Digital Won’t Replace Anything

Digital peaked in 2004. Remember that year? Coldplay’s “Clocks” beat “Crazy in Love” for record of the year. Yeah, I know. They still call it a record, at the peak of the digital era. If only we’d realized.

No, I’m serious. Check Google. Yeah, both Trends and Ngram show that 2004 was the peak. Since then? Well, that’s what we’ve all been trying to figure out.

Turns out that digital doesn’t replace anything–not even record sales. They are at a 28-year high. Take that Napster. What about books? Yeah, ebook sales were down in 2015. Down! Weren’t we supposed to have never, ever, ever gotten back together with our old fling the book? I’ll stop the music jokes, because this is serious. These are books after all.

Digital is such a great addition—or perhaps an augmentation—to our world. Like the augmented reality layer that Snapchat and Pokemon Go lays over your face or your living room. It is additive, not replace-ative. It gives us something more; a new experience of things; a new way to interact. It opens up new channels. We have been thinking and promising and fearing this transition to digital as though everything was going to suddenly be turned into 1’s and 0’s and placed on a server somewhere to the utter horror or sheer rapturous delight of us all. It won’t happen that way. No one knows what will happen, remember?

At SMACK, we’ve been watching and thinking and writing a lot about digital in the retail world. We’ve been guilty of looking down on traditional retail and marketing, too. But the truth is that there’s a partnership needed. It’s needed because neither side of this equation has all the answers. In fact, it turns out that e-commerce companies have some really good ideas for physical retail and vice versa. Digital will add to, not take away from, the overall consumer experience.

Digital marketers—and especially agencies—have to stop decrying the foolishness of the physical world, or at least the way traditional marketing has been practiced, because it is going to take experts in both worlds setting down their swords and building this new world together. It’s why Walmart bought Jet.com (we hope) and why Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club – because we have to make marketing personal again. We have to get to actually know the people who buy our products and services, not just read about their personas.

Digital gives us the ability to do that at scale. Physical gives us the ability to do that in person. Let’s keep both and let’s get to work figuring out how they work together in ways no one has imagined, and that in 10 years, no one will believe we ever lived without.

Some things to think about to get you started:

  • How is your audience interacting with the world – both physical and digital?
  • Do you see any ways that one could help the other?
  • Are there ways you could save her time by making it easier with digital?
  • Are there ways you could give her a new experience in-store with that time she just saved?
  • How can we use digital to run quick, simple tests to see if she really likes it?
  • What digital tropes can jump into the physical world to help people find new products and solutions for their life?
  • What physical products and experiences would benefit from a digital partner?

This last bullet reminds me of my own reading habits and how they have changed. I love books, but I don’t just buy a book anymore. I buy an Audible version to listen to first, and if I love it, then I buy a physical copy to keep around and refer to. Same with ebooks. I read them in places where listening to Audible would be rude or inconvenient. If I like it, then I buy physical. I go to bookstores just to hang out and browse – even though Barnes & Noble has become a flea market. This partnership of physical and digital and the ways that having three versions available to me enhance my life ends up selling me way more books.

Turns out this partnership might be good for business and good for the consumer. Go figure.