Marketing is a people business. Products and services exist because people purchase and use them to satisfy their needs and wants. Even when dealing with organisations, negotiations are done with people. In fact, people are still human – although they use digital resources and tools, they are not digital themselves. Has marketing become digital? The answer is decisively no. Is digital important in marketing? Of course it is, and its importance will only continue to increase. So what is the difference?
Digital is part of our lifestyle and is not only relevant for business. It is used for transactions (e.g. through payment gateways), for communication, for socialising and promotion (e.g. Facebook), for networking and meeting (e.g. LinkedIn, Skype, Webinars, Facetime), to express opinions and react to news (e.g. Twitter) and so much more.
Ironically, the digital world has presented organisations and policy makers with many challenges. These include the empowerment that the web and digital media gave to people and customers, how online shopping has affected retail, the continuous market disruptions faced by the fast-evolving digital world and many others which come to mind. What is common in all this is that the real changes which are occurring are in human behaviour. The real challenge which lies ahead for organisations, is keeping their clients engaged and staying up to date with the times against fast-changing scenarios. These include both human behaviour patterns and technological advancements.
Whilst the digital world is influencing the behaviour of customers, the needs and wants of people have not changed. People still need places to live in, cars to drive, food to eat, clothes to wear and other physical needs. It is the way that consumers are seeking ways to satisfy these needs which changing, and not most of the needs themselves. People relate digitally, but in doing so, they miss the expressions, gestures, the physical presence and personal attention. This scenario still retains the relevance for organisations to have an effective business and marketing plan in place, with a vision, mission, tangible objectives, a strategy, product and business development, a comprehensive marketing activity plan and the other elements incorporated into it. Technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) do not seem close to replacing the human resources required to perform these functions.
Whilst it is becoming increasingly important for organisations to incorporate a digital strategy within their marketing and business plan, on its own, it does not fulfil all the requirements for business success. Marketing activity can be both ‘physical’ and digital. For example, there are many products where customers still need to touch, feel or taste prior to purchasing and may tend towards preferring to receive personal attention in some situations. People making use of financial services organisations, insurance companies and similar services still require a high element of human interaction. They still need to discuss their needs and receive professional guidance before they make a commitment.
The digital world has provided tools for interaction and trading, making it possible to be more efficient and versatile for marketing communications, product development (e.g. apps), services on-line, e-commerce, banking and payment transactions, as examples. However digital marketing is not an end in itself. It still needs to be part of an overall marketing plan. Organisations can take a leading edge by creatively incorporating digital in as many elements of marketing and business activity as possible and finding ways of adapting to change.