Digital Essays: People, not pixels

Only those who understand their consumers - and how they connect with technology platforms and brand objectives - can ever engage them.

We'd like to see a world with less brand communication, but better brand experiences; experiences that are rich and rewarding, simple and surprising.

As a creative agency, we never stop being excited about the possibilities that technology offers us, but we never forget that the point of it all is to create engaging experiences. People don't love wires and passwords. People love connecting, sharing, talking; they love creating and nurturing relationships across borders, time zones, worlds ...

That's the beauty of digital: it can create a meaningful, relevant, human connection across many different touch-points. That connection might last for just a moment, or it might last for years. But, ultimately, it's about forging connections with people, not pixels.

So what's so "digital" about being human?

Every day, digital is teaching us new ways of doing things. From internet banking to social networking, from instant messaging to microsites, from taking photos to watching films, we're all learning new conventions and developing new expectations of the brands with which we interact.

Still, people don't think in channels. Whether a migrant from the pre-digital world, or a native for whom there has only ever been Web 2.0, people act and react based on the stimulation around them at any given moment. As we've become more media literate, we're able to consume more complex messages in a non-linear way. We humans are naturally multichannel beasts. We see this as choice, but our industry sees it as fragmentation.

There are multiple ways that consumers want their content. E-mail, mobile, online, as films, on blogs, at the supermarket, when passing by a shop window - we need multiple channels and platforms to present this content (in all its forms) and multiple strategies for deploying it in the most engaging and effective way.

Right now, none of these platforms and channels talk to each other unless you know how to make them do so. This takes strategic analysis and intimate knowledge of technology platforms, consumer lifestyles and brand objectives. In addition, you need genuine collaborative thinking across your agency and a strategy that holds it all together.

We call this "digital out".

It's not that we believe that digital is the be-all-and-end-all; we're not all plugged into The Matrix yet. But if I'm in the cinema seeing a gorgeous ad with an exclusive soundtrack, I want it on my phone. I want to find out more. I am engaged and I want to show my friends the extended cut. To recycle an old 90s "new media" phrase, content is king.

What we need to do is get content out there into the digital world in a fluid, appropriate and compelling way.

How do we do this? Well, it's definitely not by taking the great cinema ad and sticking it on a microsite. Traditional ad agencies are doing a lot of this, and it's a bit like watching your dad body-pop on your 16th birthday ... not good for anyone. Instead, the questions all agencies should be asking are: "How can we make our idea useful and compelling to our audience? How can we engage our customers and make advocates of them through this idea?"

At GT, we've been evolving continuously since the birth of digital; as a result, we've become a natural hybrid that spans three key elements. We believe that only when you truly understand all three can you make them work together. They are: consumers (their lives), platforms (technical interfaces) and brands (objectives and needs).

Our campaigns for clients such as Audi, Aviva, Canon, Christian Aid, Adobe and Xbox typically contain three, four, five or more different platforms; some have included as many as 14. All of these campaigns and elements have succeeded independently in their own way, from open rates to downloads, purchase intent to brand shift and more, some with astonishing results.

However, the key is knitting these platforms together as a group. You must understand how an idea can spark engagement by starting on a mobile phone, which interacts with a Transvision screen, which generates an e-mail that links me with an event, which is supported by a website that I found off the back of a great TV ad that had an interactive TV component that offered me exclusive content ... and so on.

Only by understanding the human connections that have to be made in 21st-century lives, and how the technical infrastructure that underpins them needs to be manipulated, can you fully influence a fluid and connected consumer. Only then will brands succeed in producing content that does their customers (and themselves) justice.

The real power of "digital out" is that it goes beyond the internet, beyond the platforms and begins to support consumers by directly developing connectivity across multiple touch-points, in a way they want, when they want it. Understanding this leads us far beyond the current notions of brand awareness and targeting, and to a new kind of advertising.

So, what next? Well, many clients haven't structured their briefs or budgets this way yet. Most traditional agencies struggle to think this way, and procurement has yet to evolve into an innovative, near-fluent buying of ideas based around their value and effectiveness.

Agencies must change alongside the consumers they're talking to and develop new answers; answers that will support their interests of being leading, creative thinkers; ideas that will teach themselves and their clients new talents.

Capitalise on the nature of digital channels to find innovative and compelling experiences. Be creative and honest with your consumers; they will recognize your thinking and respond positively. That's the difference between old-fashioned monolithic brand communications, and thinking that understands the power of real connections and the complex, multichannel way that people live their lives today. The switch from analogue to digital is more human than you think.

- Marc Giusti is a managing partner and the creative director at GT.