Beyond digital: drawbacks of digital communications

Anthony Haynes

Anthony Haynes writes: The post below (the third in our ‘Beyond digital’ mini-series) contributes to our attempt to articulate the rationale for a hybrid communications strategy founded on the belief that analogue communications can be both effective and exciting.

That digital communication offers numerous benefits is beyond dispute. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t believe that.

But digital has drawbacks too. Of these, two stand out.

Contrarian strategy

First, going digital is the trend. Everyone has gone digital. Or, if there are laggards, they’re going digital now. In fact, the trend is to go even more digital. The remaining catalogues give way to website-only.

The problem with being aligned with the trend is that it’s difficult to stand out. Another commuter joining a commuter train makes no difference to anyone.

I think of T.S. Eliot’s lines in The Waste Land:

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
So many. This opens up a space for a contrarian strategy. If everyone else is neglecting analogue, that provides an opportunity for a distinctive comms strategy.
To give a (closely related) metaphor: when I started in business, the act of making a telephone call to discuss a project made, in itself, no impact at all. It’s what people did. Now, however, in many lines of work, telephone conversations are a rarity — people use email (or messaging) instead. Suddenly making use of the phone (as a phone, that is) becomes an event: “It must be important if he’s actually phoning me”; “Yes, I remember: he phoned me”; “She’s the person who phones me”; and so on.
The logic of this argument is that analogue comms can win attention, simply by being virtue of being analogue. Once digital becomes ubiquitous, analogue transitions from being out-dated to retro — a different matter entirely.
The medium is the message
Secondly, the difficulty of standing out in digital comms is true not only when one considers communications a strategy: it is true too when one looks at communications piece-by-piece. Tweets all look the same, regardless of content. Emails look the same as each other, more or less.
In particular, it’s difficult to convey classiness digitally. The medium is the message and the medium acts as a leveler.
Consider, for example, Debrett’s.  they advise on etiquette; they publish Peerage and Baronetage: the entire company is founded on the notion of distinction.
Yet their website,,  looks like — well, a website. There’s nothing wrong with the site. It’s just that it looks like everyone else’s. Again, the medium is the message.
Debrett’s have, it is true, made an attempt to indicate distinctive classiness by using gold font for the text in the most prominent place son their site. But gold on a web page has nothing of the resonance that it can have when used on, say, letterhead.
It follows that, whether considered strategically or piece-by-piece, analogue provides an opportunity for distinctiveness — in particular, when it comes to conveying a sense of classiness



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