GM Thought of the Week – What does ‘Digital first’ really mean in advertising?

think digital first

GM Thought of the Week – What does ‘Digital first’ really mean in advertising?

The phrase ‘Digital First’ was coined by John Paton in 2011 in relation to print media and journalism. He was referring to the concept of delivering content to audiences by the quickest means possible, the internet, hence ‘Digital first’ and print second. Since his coining of the phrase, it’s been adopted by most industries with the common denominator for all being its reference to modernising business as a result of the changing behaviours of consumers in today’s digital world.


In today’s digital world, the internet is an integral part of our lives, we get up in the morning; check our social media, view content while commuting to and from work, and research and purchase products throughout the day on our mobiles. It’s no surprise advertisers have followed this consumer trend with their marketing strategies. In 2017, the IAB reported £11.55bn was spent on digital advertising and according to a separate report by WARC this accounted for 52% of all advertising spend in the UK in 2017.


As consumer behaviours have adapted so has the media landscape, and not just with the creation of online advertising, we’ve also seen traditional media channels adapting to today’s digital world. TV channels now offer BVOD and online catch-up services, OOH have thousands of digital sites across the UK in addition to standard static formats, Press offer digital solutions to their titles, and radio have streaming services online on top of FM channels. The line between digital and traditional media is becoming blurred with Digital marketing as a standalone term, a thing of the past, in today’s ecosystem it’s not digital marketing but marketing in a digital world.


The rise of the term ‘Digital first’ in advertising is referring to this consumer trend and how brands need to rethink their strategies with consumer behaviours in mind. Take retail as an example, before you start to look at traditional media channels you need to understand your user journey and how your potential consumers are interacting with your brand: –


  • For most people today webpages are the first point of call for research and purchase. Webpages are todays storefronts so you need to ensure your site is enticing to your visitors (SEO).
  • Second part of the puzzle is making sure people can find your page when they are looking for you (PPC).
  • Next steps are to look at the best place to reach your audience and it’s here you start to look at traditional as well as other online channels and decide the best place to reach them.


So when you hear the term ‘Digital first’, it doesn’t mean move all your budgets online and move away from traditional media channels. The key principles of marketing still apply, hitting the right people, at the right time, with the right message and depending on your audience selection, traditional channels could still be the key to this. What does need to be considered though is where your audience are and how they interact with your brand. For most products and services the answer to this is online, so it’s your digital offering you need to ensure is strong before you move to more traditional channels.


Clive Green, Associate Director


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