Talking Tradigital

What excites me most about the future of marketing? That’s easy: tradigital. Not just because I enjoy the crafty nature of neologism, but because I’m captivated by the artful venture of respecting traditional branding ideas in the face of a new digital reality. It’s what a whole new breed of tradigital agencies is all about.  

Today’s digitally savvy consumer has little interest in allowing you to define how he or she will experience a brand. They’re people who do things on their terms. If they sense you’re trying to push them towards any sort of conclusion, they pull away.

Consider the Web, and how our thinking has evolved. We’ve been through phases where Web sites were an afterthought of the marketing mix, and an online presence a demonstration of a brand’s ego through wanton creativity. We neglected the “co-” part of communication. And what a waste. A lot of media types have no choice but to be one-sided, but with digital we have the opportunity to collaborate; to customize an experience for users so they know that we know they’re important. Today’s best brand Web sites speak in their customer’s voice, allowing the customer to speak, too. Understanding that a customer will move on in a fraction of a second if left feeling less than satisfied is paramount. Digital is a courtship where the target of your affection already assumes he’s out of your league.

This is where traditional agencies struggle — square peg, round hole. It’s not that they can’t build a Web site, or don’t dabble in digital. But they haven’t figured out that this isn’t about taking their idea or their content and making it fit digital. It’s about developing content specifically for digital.

On the flip side, digital marketers aren’t all studs either. A lot of digital agencies have little or no interest in understanding some of the fundamentals for building a brand over time. A digital agency that demonstrates no curiosity about the intricacies of branding, or prefers to remain largely uninformed about its client’s business, is as likely to be as ineffective as the big, old school guys. Both tend to go at their digital business similarly, with a notion that they just have to build cool stuff. The motivations are different, the results are the same.

What people will then ask is, “What can we expect from tradigital?” And in some cases, “Should I be concerned?”

The first question is a bit easier to answer. What is a tradigital agency going to do better? It’s going to integrate better. It’s going to understand and maybe even drive the brand strategy. Then it’s going to tell you how to bring it to life online.

A tradigital agency is the model of efficiency and efficacy. Imagine taking all that’s right about traditional models — and they’re still doing plenty right, by the way — and combining it with the savvy of digital experts.

Here’s the way the process works. The tradigital agency demands a seat at the table, where all are briefed on who the customer is, what the brand’s objectives are, and what strategies will deliver. It assumes an active interest in understanding and defining the market. Without these critical inputs, digital is relegated to a strictly tactical role.  

Next is a sharing of properties. What is the totality of the brand’s marketing efforts, and where/how does digital fit in? A tradigital agency is not interested in fighting against the brand to prove just how clever it can be. This is where traditional thinking kicks in. The brand comes first, and must be united in what it stands for, across all media.

Once the creative process starts, you begin to see some major separation in the race. An agency with legitimate digital know-how, and not just some scattered capabilities, starts ideating from day one with a digital product in mind. It’s going to understand the latest Web development technology and platforms. It’ll appreciate the fundamentals of information architecture, user experience and integrated digital strategy (creative, technical, social, SEO, analytics, mobile, etc.) not just as buzzwords, but as heavily nuanced, well-conceived notions that define successes and failures in a digital space. It doesn’t have to learn as it goes; it can just go.

Finally, a tradigital agency stays in touch with its partners, establishing and facilitating consistent and clear communication between clients and partner agencies. It also remains in touch with its market, tracking trends and behaviors, understanding in real time what’s working, and adapting to fit the consumer’s ever-evolving demands.

That’s the beauty and the necessity of working in a virtual environment. A tradigital agency gets that better than anyone.

Which brings me to that tricky second question: Who should be concerned about the rise of tradigital? I’d say, it’s a big sandbox, we can all play nice together. And we’d better, if we want to build beautiful castles for our clients. Just don’t be surprised who ends up swinging the bigger pail.

What does all this sandbox talk mean to today’s marketer? It’s time to recognize the shift to tradigital and take stock of the cross-media capabilities of your agency.

April Donovan is a senior partner and creative director at Blue Collar Interactive. She can be reached at april@bluecollaragency.com.