Strengthen our digital industry – get involved in it

By Alex Tait. Originally published in Marketing Week.

One of the biggest challenges facing anyone in digital, ecommerce or, indeed, marketing is how to distinguish between business value and hype.

There is a lot of hype and folly, usually driven by commercial pressures. These, and overselling, help to fuel growth ‘bubbles’ in the digital and tech industry. Although all of these trends are potentially of value, I’m sure there are calls within your business to assess or invest more in ‘programmatic’, ‘big data’, and potentially ‘wearables’ or the ‘internet of things’.

You just have to think back a few years to recall agencies trading on fears of not having a ‘social media crisis strategy’, or various free audits sent to show how incompliant your brand is with the impending ePrivacy directive. In both cases there were, admittedly, actions you needed to take as part of your marketing programme, and that situation will continue as social media and privacy regulation evolve. However, hindsight gives a good perspective on the heat and light and, often, invested budget around these issues.

To be successful in digital you need to innovate and maintain a strong external orientation. Two of the best ways to understand what is happening in the industry are to attend industry events and to participate in trade bodies.

I am selective regarding the events I attend but do believe that it is essential to choose a few key ones each year. As some of Europe’s biggest digitally orientated conferences come up, they are sure to provide extra stimulus, as well some confusion, to attending advertisers. I’m off this week to DMEXCO in Germany, which is usually strong in programmatic. In October, the IAB’s Engage has a theme of ‘We’ve only just begun’ and a forward-looking agenda of future trends in digital. Then, of course, there is Marketing Week’s own Festival Of Marketing in November (I need to disclose that I am on its steering committee). The practical focus on digital transformation should provide a good mix of stimulation and utility, which is one of the bonuses of the partnership between Marketing Week and sister brand Econsultancy.

However, another great way to further improve assessment of what trends can add to business value (and also a time-efficient way of exposing yourself to them) is through trade bodies. The other main benefit is being able to influence the industry on important issues.

I chaired ISBA’s digital, direct and data group until last year, and as a result have had good exposure to UK trade bodies. Although ISBA’s group is positively thriving, I see plenty of scope for the burgeoning population of the digital industry to engage more regularly with trade bodies. In the UK, that primarily means ISBA and the WFA (for UK and international advertisers respectively), IPA (for agencies), the IAB (mainly for publishers) and IMRG (for retail). It’s important for us to recognise that, for these forums to be effective, they need a sufficient amount of active member participation.

So that is my call – let us help develop our industry leadership forums and further consolidate the leading position of the UK digital industry. If enough of us make a resolution to contact our relevant body and attend an appropriate forum by the end of the year, it will have quite an impact on our digital industry.

It will benefit you professionally to meet and engage with your peers and to deepen your understanding of which business trends and issues may add value or increase risk to your business.

It will help the industry to develop responsible communications and ecommerce: for example, from an advertiser perspective, by influencing transparency in programmatic data ownership and inventory. The only reasons this is not progressing faster are rumoured to be the significant revenues being earned by agencies and third-party suppliers, and the lack of advertiser engagement in forcing the issue.

Finally, it will benefit the UK economy by strengthening what is, in my view, the global leadership of the UK’s digital industry.