For a long time, "digital" and "interactive" have been used interchangeably in the marketing world. Case in point: IAB stands for Interactive Advertising Bureau, but it concerns itself with all forms of digital advertising. With mouse clicks and keystrokes considered not only interactions but also campaign success metrics, digital media has been considered interactive by definition. As a result, all digital advertising -- on computers, mobile devices, connected televisions, and video games -- has been grouped into a single category.
But with the proliferation of internet-connected screens on which highly targeted and measurable advertising can be served, it's time to redefine digital marketing. Interactivity is no longer the common thread underlying these screens. Besides, we've seen time and again consumers don't really like interacting with ads in the first place. So what makes a medium digital when you remove interactive? It should have the qualities that separated online from traditional media to begin with: Measurement, data-driven targeting, and accountability.
It just so happens that technology is bringing these three attributes to many forms of media that, until now, have been considered traditional. The future is digital, and our definition needs to be appropriate.
On its surface, interactive advertising has an advantage in metrics tracking: It's easy to monitor clicks and downloads. So if all a marketer cares about is how many people downloaded an app after seeing a mobile ad, so be it. But what does it tell you about brand engagement? Considering the immense drop-off of app users after a single use, surely interactions like click-to-download can't be considered a reliable measurement of campaign effectiveness.
As new media that are not interactive by nature emerge, the biggest challenge will always be measurement. However, not having clicks and downloads to count on forces us to focus on engagement, rather than solely action. For example, if you are a restaurant using location based media (mobile, digital billboards, screens in gyms and offices) to get customers in the door, you need to know just what brought them in. It is incumbent on the purveyors of new media to provide measurement and ROI so digital buyers can defensibly allocate dollars to new channels and away from the ones they buy today.
Data, data, data
Targeting is a favorite topic for digital buyers, and media certainly do not need to be interactive to be highly targeted. The amount of data available, which changes by channel, is dizzying. We already know from the web that there is more to targeting than age and gender. The behaviors consumers have exhibited online have opened entirely new ways for consumers to be categorized. Taking these lessons and applying them to other media is paramount for new channels to tick the "data-driven targeting" box. For example, online it's possible to target auto-intenders based on their recent visit to autotrader.com. With location-based media, these same auto-intenders are all the users who visited a car dealership over the weekend. If you can target based on demonstrated behavior and intent, it shouldn't matter which screen you are reaching consumers on. It's digital, baby!
Of course, with this data-driven targeting there needs to be accountability. Accountability has been ingrained in digital buyers since birth. But what is it, exactly? Pacing, delivery, and viewability? It is amazing that 20 years into digital media, there isn't yet a consensus on the definition of an impression. But reporting, ad-serving, and impression verification help get us there.
Re-learning the language
To use "digital" and "interactive" marketing interchangeably is to do both a disservice. There are fantastic interactive campaigns out there that develop an entire experience for the user with in-ad games, compelling video content, and easy call-to-action buttons. But for the most part, interactive remains what it's always been: A simple (some might argue annoying) click that doesn't help the consumer's interaction with the brand in any tangible way.
There is a coming wave of digital media that is not interactive at all, but will still provide targeted, measurable consumer impressions and undeniable brand engagement. Interactive will have its place, but defining digital by the level of data and analytics available will allow for more targeted and engaging ad content that targets consumers most appropriately, regardless of the screen.
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