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Defining Digital

The word is everywhere, but said alone, the word itself doesn’t elicit much. Digital.  “We’re spending more money on digital”, say the big brands. “We know we need to engage the millennials with digital marketing”, say the retailers. “I want more information and savings digitally”, say the consumers. So what, in fact, is does digital mean?

The tough part of working in a segment of marketing that isn’t well established is that not only are brands and retailers still fuzzy on what “digital” means, but so are consumers. Brands announce their increased advertising spends on Facebook, through banner ads on websites, and their desire to use digital coupons instead of paper coupons, yet many consumers are still skeptical about clicking on those promoted posts, banner advertisements and aren’t quite sure how to use digital coupons. Plus, what exactly is a digital coupon?

Is a digital coupon one that is delivered digitally? In that case, a coupon might get emailed and the consumer has to print it off and present it at time of purchase. Or maybe that digital delivery allows the consumer to show their phone with a code on it. Those coupons aren’t much different than paper coupons with a special code on them. Is that digital? Or, that digital coupon might actually be hands off for everyone. The consumer finds it online, attaches it to some kind of uniquely identified account, purchases the item and the discount gets applied and also reimbursed back to the retailer without any manual work on anyone’s part; truly digital through and through.

The danger in not having a true definition for a digital coupon isn’t so much in how it actually works functionally, it is the inability for consumers to know what role they play in the use of that mechanism. The word, much like natural, or healthy, or local, is overused and often under-explained, leaving consumers asking “What does this mean for me?” This concept of using jargon, acronyms or industry-specific vocabulary isn’t new. As marketers though, we have to remember that consumers don’t have their heads in our world everyday. We’re trying to think like them, they aren’t necessarily trying to think like us. The education piece of programs like digital coupons is critical, especially until someone does it well enough to establish an expectation. We have to teach, to set standards, to elevate understanding and that can’t be done with flashy words that don’t have substance behind them. It takes step-by-step instructions on websites and social media, or tables set up in stores showing off the new process. Some consumers will just get “it”, but many others, especially when it comes to advanced technology, won’t. So the education can’t stop. Even after the program is introduced, it can’t be explained a few times then go away. It has to be reinforced.

Digital isn’t the only ambiguous word out there. Big Data came before it and others will come after it. Yet as brands and retailers we have to resist the urge to sound “smart” and step back into our consumers shoes, consider the program as they would consider it and make sure the details deter the devil of misunderstanding or missed expectations.

Why do I work at AWG? “I value the opportunity to work with family businesses. My dad owned his own business for 35 years, so it is what I know and cherish. Plus, I love food, so thinking about it everyday is a huge plus.” -Kate