Understanding the digital self

We have reached a point in marketing where people now define themselves in real life by how they present themselves online.

What you post on Facebook, where you travel on TripIt, who you’re connected to on LinkedIn and the venues you check into via Foursquare, all say something about your personality. And increasingly, it’s a process people manage with meticulous detail.

What we watch, where we go, what we like and what we dislike online, are no longer random acts, but self-defining choices with meaning.

This, according to Brad Rencher, SVP and general manager of digital marketing at Adobe, is called the “digital self” – a concept he believes will radically reshape marketing over the next few years.

Within all this “sharing” and “liking” activity lies a treasure trove of data that gives new meaning to how marketers can define and target customers. For brands, Rencher argues this shift represents a chance to connect with people like never before and new analytical tools are making the process much easier.

“Today, digital marketing is all about reading signals, mapping patterns, learning from the conversations that are alive, unstructured and chaotic,” he says.

While this may sound like the holy grail of marketing, it does require a significant shift in thinking.

Arguably one of the biggest shifts affecting marketers is how to understand this mountain of data and behavioural patterns. But a number of big companies from Adobe, to IBM, Accenture and the likes of SAP, are seeking to serve analytics and “big data” solutions to a marketing industry hungry for fast solutions.

“I’m not entirely sure many organisations are happy with where they are with their digital evolution,” Rencher admits.

“Marketers are being forced to be system integrators which they don’t want to do. Our core belief is that there will be a few platforms that merge to serve the CMO office, just as there are technology platforms that serve the CIO.”


By now you may be worrying about how far and fast this shift in digital has occurred and where it is taking ordinary consumers.

But in reality it’s a shift that is only now starting to gather pace for the 1.5 billion people that are online today and for the next billion who are coming, probably sooner than we may think.

“The true promise of the internet has yet to be revealed,” says Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter and The Obvious Corporation. Stone argues many brands will continue to feel their way through new applications, social networks and trends for a long time to come.

“The golden age of engagement is really based on something that many of us still have a hard time understanding,” Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief at AOL Huffington Post Media Group, told a recent Adobe digital marketing conference.

“Self-expression has become the new entertainment. Once we understand self-expression is the new entertainment, we understand how the world has changed for publishers, for marketers and for advertisers.”

But whether you are an advertiser, a marketer or publisher, many argue it is the small things that will bring meaning to every interaction and experience.

However, it’s not just people who are developing their digital selves.

Brands will also have an online personality whether they like it or not, but it will be up to them to decide if they participate.