Getting Digital Wrong

In recent years, marketing leaders have faced intense pressure to “transform” and embrace digital. But recent events—and some compelling new research—indicate that many of us may have been running in the wrong direction. Is it time to consider a course correction? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.


  • For years, the desire to modernize and digitize has translated to more spending in two areas: digital advertising and marketing technology. But today that’s changing. Spending on martech dropped in 2017. And digital advertising is noticably losing its lustre as programmatic goes from panacea to pariah.
  • If you work in a big agency network, this may seem like a sign of impending doom. But we see it as a sign of change—driven by the realization that true modernization is about more than doing the same old stuff with a new set of tools.
  • The good news: a new playbook is emerging. A new HBR piece backed by some compelling research lays out a deeper, more nuanced theory of what marketing modernization really means. It boils down to a simple but crucial shift in mindset: from focusing on purchase to focusing on usage.
  • It’s not a new idea. The concept can be traced back McKinsey’s moments of truth method—a customer experience design tool created back in 2006. But the idea takes on new power and relevance in light of the new research that backs the HBR article, which compares how marketing is practiced at digital/newcomer brands vs. their legacy/traditional counterparts (think Hilton vs. AirBNB).
  • Prof. Galloway recently delivered a similar message, framing his argument in characteristically blunt terms: “pre-purchase—which has been massively over-invested in—is in structural decline.”

  • If your organization needs an extra push in the right direction, here’s one: new data regulations like the GDPR provide a particularly potent incentive for brands to shift their mindset and methods.
  • More good news: making this shift sets you and your brand up well to avoid the not-insignificant perils of short-termism, as summarized in this timely re-telling of The Tortoise And The Hare. Why not cue it up as bedtime reading tonight and start tomorrow with a fresh mindset?


Issue #40
Mar 18, 2018

Further Reading