A few weeks ago, I was walking down Second Street in San Francisco, when some window signage caught my eye. In a bold font, it declared that the company inside was made of storytellers. Data nerds. Content kings. Digital divas.
It’s plausible they were. It was also clear they were trying a bit too hard to describe their business. In reality, they were marketers and communicators who got a bit too ambitious in playing out their own creative brief.
Now there’s nothing wrong with highlighting your strengths. True differentiation is hard to come by in shops. Self-applied labels can be advantageous, signaling specialties to potential clients while keeping a firm focused. But there’s one label that has given me pause for at least a decade: the “digital” agency.
In reality, having digital expertise is a basic component of any well-regarded firm nowadays. Some may excel in certain aspects, such as social and digital media capabilities, while others may have other pinpointed offerings like SEO/SEM or marketing automation.
Yet leading with the “digital” tag frequently signals an underlying weakness in the firm being able to look at the broader challenge faced by an organization, then develop the right approach. Placing digital first assumes that bits and bytes can cure all ills, solve all problems, and win all battles. It’s a tactic-first approach in a world crying out for smarter, more strategic thinking.
And often, as we’ve seen, the digital-only is quick to fade when put to the test. Digital is part of the equation—usually a big part—but it’s no substitute for the balanced, multi-faceted plans that are at the core of the most successful initiatives.
The next time you’re pitched by a “digital” shop or invite one to consider a project, dig deeper. Are you buying substance or effervescence? The choice is yours.
By Mike McDougall
Insights, from us to you.