What Do You Call This Thing?

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I’m at a loss for words.

Years ago, my business partners and I at Twist Image decided to define the work we do as "Digital Marketing." The thought was, so long as a brand is leveraging technology to either develop or deploy their marketing (or both), this would be our blank canvass… our playground… the space we played in. Our contemporaries would call their work, "eMarketing," "online advertising" or "interactive marketing" (and I’m sure there are other iterations). All of those felt fairly limiting to me (they still do). While some of those descriptors still work, "digital marketing" still feels right in my bones (and, what works for us, may not work for you… I’m fine with that, and you should be too).

But, things are changing.

In my Blog posts, I’ll often turn a phrase like, "what’s happening online is [fill in the blanks]." Lately, anytime I’m about to type out that kind of sentence, I freeze. Online? Social Media? The Web? Let’s face it, that’s only one-third of the equation at this point. We have the Web, we have mobile and we now have touch (think iPad), and while these platforms are all digital, all online (in one way, shape or form), they are very different. So, if a brand is "online" and doing great things with "Social Media" they could very well have zero mobile presence and nothing useful happening on tablets.

Online does not equal "The Web."

I don’t think the Web is dead (as Wired Magazine wrote in their cover story, The Web Is Dead. Long Live The Internet, but it’s changing at a rapid pace (much faster than most people recognize). The Web as we know it is becoming less important as more and more people turn to mobile, tablets and apps. It’s going to force the core technology to change and it’s already impacting everything from usability and user experience to how brands can best connect.

We don’t need another word this.

"Digital Marketing" still works fine, but the concept of "going online" is beginning to show its age. That – in and of itself – is an interesting concept to ponder. Who goes online anymore? We’re connected: our mobiles are connected, decent wireless connectivity is becoming more and more pervasive, 3G and 4G networks continue to expand and we’re at the point where fast connectivity everywhere is just around the corner (you can practically taste it). The bigger thought is around convergence. Will these digital platforms – Web, mobile and touch – converge to the point where a screen is a screen is a screen? Will this quickly cause TV and paper to become just another screen as well? Does it all just become one screen? Something non-physical? Will it all just be content and connectivity that can be projected on to anything or anyone, anywhere? While my feet are comfortably planted in being a Presentist, I still can’t help but imagine what Digital Marketing will look like in the not-to-distant future, what my role will be and what brands will be doing. On top of that, what will traditional Marketing look and feel like in these platforms?

Trying to name the future is difficult. Imagining it is a lot of fun.


  1. “Going online” is definitely dead. But Is convergence really the best thing though? Do we want every aspect of our lives linked back to the Internet? It scares me to know that everything in my life may soon be online.

  2. I say, “You can google it.” My tech-friendly colleagues say, “You can look online.” Grandma says, “I just got the internet!” They are all slightly different, but signal large differences with how each of us interact with, and conceptualize of, our world. For me, the internet (web, digital, whatever you choose to call it) is a part of the world. For my colleagues, it is a module added on to the world. For grandma, it is something set wholly apart from the world.

  3. While I haven’t come up with a snazzy name for it, I think “this” is just the Internet catching up and allowing people to do the same behaviors that they do anyway, but on a broader scale.
    We like talking, sharing information, making friends, learning, collecting pictures and telling stories. The general themes in behavior that people are expressing when they are using Facebook, Foursquare or Groupon aren’t fundamentally different from what people did 10 or 100 years ago. We are just infinitely more connected with everyone else that is doing the same thing.
    Maybe just call it “marketing reacting to living digital.”

  4. For how advanced our times are becoming, and how over-connected we all are, there is still a significant amount of companies/brands not really familiar with anything related to “online”.
    Just today I was overhearing some prospect discussing with a member of my staff about his business and how he still didn’t have a website for it, and it wasn’t a remote small company either.
    Even if the global condition is definitely moving towards innovation and advanced marketing tools, some local realities are far less advanced than one would like to think. And there’s still a lot of room for creative studios leveraging on this gap.

  5. The notion of “what to call this thing” is more important than we think. For those of us steeped in digital marketing the nuances are huge. But as Eric Pratum says in his comment above, the average consumer of digital media, does not see these nuances.
    This made me think, if you could really name what this new digital consumerism really is (including all its disparate applications)…would more people understand it? Would more businesses embrace it? Would it start to gain a greater market share of advertising over traditional media channels?
    Just as Shakespeare’s “what’s in a name?” encapsulates the struggle of the famous play, it’s also central to the future of digital marketing. Of course, that’s just my two cents!

  6. Hey Mitch,
    Yet another awesome post.
    I’m not sure what to call it, but you’re line “everyone is connected” brings us closer to the correct terminology. I think people and businesses who are online + mobile + touch could be called connected. (it kinda sounds like something from the Godfather)
    A byproduct of this connectedness is the change in meaning of words.
    Carbon Copy (cc) doesn’t mean the same thing it once did. Similarily, words like Computer, TV, Radio & Newpaper are also changing their meaning. Hulu, Optik TV and Apple TV now force us to redefine our previous beliefs of what a computer, TV and Internet are. Newspapers are delivered to our doorsteps, but RSS & API feeds can deliver the news to me in my bed while I’m still lying in it. To me a screen is a screen is a screen. TV is just video, Radio is just audio and Newpapers are just articles.
    Another byproduct is the change in the engaged senses ie. sight, sound, touch, taste, smell.
    The touch element of iPad and other tablets add an additional sensory experience that we’ve not experienced yet online. In a similar way that the experience of a coffee shop includes the sounds of the espresso machine and that newspaper has texture, connected brands can create a unique sensory experience for consumers with a rhythm in the way their information is presented and interacted with.

  7. I agree with the idea that the ideas of “the Internet” and even “the web” and “social media” restrict thinking about content and the future of information.
    Content is content regardless how it’s accessed. In the future, our entire data streams could be amorphous, uploaded into the cloud, accessible via any platform, any device, any network. What if I posted my status as RSS and you could access it by Twitter but my hubby heard it in a personalized audio stream and my boss saw it on LinkedIn. And all I did was make it available for your consumption however, wherever, whenever you want.
    You make your information available, it gets combined with 3rd party data streams (data about you in your personal and professional networks), and it morphs into a data entity beyond you, that you don’t necessarily own. It brings into question privacy and security issues, but it also means that information exists independently of technology.
    Putting a name on the platforms prevents us from thinking about data/ content this freely. It stifles the potential of innovation.

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