The Evolution of Digital Communications

January 11, 2019

APCO’s Seattle office is growing and increasingly responding to clients who are demanding more robust digital strategic communications. As a result, we attended Seattle’s recent Digital Summit to better understand what makes Seattle’s digital marketplace unique in order to better solve client problems with innovative and digital-forward solutions.

While we were learning more about content amplification and the power of video creative, it became clear that the future of digital in Seattle is rooted in the optimization of SEO, the implementation of niche influencer programs and the individualization of content (check out our 3 things video!).

However, it was important for us to get to know our fellow digital natives by learning which obstacles to digital growth were keeping them up at night. After two days of swapping war stories and brainstorming strategies for overcoming digital challenges with 50 of our new friends, here’s what we found:


Marketing Technologies Are Shifting

One of the most persistent challenges that digital communicators are facing today is the fast pace at which digital marketing technologies are changing online communications strategies. From content marketing in the age of the algorithm to investing in video storytelling, communications professionals are often struggling to keep up with the rapid evolutions of the digital marketplace.

As new distribution technologies prompt novel online engagement tactics, the next challenge is measuring the efficacy of digital communications campaigns. Companies want to develop content that resonates – and often are unsure of how to demonstrate success across platform and campaign. Ultimately marketers are drowning in data and aren’t always sure which metrics are important or how to use digital analytics to drive long-term strategy.

There are also countless marketing tools that claim to automate internal processes (automation and AI were persistent buzzwords that Digital Summit attendees cited as innovations that their organizations were not currently taking advantage of), but the most worrying trend in our conversations was the widespread concern that organizations lack a comprehensive digital strategy or internal digital direction at all.

Helpful tip: Stay vigilant with digital trends. As the landscape shifts so drastically so quickly, it is critical to spend time understanding future trends. Some of our favorite reads are MashableDigiday (and APCO Forum!).

Budgets Are Shrinking

Marketing and communications budgets are not keeping pace with the increasing adoption of expensive digital marketing technologies and tactics. Time, talent and budgets are all constrained while clients are demanding measurably successful results for their ambitious online campaigns. Monitoring, reporting and internal management tools are being sacrificed in favor of manual approaches, despite inefficiencies.

Key takeaway: Marketing and communications teams must now pitch their services to both their clients and internal stakeholders in a way that clearly demonstrates the tangible (monetary) value of a robust digital strategy.

Target Audiences Feel Elusive  

Breaking through the noise of social media is more difficult than ever when there are so many brands simultaneously competing for attention. The average person “thumbs through” (scrolls via mobile) over 300 feet of social media content per day – that’s five feet shy of the Statue of Liberty! For many campaigns, encouraging users to “stop their scroll” to engage with a branded post is a win. However, with every digital campaign, the difficulty often lies in identifying the right audience and online channel for outreach in the first place. Attendees at the Seattle Digital Summit confirmed that audience targeting is a major, recurring challenge they face when organizing online campaigns.

Bottom line: Audience identification and Search Engine Optimization are both still very important priorities for clients, underscoring the fact that digital campaigns must first create awareness before prompting deeper engagement.


Online communications tactics are still evolving and marketing budgets are still shrinking. Identifying, growing and engaging with target audiences is more challenging than ever in this rapidly-changing environment. It was a pleasure to talk to so many Seattleites about digital’s evolution to date. Do you have a POV that isn’t included above?  We want to hear from you! Leave your perspective in the comments.

See you at the next Digital Summit in Philadelphia!

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