What is Digital?



By Jeremy Gavin

The word “digital” is one that is firmly rooted in the vernacular of marketers, publishers and advertisers alike. So it is worth asking,  what does “digital” mean? 

We could make this quick and just agree that digital is simply another channel in the media mix. But to do so would be a disservice to the unique properties that digital platforms exhibit. It would limit how we deliver content and advertising and it would limit the scope of how we see the future of our industry unfolding. Digital isn’t simply a new appendage to traditional media. It’s a different beast all together.

If we’re being literal, the term digital simply refers to a binary encoding mechanism. But when we talk about digital in terms of media or advertising, I don’t think we’re talking about a mechanism, rather, we’re talking about how that mechanism has revolutionised nearly everything. Digital allows the efficient encoding of nearly any type of information into the all-pervading network of networks that we call the internet.

Digital has claim to attributes that traditional media channels simply cannot achieve on their own. By its nature, digital is:

i) Social: Digital has reduced latency of communication at a distance to nearly zero.

ii) Mobile: The internet is seemingly everywhere with the help of Wi-Fi and cellular networks. The only limit to digital mobility is the connected device being used.

iii) Contextually sensitive: Cookies in our browsers and sensors in our devices allow for contextual information to gathered surrounding individual behaviour in the online space and increasingly in the physical world too.

Traditional media is increasingly converging toward digital for various reasons. But in doing so these media are being imbued with these digital attributes that were not natively available to them in their offline form. The same is true for advertising. Where traditional advertising was once a static and unidirectional communication, digital enables it to be a dynamic, two-way conversation between the brand and the consumer.

Digital is a cultural shift as much as it is a technological one. Audiences are expecting more contextual and dynamic ways of interacting with their media and brands, because that is the nature of the digital culture that we now live in.

The challenge for digital now is to break free of the tropes of traditional media and to be seen as a different beast. Traditional media and advertising that are now playing in the digital space need to consider how they can be more social, mobile and contextually relevant when trying to tell stories, change behaviour and sell product.

Digital is a technological and cultural shift that offers near infinite possibilities when it comes to interacting with audiences in an effective way. But these possibilities won’t be properly realised if digital is only perceived as an extension of traditional media forms.

This article originally appeared on the Adnews NGen Blog.

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