When I studied for my marketing qualifications in the 1980s, digital marketing did not exist. Even by the mid-1990s, when I was the marketing and public relations manager for a headwear manufacturer, we had one desk computer between 15 staff; we used fax machines to communicate with suppliers and clients,
and my secretary was struggling to use a word processor rather than a manual
typewriter. I bought my first mobile phone in 1993, costing me £15 for 15
minutes of phone calls a month. It had no Internet options. The World Wide Web opened to the public in August 1991—just 30 years ago. Businesses
were beginning to use email, but it was not used significantly for personal use. Text messaging started to become commonplace in the late 1990s when people could start to text across the various phone networks. It was only as we moved into
the 21st century that social media began to expand.
And how things have changed over the past 20 years!
Digital technology has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Communications
have never been so rapid and 24/7. As a result, the world has become smaller,
and consumers can and do buy from retailers from across the globe. Recently, I purchased flowers for my aunt in the USA, ordered items from China, had meetings with businesses in China, India and Berkshire, England – all in one day!
Buyers are better informed of options and can easily compare the prices of
suppliers. The decision-making process has become faster, as has the diffusion
of innovation. Product life cycles are often much shorter. This has implications
not just for marketing but also for manufacturing and logistics. Additionally,
we now have many more tools available to us as marketers. We have data analytics
that I could only dream of 30 years ago. Most marketing courses incorporate
significant elements of digital marketing. Like data analytics, customer
experience and web design have become major elements of marketing; it is not
surprising that many people coming into marketing now have information
technology and computing skills rather than business and marketing.
There should be no division between digital marketing and traditional marketing.
Each should embrace the other. Yet, many businesses focus on social media with little or no appreciation of marketing strategy and key marketing principles such as new product development or pricing strategies. Digital marketers do, themselves, no favours with this myopic viewpoint. The mainstays of traditional marketing, like the marketing mix, can be reinterpreted from a digital perspective to enhance an organisation’s marketing initiatives. Digital marketing is not just about social media which is just one element of the marketing communications mix (and which itself is one element of the marketing mix).
Digital marketing has enabled businesses to garner huge amounts of data about their customers and potential customers. This data enables businesses to understand, segment, target, and engage with customers in a way that was not possible 20 years ago. As marketers, we need to be fully aware that data collection, the use of AI, and location-based technology, with powerful tools, create new and complex ethical issues that we need to address, in particular, in relation to privacy. My own research has shown that many consumers are prepared to give away their
privacy in exchange for short-term convenience and rewards. We need to not only
educate the consumer regarding ethical issues but also adhere to ethical
standards in our handling of such personal and personalized data. One of the
unique attributes of digital marketing is its ability to be measured in an
almost real-time environment, enabling tweaks to be made to the execution of the
strategy without significant cost. While I am always excited by the amount of
rich customer data we can gather and analyse, what really excites me is the
power and potential of co-creation and online communities.
The pandemic has accelerated changes in consumer behaviour that were happening anyway; we live in an ever-increasing digital world that we have all had to adapt to over the last year. In the past months major clothing retail
chains in the UK have gone into liquidation, in part, for not embracing digital
commerce sufficiently. As bricks-and-mortar retail suffer, online sales have
rocketed, and it is those businesses that have embraced digital that are
succeeding. Digital is here to stay. It is not a gimmick or an add-on to any
business proposition but a core element of any business strategy.
This article is adapted from my foreword for Marketing in a Digital Age by Dr Dinesh Kumar (2021) published by SAGE.