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Digital Drives Engagement, But Not Necessarily Brand Identity

Despite its exponential growth, digital media lacks a degree of maturity relative to other, more traditional media. Marketers will either advocate or decry digital media, and the changes it has to the field of marketing.

Tom Doctoroff, CEO at marketing agency JWT Asia Pacific, raises this debate again in his latest book Twitter is Not a Strategy, and in doing so, he points to a single area where digital media and traditional media have offered different results in brand building.

Here, Doctoroff expounds on why prioritizing digital media could have negative effects on a companies brand image, the complementary relationship between mass media and digital media, and the importance of branding in today’s crowded retail space.

What are some the problems that may come with placing more importance on social media and other digital marketing channels as opposed to traditional methods?

I am an advocate of digital communications and digital media because they allow a deeper relationship with the brand that wasn’t possible during the era of so-called traditional marketing. However, there is a danger in prioritizing social and other digital media over other means of top-down communications. By top-down  I mean broadcast and other channels that enable both broad reach and meticulous message craftsmanship.

Focusing only on bottom-up will result in consumer confusion which directly impacts purchase intent and loyalty. More subtly, it encourages transactionalism at the expense of intimacy.

Some feel that mass media is dying, including TV; yet you argue that mass media and digital media complement each other. Can you elaborate?

Different kinds of media reach us for different reasons; and those reason compliment each other.

Analog, or traditional media, shapes our brand preference while most digital media deepens our engagement, and leads to brand loyalty. To avoid confusing consumers, engagement needs to be both authentic and constructed. Marketers must forge a paradigm that allows consumers to participate with brands while at the same time empowers marketers to manage the message and dialog.

As consumers move toward purchasing, direct and digital media should dominate. These media provide more opportunity for engagement—that is, direct interaction with a brand idea and its creative expression. Marketers have more opportunity to trigger behavioral change and increase the probability the consumer will buy a product.

In the book, you mention that engagement ideas should remain medium-neutral. With different channels reaching different audiences, how can brands best achieve this neutrality while also optimizing their marketing messages on different channels?  

It all starts with the brand idea—which defines the relationship between consumers and brand. This relationship is interactive and provides the underpinning for subsequent engagement across different channels. The brand idea is then expressed by creative that invites participation. Don’t invite participation for participation’s sake alone.

Then through the creative platform, we must encourage a person to do something that leads to sales—learn more, buy more, use more, or [advocate] more. Each creative expression of the brand idea should be conceived with a specific behavioral objective in mind.

How important is branding in an era of digital and social media?

Branding has always been central to marketing. I think the rise of digital has unfortunately led to many marketers taking their eye off this ball.  I do believe that the explosion of digital platforms has increased the importance of message consistency. Confusion alienates. Digital media is a double-edged sword.  The risk of disorientation is the flipside of deeper intimacy and engagement when it comes to any media that invites participation.

Originally published in December 2014.

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