Next year, dump the word “digital”

A recent post from Paul Van Cotthem “It’s time to dump digital” inspired me to update my professional headline in LinkedIn accordingly and drop the word “digital”. Because it’s true: the word “digital” has become a superfluous word nowadays.

While I often write about digital topics, I couldn’t agree more. “Digital” as a “thing” needs to go away. We experience one life, offline and online. But insofar as strategy is concerned, well, a song can be played in many keys. But it’s only a good song if it is crafted well.

Digital may not be dead yet, but they’ve started digging its grave.

Of course, it’s not a death, more a reincarnation or redistribution of energy. Digital has changed the world so much that it has become the world. Despite the occasional outlandish prediction in 2002 that the digital revolution would see off marketing and its oh-so-traditional organizational structures, the future turned out to be less exciting. Clients got over their new toy syndrome and realized that they only had one budget and one set of strategic objectives to service. They looked at their target customers who, as ever, were able to cross seamlessly back and forth between the digital world and the traditional one during their media consumption – often using both simultaneously. And agencies also started to change.

Of course, you can bet that the hundreds of ‘digital strategists’ who sprang up over the past decade will not go as quietly into the night. They will rage against the dying of the digital light. Similarly, the world of marketing journalism, which has over-represented and over-protected digital marketing at the expense of the bigger strategic issues that CMOs are struggling with, will also need a reset.


Marketing has been changed, and changed utterly, by the digital deviation. At a tactical level our discipline is barely recognizable as the one that started the new century. But on the strategic plane, it is very much business as usual. We have fabulous new marketing tools to play with thanks to digital but the age old questions of marketing – insight, creativity, positioning, engagement and, ultimately, effect – remain as annoyingly elusive as ever.

In the end, we are all just people.

People are not “digitally” connected consumers, they are not “digital” shoppers, they are not buying things because of a “digital” strategy.

We have always been connected, we have always been social. We are people who buy things, enjoy things we love, and tell our friends about them. We just do so in the modern world.

The tech and nerdy industries will continue to talk about digital innovation and digital strategy and digital advertising, while the world around them carries on not giving a crap about how things get to them.

Though they are important tools, technology and transformation are only a means to an end, not a goal in itself. Businesses do not need “Chief Digital Officers”, “Digital Project Managers” et al. Though well-intended, using “digital” in a job title does not reflect a functional organizational mission, nor does it highlight a key organizational objective. Managers do not need to shift their focus onto digital technology or digital tools as such, but onto the best path to achieving key goals, such as delighting customers, shareholders and other stakeholders.

Time has come to disrupt the disruptors. And to focus on what truly matters.

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