Yesterday, at the annual UK IAB Engage event, there was much debate about the role that digital marketing can play in brand-building, as opposed to direct-response, marketing. The assembled agency experts were broadly in agreement that digital still falls short when it comes to brand-building work, although its value is growing as consumers spend more of their lives online.
Of course, this is nonsense. Asking whether digital marketing can effectively build brands is like asking if oxygen can keep people alive. Yes, it can, but almost certainly not in isolation.
But the real issue here is the marketing industry’s obsession with the out-dated notion of brand-building and awareness-creating campaigns. Agencies love these kind of briefs because they offer maximum scope for creativity, award dinners and, crucially, billable hours. Yet, the very concept of “building awareness” harks back to the former days of centralised brand control, when marketers called the shots and their audiences diligently consumed whatever was shouted at them. Our world isn’t like that any more.
Today, there’s no such thing as an awareness campaign. If a marketer is doing their job correctly, their target audience is only ever a click away from purchase. To set your sights purely on building awareness is to miss the immense opportunity presented by the social web. Your goal should be to get attention by sharing something interesting and sparking a conversation that takes people to a place where you want them to be.
So, remember, thinking solely about creating awareness is absurd. The social web and our digital world has changed this forever. Let’s stop debating the relative role that different channels can play in supporting each business goal and wake up instead to today’s reality: people don’t need awareness, they need useful, actionable content to help them make decisions on their terms.