Running just to stand still

The speed of digital leaves many businesses in its wake. Agencies must act on ideas more quickly and be flexible.

Running just to stand still

When Nigel Vaz's wife boarded a plane recently, she hardly expected that her one-year-old child was about to provide an insight that his daddy could use at work.

Vaz (senior) is the newish managing director at SapientNitro. His insight that we all now live a totally immersive digital existence was brought to life by his son who, once settled in the plane, proceeded to attempt to "scroll" for a new image on the rectangular panel on the seat-back in front of him. Imagine the poor child's horror to discover the thing was static.

Vaz (junior), as the owner of an iPad his dad no longer uses, is already ahead of me. (An iPad is still the stuff of my childish fantasies.) But he's not that unusual. The (digital) world our children are growing up in is instilling in them a digital instinct.

That's the thing that's really new. We grown-ups might be able to fathom how to make digital technology work for us - through a mixture of logic, experience, persistence and fluke. But the kids approach it in a completely different way. For them, it's intuitive. No explanation required. Just the way it is.

That seemingly effortless immersion into our digital realities is what all brands should be looking for. They need to make it look ridiculously easy, natural and unforced, so that we can hardly imagine what life was like before they created whatever it is that they have created.

There are some great examples: Runkeeper and Evernote were favourites of our essay authors when they met for our roundtable debate. And by the time you read this, I hope we will have been wowed by some shiny Cyber gems at Cannes.

But few get it right. Part of the problem is down to age, once again. Age-old legacy systems within client organisations mean that many businesses simply can't move at the speed of digital. And a conservative culture can mean they let a fear of failure stop them from trying.

The imperative on agencies, then, is to give their clients the confidence to realise that, in the digital environment, everything doesn't have to be perfect before it can be let loose on its public.

In effect, Matt Dyke, a founder of AnalogFolk, says, rather than being in campaign mode, agencies now have to exist in beta, putting out ideas and seeing if they fly. Ensuring that their clients are also on board is the enduring challenge.

As for consumers, they are prepared to accept work-in-progress. The crucial thing, Vaz notes, is that brands show that they - like his son and the adults he amazes - are still learning too.

Suzanne Bidlake, consultant editor, Campaign.

(From Campaign's "What Next in Digital" supplement, July 1 2011)