threechannel

A three channel model for digital communication

Ironically, one of the real barriers to innovative marketing is the whole existence of ‘digital’ as a category. The idea of ‘digital’ makes little or no sense from the perspective or either consumers or a marketers. The messy amalgam of technologies that we call ‘digital’ has been lumped together simply because they are a set of communication touch-points that share common technical infrastructure, often require similar executional skill-sets and have emerged at roughly the same time. Given this, it’s no surprise that there is considerable confusion and disappointment when media planners and marketers get excited about ‘the digital channel’.

Many of the more progressive marketers out there have realised that digital is a nonsensical category, and have drilled down to talk in much greater detail. They talk about podcasting, iPhone applications, twitter feeds and streaming pre-rolls. By pointing out that ‘digital is not one channel, but thousands’, we are suddenly in a complex, technically specific environment that makes it almost impossible to build clear, integrated strategies.

I believe that by finding a middle ground between these two extremes, we can create a notion of ‘digital channels’ that is more consumer-centric that the monolithic view, but also more strategically useful that the fragmented view. For simplicity, we might think about digital in terms of three channels; mobile, online, and digital out of home (DOOH). This is a useful model as each of the three channels creates a different sort of engagement with the consumer, providing different opportunities for marketers.

The mobile channel consists of all of those touch-points that are delivered through devices we carry around with us – mobile phones, personal media players, portable gaming consoles and so on. The channel incorporates touch-points as diverse as SMS messaging, mobile in-game advertising, and video-blogging. These can often provide connection with consumers regardless of time and location, but these devices are highly personal and marketers need to understand the value exchange involved in getting this close. The online channel is what most marketers think of when they talk about ‘digital’. Online describes all those activities we conduct while ‘in front of a computer’ – whether that be at home, at work, or somewhere else. The ‘digital out of home’ channel (DOOH) is a fascinating space that is emerging as more and more of the devices around us become digital, networked and interactive. From digital billboards and in-store screens to kiosks and transit media, DOOH presents an increasing array of places to engage the consumer in varying types of public space.

While it’s reasonably straightforward deciding what technologies and tactics sit within each channel, there are obviously grey areas. As mobile phones become more ‘computer-like’ and laptops become more ‘hyper-portable’, the categories blur. As we begin to be able to communicate between our mobile phone and a digital billboard, the categories interact. For the most part however, the three channel model provides a clear first step toward strategically planning communication activity that looks beyond the desire to ‘do something digital’, and identifies the basic nature of the roles to be played by digital within a broader communication strategy.

(cross-posted at the Naked blog)

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