Digital is dead.
Deceased.
No more.

There, has that got your attention?

And this is coming from someone with “Head of Digital” in their job title less than a year ago.

I’m sadly attending a family funeral myself this morning.
The celebration of a great life.
A strong innings.
Reflections and anecdotes to bring a wee smile and warmth to hearts amidst a harsh reality that a chapter has closed.
Not dissimilar to this perspective of digital herewith.

So, what am I really saying here?
Digital of old has had its time.
In the contemporary sphere, Digital is a given.

Digital execution was commonly undertaken in isolation, rather than being part of the strategy.
It was the Emperor’s new clothes.
But it needed to be connected end-to-end.

For many that was always the intention.
They just didn’t know how.
Or the costs seemed inaccessible.
Or they couldn’t demonstrate return on investment.
Or they couldn’t attribute the benefits.
And the noise pollution of “digital first” meant few would cut digital in favour of “old school” marketing or CRM.

So, Digital set out beating an isolated path.
Building a shiny silo for itself, hived off from the rest of marketing.
And the followers missed the above and just thought it was always meant to be that way.

There have been huge Digital successes, of course.
Just think of the transformation of the gov.uk services, with its aim of creating ‘digital services so good that people prefer to use them’.
A digital by default agenda, expertly delivered, with incredible transformative impact on how the population of an entire nation accesses crucial information and transacts crucial tasks.

Or the Transport For London digital redevelopment – not just a pretty facelift, but a huge shakeup of how the organisation delivers information to the millions using the transport network on a monthly basis.

The redevelopment of a responsive website from the ground up truly did move TFL - from being mere providers of information, to becoming a real-time personal travel assistant for 20 million monthly visitors.

It’s undeniable - Digital initiatives can be massively successful, and have enormous effects for an organisation and for their customers.

And like all good obituaries, I do need to pay attention to the legacies:
There are some fantastic digitally native business models out there.
Drafting in key players from the likes of Amazon and Google with their digital playbooks can be a key aspect of the transformation or recovery strategy of many a long-standing, “traditional” organisation.

After all, the digital revolution has helped those who’ve embraced it to do so much:

  • Using agile as a way of working
  • Getting really focused on data & analytics
  • Protecting customer information with paramount concern
  • Activating the technical capability to drive the benefits

And don’t get me wrong.

I’m not in denial.
For me this is a celebration of a fruitful life.
And I know there are some deep pockets still sat under “Digital” as a budget heading.

But the digital channel is circumstance rather than immutable fact, and with the pace of change and consumer evolution in the past decade it would be naïve to imagine that the channel preferences of today will prevail for evermore.
The “digital” moniker attached to [most of] these successes is erroneous.
They weren’t successful just because they were digital.
It was invariably because of CRM.
Because of an understanding of customer wants, needs and aspirations.
That’s the valuable content within these playbooks that are so sought after.

Today these wants, needs and aspirations extend across channels.
Customers want that end-to-end connection.

Given, for example, that the Hadoop data lake now ingests more every month than was previously produced globally in the entire past 185 years, it’s evident that truly progressive businesses are on board with this line of thinking – pooling data from as many channels as possible to deliver superlative customer relationship management in a way that just wasn’t possible even three years ago.

Experience First.
Primary Customer Relationships.
That’s what the customer wants.
That’s what will drive the commercials.
That’s what will optimise the return on investment.
These are the pillars of a business model that is better equipped to stand the test of time.

In this respect, Design helped Digital greatly - when able to resist the temptation to design for the sake of it: the advancement of the usability phenomenon is increasingly to the benefit of every channel.

In many ways, “Digital” attracted the kind of lustre that’s gilding “AI” today.

There's a lot of hype in the market about AI right now - but it’s not new.
AI technologies such as “predictive”, “adaptive” and “machine learning” have been the heart-beat of the best decision-driven CRM for some time.

So, what does all this mean?
If Digital is dead, where do we go from here?

My answer: we move on.

That which was Digital is now broader – stronger, faster and better when actually run by someone else – or at least as a cross-business collaboration.

In our work, we regularly turn around major decisioning projects in as little as 16 weeks – because we consider an organisation’s channels as equal to one another at the outset until proven otherwise, rather than blindly succumbing to the draw which digital possesses elsewhere.

Contemporary Digital needs to be absorbed back into the bigger CRM picture, breaking down the silos that can plague ‘digital first’ organisations.
It’s still important – but so are the rest of the elements that make up CRM.

Only by considering channels as a cohesive whole can we truly provide rounded solutions to customer pain-points, preferences and priorities.

Only by feeding digital data in alongside data from other channels can we even begin to approach that nirvana of marketers worldwide – the holistic customer view.

Every customer is right to expect to become better off through their engagement with a company. No matter what the business, organisation or service customers are dealing with, it’s only efforts to deliver a holistic, channel-agnostic customer experience that can truly deliver this improvement for the customer in the long-term.

I stand by my contentious statement. Digital is dead. Long live CRM.


Rob Mcleod

Client Partner

Rob is Engagement Lead at Royal Bank of Scotland. He is passionate about positive customer experiences and committed to using insight to drive value and effective ROI through the marketing process. He’s fanatical about driving better customer outcomes through the orchestration of data and technology. Rob has extensive cross-sector experience, including Financial Services, Travel and Tourism, FMCG and Media, with over 15 years working at the forefront of strategic communications consultancy and integrated marketing.