Why It’s Time To Abandon “Digital First”

It’s time to make “digital first” no longer a thing and “brand first” the focal point again.

It wasn’t long ago I was guilty of creating decks that had “digital first” plastered everywhere. But this industry evolves and changes. And when you think about the origin of the phrase, it caught fire because companies didn’t quite know how to tackle the space. They didn’t get how to build strategies around it. They didn’t get how to build teams for it. And, they didn’t get how to embed the thinking into their culture.

“Digital first” was a loud statement because there wasn’t enough investment in it. Something radical needed to shift within companies. Brands needed pioneers, renegades and wizards (hope you sense some sarcasm) to shape thinking that digital was the future.

Somewhere along the way, digital became this separate thing. A separate thing that often feels disconnected from a brand’s DNA. There’s this pressure to be everything to everyone or to resort to gimmicks for vanity metrics. “Digital first” became a very slippery slope.

It’s time to throw this thinking out. Digital is no longer new enough for new to be an excuse. It’s almost 2018. There are more than 3 billion internet users in the world. Digital should be innate to what we do as marketers.

Let’s step away from the gimmicks and get back to building our brands (through a customer-centric lens). We need to break down silos and bring marketing back to a 360 approach. Your digital channels shouldn’t feel separate from everything else.

All great marketing strategies start with a brand strategy. This means having a firm understanding of your mission, your values, your voice, your why. It’s not about gimmicks, retweets or short-lived vanity metrics.

Pivoting back to “brand first” means creating a more cohesive experience. Yes, digital will most likely be a driving force in the strategy, but the execution will reflect the brand through and through. And, that’s the business we’re in.

5 Social Media Lessons From The 2017 World Series Teams

The games during this year’s World Series have been exciting and fun to watch. And, that’s not the only thing. Both the Astros and Dodgers have hit it out of the park (sorry) with their social coverage. Below are five takeaways, strong visual identities to carefully curated feeds.

 

Your visual identity matters.

Creative is a reflection of your team, league or brand through and through. When people see content as they scroll through their feed, they should immediately know who it is coming from.

The Dodgers and Astros are both great examples of what it means to create a visual identity for your team. The creative is sharp, consistent and feels right for their brands.

Social is the front door to your brand. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward visually.

 

Dry information is about the presentation.

Sometimes you have to plug information that’s simply not sexy. Things like game times and tune in info have to be pushed out, even if it’s not all that bright and shiny.

While the information might be dry, it’s still important to capture attention. Both teams have done a good job creating content around dry information that still catches the eye. The key is to focus on moving image and good design. A few examples below:

Almost game time! Some things to know ahead of first pitch. #EarnHistory

A post shared by Houston Astros (@astrosbaseball) on

Remember, design plays an important role in standing out from the noise. Even with dry information, it’s all about the presentation.

 

Curate, thoughtfully & carefully.

When you work in sports, it’s not about what happens on the field or court alone. It’s also about everything that surrounds it… before, during and after. When a fan glances at your account, it should tell the full story of you team or brand. Think about it as a snapshot.

The Dodgers do a fantastic job selecting photos and videos that tell the full story, from the stadium to the fans to in action. And, they also do a good job of varying the photos in style and angles. Below are a few examples:

#ThisTeam!! #WorldSeries | 📷: @jon.soohoo

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

Soon. #WorldSeries #ThisTeam | 📷: @jon.soohoo

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

#WorldSeries relationship goals. #ThisTeam | 📷: @jon.soohoo & @jill.weisleder

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

@awood45 is DEALING! He's through five no-hit frames. #WorldSeries #ThisTeam | 📷: @jill.weisleder

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

The Dodgers’ photography is outstanding. But on top of that, they carefully curate their feeds. They don’t share similar photos back to back to back. Instead, they focus on diversifying what they share both, both in subject and in style.

When you work in social, you play publisher. It’s important to think about the totality of all your posts and the story they tell together, not think of each one as a “one and done”. Curate thoughtfully and carefully to paint the full picture.

 

Hype is real.

Good content is about evoking an emotion or response in fans, especially when it comes to video content. And, nothing gets fans to share more than a good hype video. This below from the Dodgers is a perfect example of it.

World Series. Game 2. Let's go Dodgers!! #ThisTeam

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

 

Try new formats.

In the battle for attention, it’s important to try new content formats and creative executions. Mixing up content keeps things fresh and fans interested, especially in this 365 day world where there is no offseason.

If you need an example of what this looks like, the Astros do a good job mixing up their content and creative executions, from the use of stop motion to illustrations.

‪Countless heroes last night, but it was @abreg_1 that delivered the final blow. #EarnHistory ‬

A post shared by Houston Astros (@astrosbaseball) on

‪The last minute miracle. ‬ ‪Here’s a look at @justinverlander’s road to the 2017 #WorldSeries. #EarnHistory‬

A post shared by Houston Astros (@astrosbaseball) on

It’s important to push creative thinking throughout the season so content does not get stale. Take a page from the Astros and leverage all kinds of formats to get your message and story across.

 
When you are on a big stage like the World Series, it’s so important to be prepared. It’s an opportunity to rally your community, earn new fans and elevate your brand. Both the Astros and Dodgers have seized the opportunity and it shines in their work.

The examples and lessons above scratch the surface of takeaways from both of these teams though. What stood out to you in their coverage? Share your thoughts below.

Digital Is Not A Niche

Digital is not a niche. As a role, as a strategy, as part of an organization. And, we need to stop thinking about it as such.

When I started my career early on, digital was more of a speciality. But with the shift in consumer behavior, those days of it living in a silo and hoping to be successful are long gone.

Think about it. The phone is the first thing consumers reach for in the morning, and it’s the last thing they put down at night. It’s the vehicle to reach your consumer, no matter the target.

But for all the talk about being digital first, we still have a long way to go. Brands need to stop treating it as a silo. We don’t need separate digital teams– we need digital teams embedded within the larger strategy. We need marketing leaders who are truly obsessed with consumer behavior online. And, are driving 360 marketing plans with digital top of mind.

Digital *is* the grounding force in a marketing strategy today. No, it doesn’t reflect all marketing, but everything else is now a specialty.

Breathe, Pause, Think

If you work in social and digital, this a reminder of how important it is to put your brand hat on. To take a deep breath, pause and think. It’s not only okay, it’s needed.

Social media can turn into the wild, wild west for a brand if not careful. A place where gimmicks are awarded and eyeballs viewed as successful. It’s a place where brands can lose their soul if the right thought is not given.

One of the challenges this industry faces is the pressure to be on, all the time. This pressure means we are constantly doing and not thinking. We push and pray without understanding why. In essence, social media becomes a playground for tactics. And then, everything turns into a sea of sameness.

But this pressure, it’s created by us. And we need to shake it off. Consumers are not asking us to post and push all the time. The world will continue if you stop and take a couple days for strategic planning. Consumers won’t lose their brand affinity if you don’t tweet for one day.

Here’s the thing. Social media is about the now, but it’s also about the brand. And brands don’t come to life without a vision, purpose and unique point-of-view. It’s critical to spend time thinking about what social media means for the brand at a higher level. The greater danger is not in pausing to plan. It’s in never planning and losing sight of you brand.

Good work isn’t easy. In fact, it’s tedious. And thinking about a brand strategy and how digital and social plays a role is no doubt an undertaking. But it’s the work that matters in making sure social plays the right role in an org.

So here’s my advice. Give yourself permission to step away from the tactics. Immerse yourself in the brand strategy. Identify focus. Create a plan. Then, once you’ve done that, focus on the tactics and execute well.

On Expanding Beyond Social

There was a time in my career when social was the end all be all. If you asked what I wanted to do long term, the answer was always “work in social”. After all, who doesn’t enjoy spending their days connecting with consumers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook? There’s a lot of personal gratification that comes with it.

When I was at the NCAA though, I had a fantastic colleague and friend who would always push me—“Jess, it’s bigger than that”. At that point, I didn’t understand what he meant. But since he is someone I respect and admire, that advice stayed with me.

Fast forward to now. I’ve had a variety of experience from agency to the brand side. I’ve seen the struggles and values of working in social. I’ve reported into creative teams, marketing teams, PR teams and sales teams. I’ve been in orgs where social is siloed and orgs where it’s collaborative. I’ve seen social be successful, and at times, miss the mark.

After all these years, I now get that advice from my friend.

Social is a tiny piece of a much larger puzzle that can only be successful if it’s part of the big picture. You have to figure out how to turn the tweets and likes into ROl. You have to understand how it maps back to organizational goals. You have to drive results. It’s about marketing as a whole.

If you started your career in social, then you have a strong marketing foundation already. You have a knack for understanding content. You get what it means to be consumer-centric. You know how to tell a story that makes people pay attention. You are adaptable, willing to learn and often eager to push things forward.

But, moving up in social alone and taking on new roles isn’t always easy. There are a lot of entry level jobs, some middle manager jobs and true leadership roles are hard to find. Perhaps it’s because ROI is still hard to prove. Or, because rightly so, marketing as a whole should be driving it all.

So here’s that “ah-ha” moment. If you feel yourself at a fork in your career and you’re not sure where to go, don’t be afraid to take on an expanded marketing role. Your foundation in social is invaluable. And, a more general role should still touch social—after all, it’s a piece of a larger brand and digital strategy. An expanded role will open all kinds of new doors and challenges though. And, it will arm you with an even stronger skill set.

When thinking about a career path now, it’s extends beyond “working in social”. It’s the hope of one day being a CMO. Of helping brands and organizations tell their story holistically, while driving business goals. Companies need more brand marketers and leaders who can drive a 360 plan with digital in mind.

So, take a leap to a different role. Ask for a project outside of your job description. Know that it’s okay to move on from social (if you want)– and that you will thrive. One day you could be leading a team that’s driving the entire brand story, across all channels. That’s exciting.