The Emperor is wearing clothes…but it looks like a leisure suit.

Many of us may be familiar with the children’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” For those that are not, our good friend Wikipedia describes the fable thusly…

“…a literary folktale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about a vain emperor who gets exposed before his subjects.”

The Emperor is made to believe he is wearing new clothes, when in fact he is wearing nothing…zippo. (Doesn’t sound like a children’s tale, but go with it anyway.) That also describes how I have been feeling for a while in the digital “space” of a local legacy-media company…virtually naked. 

For so long, being the digital “expert” at your favorite local media company meant you were considered somewhat of an expert on new ways to market things. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st century. Being “digital” for local and regional business is no longer (never really was) about advertising or marketing for that matter. We can talk about sophisticated targeting, social media habits, and my favorite, Google Advertising certification. But as I used to say when I lived in the San Francisco bay area, “all that and $5 won’t get you across the Golden Gate Bridge.” 

It’s not that they aren’t buying what we are selling…it’s more like we aren’t selling what they are buying. 

There is no doubt that so many digital leaders and/or digital experts at legacy local media companies are well trained and educated. However in today’s business environment that expertise is out of alignment with local and regional business needs. It’s not that they aren’t buying what we are selling…it’s more like we aren’t selling what they are buying. 

Consumers today are already in a digital world when it comes to their purchasing habits…consumer and B2B.  Nobody should have to be convinced of this. Add the impact that the pandemic has had on how we conduct our lives, the concept of “being digital” for small and medium sized businesses extends well beyond the subject of advertising. The digital focus in “non-advertising” concerns far outweighs those that are limited to paid advertising. Consider the following:

  • According to the Wall Street Journal, e-commerce, as a share of global retail sales, is up by 50% in the 2nd quarter of 2020 compared to the prior year.
  • Macy’s  now reports that e-commerce makes up 40% of their total sales. 
  • In a recent global survey, more than 50% of businesses are planning to add more online experiences like digital events.
  • In the same survey 40% of businesses plan to introduce additional contactless payment methods and additional online services like “virtual try-on’s.”
  • According to Borrell Research, 57% of SMB’s  expect content marketing will be a higher priority in 2021. And while content marketing is paid advertising, someone has to develop the content.

The bottom line is that being “digital” is not an advertising thing. It hasn’t been for a long time. And to be perfectly honest, it’s really not a “thing” at all any more. It’s a ubiquitous part of our world today.  The Digital Expert at a local media company today, could be viewed as yesterday’s Vice Presidents of Electricity, a real job from the early 1900’s. (Techcrunch.com 10/14/15.)

So being digital in 2021 is going to be less of a real specialty from which everyone will need to source. Everyone should already be digital and that extends well beyond advertising.  Things like inventory management, payment systems, content development, optimization, etc. are all going to be on the agenda, or should be for local SMB’s. And these are areas that, in many cases, do not fall within the sweet spot of current “digital specialists” at media concerns. This will change (and already is changing) in the most progressive and aware media companies among us. But my recommendation for all individuals within this space is to not wait for the company to make that adjustment. Every one of us can expand our perspective more holistically for our customers and clients. What SMB’s will need going forward is knowledge about how to run their business more effectively and that will require a smarter and a heavier reliance on digital functionalities.

If the success of local businesses in our communities is important to us, we should be in a position to offer relevant and useful input that does not always include a Facebook post or a text ad appearing on Google. And in the rare occasion when we run into a real tough challenge that is seemingly outside our purview, we can always ask the Vice President of Electricity to weigh in on the solution. 

Author: David Prizer

Digital media executive and thought leader, emphasizing local and small business strategies. 20 years of experience in metro and community markets. Still watching Seinfeld reruns and holding out for a Cubs-White Sox subway series in my lifetime.

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