Tom Goodwin's tips for companies to thrive in a post-digital age

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 18 October 2017
Tom Goodwin.

One of marketing's leading thinkers has warned that companies need to evolve how they interact with consumers and their utility for a 'post-digital age' if they are to survive and thrive into the future.

Zenith US EVP and head of innovation Tom Goodwin, who is followed 433,790 people on LinkedIn, delivered a thought-provoking closing presentation at the AANA's Reset conference yesterday.

He set the scene by reminding us that we live in crazy times, of Trump and Brexit, an awkward period of transition he refers to as the 'mid-digital age', but there is a need for calm and cause for optimism despite mounting complexity and chaos in our everyday lives.

“You know, we worry about computers getting self-aware and killing us,” he says. “I'll worry about that when my laptop is aware of my printer. When my light switch can talk to a lightbulb, then I'll get worried.”

Goodwin explained that the mid-digital age is nestled in between the pre-digital age and post-digital age.
In the pre-digital age, everything worked, like newspapers, magazines and Walkmans.

“If you had to listen to the music, you had to get a pencil, stick in the cassette, spin it round,” the 38-year-old said.

“There was no confusion. You were never reading the newspaper and couldn't remember if it was social media or not. Like, you were never watching TV and you couldn't figure out if that was a radio.”

Thankfully, in the post-digital age, everything will work once again and we will not be re-targeted with things that you already bought.

“You won't be advertised things that are completely irrelevant. We will have found a way to monetise your attention much more effectively,” Goodwin added. “Advertising will probably work around people, rather than media channels.”

What is the mid-digital age?

Goodwin explained we are currently in this “crappy time” where marketers do a lot of “stupid” and “lazy” things.

An example of this is sticking TV ads on YouTube rather than creating a purpose-made 6-second spot that tailored for the platform.

He also drew a comparison of an ad as being similar to what influencers do today, pointing out that not much has changed creatively. AdNews has tried to recreate his comparison below.


“It's just a bit odd to me that you can't buy things directly from Instagram with your thumbprint,” Goodwin explains. 

“It's a bit odd to me that you don't make images as your photos come to life. It's staggering to me the degree to which people call very old-fashioned stuff through a slightly newer, shinier frame - the picture sort of remains the same.

In the mid-digital age, society has become increasingly polarised and everything appears binary.

“We like to think that everything is different or nothing is different,” Goodwin points out.

“We have these extreme characters, there are some people that think that nothing has changed and we need to go back to the olden days.

“Some people think that everything is different right now and they talk about social media all the time.”

The characters Goodwin was referring to in his presentation are the Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman and digital marketing evangelist Gary Vaynerchuk.

“This sounds a bit arrogant, but I think I'm a bit further ahead in the sense I'm more excited,” Goodwin continued.

“I think there's an amazing job to be done which is to look at all the things that have worked in marketing for hundreds of years and to look at all the changes that are incredibly exciting. And then to look at all the amazing possibilities that creates.”

Goodwin says that companies which fail to innovate often struggle because “they're kind of doing the smallest thing they need to do in order to appear that they're doing something”.

“They're not excited about new behaviours and not excited about new technology and they're hoping to retire before it catches up with them,” he adds.

Companies that are currently experiencing massive growth, the Ubers, AirBnBs and Teslas of this world are bold and have “founded themselves for the new age with new age behaviours at the heart of it”.

“These are companies where things tend to work,” he says. “Like, if you reply to an email to Amazon, you don't normally get a no reply email response. It somehow ends up with a human being or a really good robot.

“Generally speaking, technology like Tesla is actually completely reframing the entire norms of the business. Like, these are profoundly exciting companies because of how well they've built themselves.”

In addition, Goodwin points out that these companies weren't built on advertising, and where they have it's been “quite late in the day”.

“We need to be mindful that there is success to be found - not in spending tonnes and tonnes of money on advertising and telling people how good your products are - but just actually making extremely good products and extremely good experiences.

“I think a bit of the difference between digital transformation and digitisation - so digitisation is stuff that's very surface. It's the small changes that you can do quickly, that don't actually make a difference. Whereas digital transformation is much more core.”

Goodwin offered 11 behavioural shifts that companies need to consider to enter the post-digital future. AdNews has summarised some of these below:

  1. The concept of TV is quite strange. “The devices in our life used to be very, very different to each other and actually now they actually appear to be the same thing. They're all essentially black rectangles of the same sort of ratio and they're all connected to the internet and they all play DVD.” Goodwin adds that the future of media “probably won't be buying things by media channel, but instead thinking of context to convey messages in”.

  2. Voice will be a fantastic operating system. “It will be wonderful in the car, but it's not necessarily going to be the destroyer of all brands”.

  3. Instant messaging is probably the most exciting thing in marketing. “I'm amazed that how the entire world, other than China, doesn't get instant messages. As marketers, we hope for the day we can have a one-on-one conversation and generally speaking, when people answer back to us, we tend to ignore them...if we could find a way to invent this kind of thinking deep within companies, it gets extremely interesting.”

  4. The thing in front can now just be a swipe or a press. “You tend to assume that there isn't a funnel, and it goes from like to prefer to find. Pretty much everything that you now see in the world, you can buy, you just have to tap on your finger. Especially things like touch ID. So, I'd love to see every single company get a lot better at extracting money from people.”

  5. Inventory is now pretty much unlimited. “Retailers used to be limited by the stock that they could keep, which would be limited by the physical space they had to keep the world of eBay or Amazon, you don't necessarily need to sell stuff that you have. If you have 2 billion users like Facebook, there's no reason you couldn't become the biggest store overnight.”

  6. Digital disappointment. “Increasingly, our experience is shaped by the best experience we see anywhere in the entire world. When Uber can tell you where the driver is in real-time, what their name is, how many stars they've got and you can message them, it then seems very strange when your cable TV company can't tell you anything about when your person is due to arrive.”

Goodwin ended by adding that artificial intelligence will revolutionise business but probably not in the way it is currently being applied or spoken about.

"I don't think that image recognition that tells you that a dog is a dog is going to change the future of advertising," he said.

"I actually think that AI is probably going to be the next equivalent of electricity. So, it's going to be companies that completely rebuild themselves and completely change all of their processes and completely change all of their structure and their staff culture [to take advantage of AI]. 

"I don't think we should be sprinkling a bit of AI on to get a press release. I think we need to fundamentally, at some point, reconfigure our company's around it."

Check out our full Reset coverage:

Focus on long-term emotional ads or risk 'throwing marketing on the bonfire' 

Dogs, dildos and designer dresses: Six lessons from Three UK CMO

Unilever on data privacy, control and delusion

AANA to review funding model and self-regulation

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