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The beguiling world of digital

Digital media changes the way we communicate, and needs consistent strategy to ensure its relevance

Twitter feed, Facebook community, iPhone app. Years ago a nice bit of laminated print would be enough to thrill, but no more, and for good reason. Digital has opened up new avenues for helping an idea to live; to evolve; to interact with the customer and become a part of his or her life. And it's stimulating stuff.

The what and the how
Pharma is rubbing its eyes and waking up to the exciting possibilities of digital communication. Indeed, some organisations may even be bringing in someone to head up 'digital strategy'. But this phrase can be something of a red herring: strategy is strategy, regardless of the channels or media through which it's communicated. After all, we didn't have 'paper strategy' people back when print was king.

Good communication has always been about engagement, however, and the world of social media is, by its very nature, uniquely engaging.

As advertising authority Dave Trott said in his recent blog on UK advertising industry business publication Campaign's website: 'Strategy is what. Tactics is how'.

Clearly we need to know what we're saying before we decide how to say it. So if we're thinking about Twitter before we're thinking about positioning; about Facebook before customer insight; about the app before the patient journey – if 'digital' is a separate column – then we're just creating more noise. And in a world where the way people interact with information is constantly changing, this interaction has to be personally relevant to be truly effective.

Yesterday the world changed
In the words of English naturalist Charles Darwin: 'It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change'.

The media world is changing even as you read this article. The industry thought leaders of the future will be judged not by how many times they have been published, but by how many followers they have (although the idea of Twitter followers will, no doubt, seem as quaint in a few years as buying a CD does today). Already we are seeing that people are no longer the passive recipients of the content that we produce.

In order to remain relevant and stay alongside our customers, let alone ahead of them, we need constantly to reinvent the way we communicate and embrace the newest technologies – while always remembering that this is the 'how', and that we need to build our brands on the 'what' as much as we ever did.

So of course the 'new shiny toys' of social media (in fact, any new media) are beguiling. They should be, because they open up how we can communicate with our customers and how our customers can interact with our communications. Hey, if you're not beguiled by the possibilities, then perhaps you're in the wrong job.

More than ever in this noise-polluted age, brand communication needs to be coherent, concise and consistent. And our brands still need to be built on single-minded, insight-driven and differentiating strategies that endure over time and across borders and cultures.

And that's as true for an app as it is for an ad.

The Author
Phil Bartlett
is general manager of Torre Lazur McCann

6th July 2011


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