Digital marketing is now vital to the mainstream mix

Marketing Week takes a look at the main themes that emerged at this year’s Interactive Conference where the online discipline proved it has come of age.

Last week’s Marketing Week Interactive Conference 2007 offered many insights for both those already familiar with the digital space and also the uninitiated who are still coming to terms with what the online environment means for them, their brands and their online marketing strategy. One clear message from the conference was to forget online marketing as an added extra; nowadays it is an integral part of the marketing mix, whatever your brand.

David Magliano, former chief marketer of the London 2012 bid, highlighted how an integrated campaign with a core theme helped drive awareness and added to the success of the bid. Sandy Methven, head of healthcare marketing at Boots, also focused on this message, saying that cross-channel marketing had driven awareness and sales as part of this month’s Change One Thing campaign, which aims to help consumers achieve their new year’s resolutions. She claimed awareness of this campaign was the highest recorded for a Boots ad push.

Ferrying across channels
Also driving the message of integration and convergence were Agency.com managing director Alex Wright and Heather Hopkins, research director at data analysts Hitwise. Wright spoke of the need for “transmedia planning”, in a landscape where consumers pull their information from myriad media touchpoints. Hopkins illustrated how offline channels, like radio and television, were huge drivers of website traffic, with case studies demonstrating how site visits peaked as TV ads were rolled out. This theme was also picked up by Julian Brewer, head of online marketing and content, electronic banking for Barclays. He pointed out that monitoring consumers’ search activity following the airing of Barclays’ TV ads actually allows the bank to measure the impact of those ads. The keywords that users type in after seeing one of Barclays’ ads are often influenced by the products, the actual offer and wording of the TV ad, Brewer said – to the extent that search marketing effectively allows the bank to test out the effectiveness of different ads.

Conrad Bennett, European technical services director of Web analytics company WebTrends, which works with Barclays on analysing consumer activity online, argued that marketers need to know as much as they can about the behaviour of different groups of visitors to their sites. “Do people who come via Google or Yahoo! behave differently on your site to people who have come via a bookmark?” he asked. Blake Chandlee, commercial director, Yahoo! UK & Ireland, stressed the importance of behavioural targeting to marketers, saying that “in the US, behavioural targeting represents 25% of the total online marketing spend”. He also told the audience that women now make up a much bigger proportion of the online audience than they perhaps realise: “Women are the single-biggest audience online in the UK.”

Search, he concluded, was the most important part of online marketing, but online and offline advertising drive people to search. Chandlee added: “Most people in the UK who use a computer will use search on a regular basis.”

Search engines drive visits
Search was also picked up by Nick Hynes, chief executive of search engine optimisation (SEO) agency The Search Works. He too highlighted how successful offline advertising activity can be at driving site traffic, but underlined the importance of search: “74% of all online users use search engines to research products or services”. However, he warned against deploying a campaign that encourages users to “Google” you – “you can’t bank on your organic position!”

It’s no surprise that user-generated content and social networking were big themes at the event. Mark Charkin, head of sales at Bebo, explained why social marketing should be such an integral part of any marketer’s strategy. Charkin says that Bebo’s “engagement marketing” works because “consumers invite the brand into their lives”.

For instance, Bebo members can download “skins’ – specially designed backgrounds – which allow fans to show their allegiance to a body, club or brand. Jay Stevens, vice-president sales and operations, EMEA, for MySpace.com, pointed out that social networking is all about exploiting an online version of a physical space where people can socialise with friends.

In passing, he pointed out that MySpace has actually helped reunite worried families with runaway children on more than one occasion. He said: “It’s amazing how children who don’t seem to be able to talk to their parents are happy to tell all their friends about their plans to run away from home via MySpace.”

Charkin added that marketers can monitor Bebo to actually see what Bebo members are saying about their brands.

The Chattering Classes
The subject of “brand chatter” was also explored by Agency.com’s Wright and Jamie Riddell, director of innovation and co-founder of digital agency and lead sponsor, Cheeze. They explored what social networks and user generated content mean for marketers.

Both Riddell and Wright warned brands against trying to rail against negative messages or “brand bashing” on sites such as YouTube or on consumer blogs, suggesting that they should instead “listen and embrace consumer opinion”. Riddell said: “You are no longer in control of your brand – the consumer is. Harness this for huge potential, but treat it with respect.”

Lessons in how not to react are to be learned from Coca-Cola (its reaction to the Coke-Mentos phenomenon) and Ryanair, while Tracy Blacher head of marketing new media at Channel 4 demonstrated how marketers can use these platforms to their own advantage with effective and innovative campaigns. Riddell also touched on how brands can monetise these new channels, by sponsoring relevant podcasts, blogs and pages on social networks, such as YouTube.

Blacher showcased C4’s MySpace pages for Lost and new series Skins as great ways to reach online audiences. The innovative digital campaign for Lost also demonstrated how great work can keep viewers interested, even when they know a series’ outcome.

Innovation was also key for David Holecek, online manager at Volvo, which won acclaim for its The Hunt campaign with Disney, and Toyota GB marketing director Mark Hall. Both warned against banal online campaigns or websites, saying that entertainment and functionality were essential to maintain interest. In a sector where personal recommendation is key, the internet has become the number one information source for consumers researching cars, said Hall, with 79% of internet users’ purchase being influenced by information found online.

Campaign creativity is essential online, but relevance and integration are pivotal if your digital strategy is to succeed.

MW Interactive 2007: Digital Consumer Panel
One of the sessions that generated most interest, despite being in the graveyard slot immediately after lunch on the second day, turned out to be the Digital Consumer panel, comprising real people talking about how they actually use the Net.

The panel, organised by specialist research agency Green Light International, comprised three women and two men. Four of the panelists have children, while the fifth is a student.

Some of the uses the internet is being put to by real people may not immediately occur to most marketers. For instance, the two mothers on the panel admitted they regularly use e-mail from their PCs downstairs to communicate with their children upstairs.

The main uses they find for the Net are researching and making purchases, researching personal interests, e-mail and work and study. All admitted to having downloaded music without paying for it (as did two-thirds of the conference audience).

Price is the main factor that determines whether they buy something online. One panelist said: “I will research something online, then go into a shop and see what it feels like. Then I will buy online, usually from the cheapest supplier.”

Sometimes, though, price will take a back seat and service from known and trusted brands can play a role. One panel member said he had recently bought something from John Lewis that he could have got cheaper on another site “because John Lewis offered a better warranty.”

All use search regularly, but they were hazy about the difference between paid-for results and natural search results. However, one panelist observed: “If you haven’t found what you want by page two, then you’ve asked the wrong question.”

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