The one mistake business owners make when thinking about digital

You’d think that after working closely with this smaller business for more that 10 years, they would have grasped my core capabilities by now.

But it wasn’t to be.

In what must have been our 50th or 60th regular meeting to discuss all things digital communications, came the glib comment to my suddenly faulty presentation.

“But you’re in IT Craig, you should be able to fix it.”

At which point my mind accidentally summonsed the recently departed John Hurt’s legendary Elephant Man character, John Merrick: “I’m not an animal. I’m a human being!”

Not that there’s anything at all wrong being in IT – far from it. Most of us couldn’t function these days without it. It’s just a long way from what I – and a range of other digital professionals do.

But it’s not an uncommon perception. My work is in Digital. So it’s techie, right?

Only very, very partially, because the digital world has two related but quite different core capabilities.

Infrastructure vs application

The first is Digital Infrastructure (or the technology layer).  The second is Digital Applications (or the application layer).


Digital Infrastucture is absolutely the realm of the IT Department. This is the nuts and bolts of connectivity – hardware, software, networks etc and then once set up, ensuring it keeps humming.

Essentially these are the parts that provide access to the internet. Without it, you can’t really do anything of a digital communications nature at all.

Think of how we used computers before the internet and you get the idea.

As the diagram above illustrates, this layer is “what we do digital stuff with”.

It’s what you do with it

The second layer, Digital Applications, is the use of the internet to streamline your business or consumer worlds.

Business applications include communication, finance, marketing and training, while for consumers, it’s communication, entertainment, shopping and education.

As a result, there are a range of organisations that provide assistance with Digital Communication, Digital Finance, Digital (or online) Training and Digital Marketing.

While the organisations that provide tools and assistance with this application layer are clearly related to IT, they are more aligned to being underpinned by IT, rather than being an IT function in their own right.

So why is all of this conversation important?

Oops, wrong professional

It’s actually extremely important to know the difference between these two elements because small business operators are often hiring the wrong kind of digital professional to assist them with their digital worlds.

How often do you hear a smaller business operator say they hired someone – often from their own family and friend network, because they’re “good with computers”?.

Unfortunately someone simply “good with computers” is not qualified enough to lead your digital marketing and communications strategy – and most of the better IT departments agree. They know where to draw their infrastructure line and refer you to the right kind of digital specialist.

It’s marketing – but not as we know it

In fact, digital marketing and communications is far more aligned to traditional marketing and communications than it is to IT.

In other words, it’s a recently developed strand of marketing, not a recently developed strand of IT.

I’ve often made a television analogy when describing this affect.  It’s like hiring a television repair pro to make your television commercial.

Yes it’s the same technology – but one is consumer hardware and the other advertising.

The following diagram indicates just how digital marketing interacts with traditional marketing and both stem from good business planning and good marketing planning.

Both traditional and digital marketing are completely intertwined, particularly when you consider that a lead from any source is more likely than not to visit your website along the way to doing business with you.


Once more smaller business operators fully grasp this, they will find both of their digital and business performance improving markedly.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.


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