It's Actions, Not Words, That Matter

During an interview earlier this week, a candidate asked me "How do you define interactive marketing?" She continued, "every place I've interviewed, I get a different answer. I'm curious to know what you think. And what's the difference between interactive and digital? And what about social?" Good questions. And, I have to admit, it always bugs me when the words "interactive" and "digital" are used synonymously and interchangeably. Bring "social" into the mix and everyone gets even more chaotically confused. But why does it bug me? Can I even articulate the difference among them? Are they really much different? Should I even care?

Back to the original question. How do I define interactive marketing? From my recollection, I said something like, "creating experiences where brands can communicate back and forth with people and add value, which is typically accomplished through some sort of technology platform. " Hmm. Sounds more like what we deem as "social media" in today's world. But isn't social media today really doing what the idea of interactive marketing set out to do in the first place. To allow brands to interact with people?

Let's check in with the ever-credible to see what's really going on here.

Interactive (definition) :: Acting one upon or with the other.

Marketing (definition) :: The activities of a company associated with buying and selling a product or service.

Now, for the mashup of these two definitions ...

Interactive marketing (my quasi-definition) :: People acting one with the other during the act of buying and selling products and services.

Not great. Pretty bad actually. But it gets closer to what it could mean. If "the other" is a brand during the act of buying a selling products and services, you could make the argument this definition portrays certain aspects of interactive marketing. Or social media. Whatever. Even so, this definition is extremely linear and end-result oriented in a sense that it focuses on the final transaction of buying and selling products and services. Reality is, there's a lot of in between and back and forth once a brand has captured somebody's attention. And all of the digital platforms within a consumer's reach today create a circular vortex around what traditional marketers like to call the path to purchase.

Wait. Did I just say digital? Back to the original question again. Man, that was a loaded question. Well done interview candidate. What's the difference between interactive and digital? Again, from my recollection, I said something like, "Interactive marketing occurs when brands create experiences where they are able to communicate back and forth with people through technology. Digital seems to better describe the different types of technology platforms in which these communications occur. Like websites, social networks, mobile and augmented reality." Sounds logical to me, but it's my definition.

Back to the trusty to help us make sense of it all.


(definition one) :: displaying a readout in digital form.

(definition two) :: involving or using numerical digits expressed in a scale of notation to represent discretely all variables occurring in a problem.

(definition three) :: available in electronic form; readable and manipulable by computer.

Definition one uses the word "digital" in the definition. Definition two seems like a word problem versus a definition. Definition three seems to be the closest to reality since it includes phrases / words such as "electronic form" and "manipulable by computer." But, overall these definitions are far from inspiring. Not too mention, the third definition limits us to the computer.

Based on this highly unscientific analysis, one can begin to see why the word "digital" bugs me when when talking about interactive marketing. It doesn't really have any substance and certainly doesn't encapsulate the idea of brands being able to communicate back and forth with people through technology. In fact, it's more old school than anything. "Electronic forms, readable and manipulable by computer" sounds like it came straight out of Short Circuit in the 80's.

Interactive vs. Digital vs. Social :: I'm going interactive on this one. Whatever you do, please just pick one for now. But make sure you know what it really means. Brands need to take action on the promise of interactive marketing and create experiences that foster personal interaction between a person and the company, product or service. Because the reality is ... it's actions, not words, that matter.