorities, leading to re-envisioned overall communication objectives for a brand.

The Changing Terms

In previous eras, the consumer was always on the listening end – “Extra Extra!!” – with brands communicating their messages to them. There was no one to listen to them and understand what they really wanted or even how they perceived the brand. Digital is giving consumers the platform to speak their hearts out, talk about the brand, and is putting the power into their hands. This is leading to a change of products and services based on what consumers actually want.

As much as this whole thing seems to be a tedious step, it is helping brands build not just a bigger consumer base but also identifying the loyal ones and ensuring brand growth too. Thus, the results are coming back in the form of a multi-trillion-dollar annual growth opportunity created, as customers switch products and services.

One major example is the addition of cameras in smartphones, and then later, these becoming an integral component of a smartphone purchase decision.

In 2003, all major digital media were covering headlines focusing on “hamburger hell” i.e. how fast food is a catalyst for obesity, and this was causing a lot of problems for fast food chains, especially McDonald’s.

Understanding this, McDonald’s realized that it was high time, not just to introduce new products in the menu, but also to discuss such topics with consumers directly. This was done via launching new portals, being active on social media and also through branded content to address consumer issues and build a conversation with them.

You can see a wonderful example of this with McDonald’s Pakistan’s recently launched campaign regarding health and fitness, sponsoring a marathon:

Te overall campaigning by consumers clearly highlights the impact of digital platforms on brands, as they are not just adding new products to their portfolios, but also starting initiatives in their communications to ensure they are coming out as listeners.

The Perspective Of Businesses

Considering the above-mentioned examples, it is evident that business must change the way they think. They must act and learn to make sure they keep pace with consumers in this digital world. The conventional mediums were always a linear relationship in which brands were talking to consumers, but now digital is a two-way relationship. It is important brands not just communicate their message to consumers but also to take the time to listen to them as well. Engagement, dialogue and feedback are critical components of the relationship between brand and consumer, encouraging brand loyalty and advocacy.

Brands no longer own or control consumers. It’s the other way around now. To ensure brands are meeting their needs, they must engage and let consumers build their own experiences. From smart TVs to computing devices, and every time a smartphone is picked up, brands must be present everywhere their consumer is seeking information.

With this in mind, I will leave you with the five key points when benchmarking your brand in this digital world.

  1. The consumer is everything and everywhere, all the time
  2. Brands are all about engagement and experience
  3. Contextual information is the key to getting consumer attention, leading to engagement
  4. Platforms are critical for brands; this is where their consumers are
  5. Learn and unlearn at the same time. As technology rapidly changes so too must your brand