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Ask the Headhunter/ General Management

The World Is Digital, Except When It’s Analog

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by Nick Corcodilos
Contributing Writer
CMO.com

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In Fast Company, Andrea Kent-Smith explains “Why The Ad Industry Is In A Talent Rut And A Prescription For Change.” And the problem, Kent-Smith claims, is all about digital. “Employees either understand digital, or they are actively pretending that they do.” The rest of the article is about how to invest in more digital staff, cultivate a digital attitude, engage in the digital “village,” and promote more digital education. It even suggests hiring people “without titles”—for example, high school students—to promote digital.

The word digital appears in that story 21 times. The word analog doesn’t appear once. I’ll tell you why its omission matters.

Way back around 1980, when I was starting out as a headhunter in Silicon Valley, digital design engineers were the hot thing. Engineering schools were graduating them in record numbers, and technology companies were hiring them even faster. But the problem dawned on me when I saw an ad from an analog electronics company. On one page was a digitized, highly pixelated image of a huge rose. The legend read, "The world is digital." On the next page was a lovely photo of a rose—so warm, sharp, and clear I could almost smell it. The legend: "Except when it's analog."

(Good definitions of digital and analog are offered by Wikipedia: “Analog means continuous flow of signal. . .A digital system is a data technology that uses discrete [discontinuous] values.”)

The point of the ad was that our new machines could render information—like the photo of that rose—in digital form. But humans aren’t digital. They can smell, touch, and enjoy that rose in many other ways—in “continuous” mode. Digital is good, the ad said, but we need analog technology to interface digital to our analog brains.

A new report issued by CMO.com’s parent company, Adobe Systems, reminds us just how important analog is to the people we’re trying to sell to. ("State Of Online Advertising Not Pretty, New Adobe Report Reveals") After surveying consumers and marketers, Adobe found that 66% of consumers (and 49% of marketers) prefer ads on TV—not online. Far more interesting is that 73% of consumers say ads “should tell a unique story, not just try to sell.”

Consumers want to smell and touch the rose. They want an analog experience. Now, there’s no denying that TV today is digital. The cathode ray tube that sprays a continuous stream of electrons at a screen is long gone. But TV is far less discrete than what we get on our other digital devices. The typical content on TV is half an hour long. Your iPad may be interactive, but in half an hour you’ve jumped to dozens of different “discrete” places. Yet people say they prefer to see ads on a storytelling medium, and they want more stories.

I agree that the ad industry needs digital talent, but I’d argue it needs far more analog talent than it has today. It needs authors, writers, editors, producers, and storytellers. It needs people who can render the intoxicating scent of that rose as a longer, continuous experience that interacts with the viewer’s senses, inviting them to go with the analog flow. . .Sorry. That commercial kinda swept me away. Where was I?

Of course, in marketing when we refer to digital we mean electronic or online. We’re talking about tablets and smartphones. We’re talking about interactive and in-your-face. We’re referring to cool. And we’re also talking about data: being able to create it, gather it, and process it to improve the customer’s experience and our business. But when does marketing talk about analog? I think it should because without analog, humans can’t benefit from digital. It’s why in 1980 I earned bigger fees placing analog design engineers. The digital guys were talented, but the analog engineers designed the circuits that enabled digital systems to interface to analog humans. They were the rare, highly sought-after artists.

Marketing is indeed going digital. But consumers are still analog. They want to be touched by a slow, flowing analog story that lingers in their minds. And that’s why Fast Company is wrong. Your ad company should be hiring analog talent.

Come share your views on the Discussion Forum.

About Nick Corcodilos

Nick Corcodilos writes "Ask The Headhunter," a weekly blog on CMO.com in which he shows you how to tackle the daunting obstacles that job hunters and managers face when trying to work together. From time to time, Corcodilos also will provide feature stories offering insights into various management career strategies, In addition, his newest books, Keep Your Salary Under Wraps, How to Work with Headhunters and How Can I Change Careers?, are available as PDFs.

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