Digital keys open door to 21st century marketing

Who is equipped for 21st century marketing well enough to control how their brand is represented online? Marketing Week and Google held a roundtable discussion with leading marketing experts to uncover how ready the industry is for a digital future.

MW: Should digital marketing be treated as a separate subtopic of marketing or is the future about marketing in a digital world?

Marc Sands: We’ve thought about this a lot at The Guardian and have been through every model imaginable. If you took a trajectory of the past ten years, digital was separate. It was impossible to operate in an integrated sense. This was one of the reasons we moved offices. It radically affected how we operate; suddenly all the old boundaries were gone physically and, equally, emotionally and intellectually. That integration is how it should be.
Paul Troy: The problem is there is no money in it for the agencies. It requires a lot more effort and the ratio model isn’t easy. While TV brings revenue, digital isn’t so easy. Barclaycard is effectively a digital business but it doesn’t realise it. The vast majority of people who take a card out take it out online and yet we have an offline business doing digital. Digital comes in as a subculture; hiring lots of people rather than recognising you need to be a digital business to work with a digital consumer. We’ve gone from being dragged into digital to moving in the right direction.
Alex Gisbert: At Expedia, the terminology we use to define the shift is the “old world” versus the “new world”, and uncomfortably, it’s a shift to the concept of a “push” versus “pull” situation. I think old-style marketing is all about pushing messages into consumers’ faces. Pull marketing is a fundamental shift, both culturally and in the mindset of the marketer into making sure that your brand is the most visible when someone comes looking.

MW: Do businesses have to change their structures and the way their companies operate to accommodate digital marketing?
MSA:
For us, there was the unshakeable truth that we are going digital editorially, so we had to not just reflect that, but structure ourselves accordingly. The key issue is that if you project for five years or a decade ahead, the notion of the printed newspaper or digital is not a discussion. The discussion is the practicalities of getting from A to B as fast as you can while taking the right people with you.
Babs Rangaiah: The under 25s are digital natives and those in their mid-50s and up have teenage kids. People in their 30s and 40s, though, tend to have their heads in clouds. For them, it’s a very corporate culture, not wanting to know what digital is about. But the truth is you have to engage with it to truly understand what the space is about or you won’t understand the market or evaluate marketing otherwise. We’ve built a media lab among other initiatives to encourage people to live in this space.
Shuvo Saha:

The ability to cut across organisational structures and processes in new ways will be an even bigger task for companies over the next decade. I’ve worked in areas where we’ve had complex procedures that didn’t fit and were very disparate. The thing holding these businesses back were the differing ways of working internally and externally, which meant lots of fragmented ways of thinking and working.
Alex Batchelor: The same rules still apply. The task of marketing is still to understand what the audience wants and what the business is capable of to make a profit. All that’s happening is the rules about how best to do this are changing, sometimes quite fundamentally and sometimes really slowly. If you don’t change at the right point and realise you need to do something differently, then it will fail. The fundamental truths of marketing haven’t changed; it’s just that some businesses are better than others at recognising and responding to the things that are going on around them.

MW: Is there a need for better understanding about digital marketing from marketers?
Simon Stewart:
It’s fair to say we ignored digital completely as a business until we felt that it was an area that we should try and be involved in experimentally. Some activities have worked well and some have been disastrous. The disasters made us realise that we need to understand the medium better and realise that you can’t just apply the old ways of thinking to planning a digital creative; it’s a lot more in-depth than that. So what’s happening now is the clients draw up a checklist and do things that will make the right amount of noise but also gain a notable reception. You need to do things that break the old rules of thinking. We’d like to ban the word digital because it’s artificial. Instead, it should be part of the mainstream marketing plan, not outside the mainstream business.
Andrew Harrison: The problem is lazy thinking, which takes all digital communications, or a subset of them such as social networking, as all one-and-the-same. The reality is they are fundamentally different in how you react to each one and engage with them. You will still need the creative intuitive, but there needs to be a balance. There is a degree of risk at the moment that the premium on statistical analysis, return on investment and the understanding of quantitative data – all of which are extremely important – could come at the expense of real insight, intuition and creativity, which is equally important.
SSA:

I honestly don’t think that marketers have not understood the potential of digital marketing. I’m sure there are some marketers who don’t always keep up, but companies like Google work with them closely to educate them. It’s about understanding concepts of working with audiences in different ways, tapping into digital hearts and minds.
MSA: Marketing in a digital world has to be the discussion, not digital marketing. As an industry we are slightly behind the curve, and the people who help us along the way are way behind the curve – clients are light-years ahead of their partners in thinking and it’s devastating for them. Businesses like the music industry have had to reshape themselves significantly to keep up with culture. How long before we wake up and recognise this change?

MW: How can digital marketing be used to successfully engage with customers?
Janet Coulltrisic:
From a government perspective, we know that the internet is always on. So we have to think about how we can conduct campaign-based conversations using this media. For us, it is about reaching out to the digital natives. It’s just life for them, so we need to find ways of relating to them. It requires a serious move away from that singular way of thinking and a realisation that this is a brand new way of communication that should be embraced. There’s nothing worse than a groovy dad in this space, and we want to avoid being that. So for us, we need to put ourselves in consumers’ shoes and use it as our own prime communications tool.
AG: It’s all centred on core questions. Am I there? Am I relevant? Am I in the right place at the right time? We think that if you go out with a push on a boring platform, people just don’t want to see it. They want to come looking, and we have to make sure they find us first.
BR: We have great [mobile] applications like “sit or squat” to find the nearest public bathroom, and the Axe alarm clock app to wake up men with an Axe girl. It’s about reaching the right audiences. Certain entertainment products are immediately of interest. We focus on penetrating though culture, tapping into our consumers’ interests, whatever they are and providing the most useful information or interest points to them, especially for low-interest products.
Mark Simpson:

Cars are of interest to a lot of people a lot of the time, so we want to get people talking about cars all of the time. We took part in a web-based sitcom to get people to contribute to scripts and realised that people talk about what we’re doing positively. Critical for every purchase is information, so we draw people in and let them choose how. Letting users create their cars is vital, while seeding has, frankly, very little value.
Will King: For marketing, it’s an amazing time to be working with digital media and coming up with new ways to engage. Our online John Terry [football] game has been a huge boost for the brand, with over 65,000 plays a day. It’s a conversation, not a speech, and is fantastically aligned with other marketing to make it flow.

MW: As user-generated content usurps all around it, how do marketers react to having less control of their brand’s reputation?
SS:
We often talk about the huge changes in communications and the way these are changing the landscape of the media. But there isn’t much said about the potential destruction of the industry and the changing distribution systems. The industry buries its head in the sand and has lost control of this method of communication and distribution. It’s a huge danger for FMCG brands and it’s a challenge for us to maintain that control with limited enforcements in place.
MSA: We’ve lost control. We had a mistaken belief that we could put out a signal and maintain control of responses to it, and to a greater or less extent that used to be the case. That is absolutely not the case any more. In our blog area “Comment is Free”, for example, what’s fascinating is you can create conversations that people can engage with but the idea of control is not there. We are less in control of our brands than we were several years ago. You have to listen a lot more to what is happening out there. Before you could be deathly silent, but now you simply can’t.
MS: We’d like to bring consumers onto our own site, rather than external blogs, which is quite different to where they are at the moment. For us, we need to think of how we create a soft landing to take them out of blogs – where they play the game their way and write the rules. They are very protective of their own communities. We’d like to find a cost-effective way to land people, make them feel at home and branch out within our space to get the information they want.
Dan Cobley: The expression “the geek will inherit the earth” has never been truer. In this case, the geek should be the marketer, issuing the directives over where to use digital and following the direction of the consumer online. You can do this through an agency, but any marketing department worth its salt would want to do it in-house and try to retain control.
JC: This is a matter of risk management – the issue of control is mainly irrelevant. There are positive benefits from consumer engagement and there is a risk of not being in the spaces that other people are using to have the kind of conversation. In the government, we need to ensure that even the minorities can be reached and we don’t lose control of spaces.
AB: If this was simply a media discussion, we’d have nailed it by now. It’s more complicated because it is also a sales channel and a public arena for engagement, which are double-edged swords that you can’t grip easily without receiving self-inflicted wounds. These are due to not understanding the technology properly. On TV, you can say what you want and nobody can instantly react, while online, people can. For example, Kanye West’s recent MTV Video Music Awards intervention has been mimicked everywhere online and it is funny, but as a marketer you can’t legislate what happens and how to resolve that.

MW:

As well as these fears over control, is digital marketing seen as too interruptive by consumers?
MSA: These are not media applications, although they are described as such. The bottom line is that digital formats were created for a different purpose and I think that, like search, it’s very hard to work out what the role of marketing is in this model. The interruption factor does not have the same potency as it does in the old media and that causes us a major headache.
WK: Digital is the heart of brand love or loathing because it’s just a continuous stream of brand communications 24/7, so if these interrupt you, they annoy you. Relevance is key. I run the King of Shaves Twitter, blogs and search. The amount of engagement you can have with consumers is mind-blowing; it feels like a conversation, rather than interruptive, which just pisses off young people.

MW: With this in mind, what should the capabilities of 21st century marketers be?
WK:
They need to always remember that it’s a conversation. It’s always online and users are sharing it constantly. It requires a completely different kind of marketing mindset. It should be a great conversation like on TV – not interrogative and discursive. That’s the future and that’s why I think the 21st century marketer has not been born yet.
AG: If processes are an issue for you, you’re not a 21st century marketer. It’s a classic interview question – “where do you see yourselves in five years time?” That’s now redundant; it’s now about one year, maybe two, because the game continues to change all the time. The 21st century marketer has to be used to change as this is constant. If you’re concerned about that change, then this probably isn’t the right career for you. If you’re thinking it’s a job with a business plan for ten years or five years, that’s not a 21st century marketer.
SS: There are challenges to adapt to what the consumer is doing. There will inevitably be markets that do change and some that don’t. For the 21st century marketer, there will be a tendency to rely a whole lot less on the infrastructure of insight and to really get a personal understanding of who the customer is.
MSA: Now in the digital area, there is even more need for creative. You have to get people engaged first time. You need to create that salience and moment so when a consumer thinks of the brand they can find it instantly using search.

MW: Does the use of real-time digital media provide useful insights into customer bases for targeted communications?
MS:
In theory, getting people onto your site and being able to monitor in real time what people are looking for is great insight for us. It’s better than semantic research because people lie unintentionally there. Real-time intelligence is useful because it means we can serve the consumer better when they come into the dealership and in our communications to them, such as personalised brochures instead of ordinary online e-brochures. We can configure material to the customer’s liking, having it in their name, so they can seduce themselves into buying a new vehicle.
DC: I think the research area is the most interesting part of where we are now, much more so than before. If you think about the old research models, you paid a lot of money, you waited a long time and it told you what they think people would spend their money on, whereas online now you can find this out immediately in real time. It is amazing insight, but there is potential to lose control if you don’t have the abilities to mine that data.
AG: You have to recognise that you need to use these tools to engage with consumers and follow their lifestyle pattern, and trial concepts in real time for a fraction of the offline cost. There is so much rigorous stuff that you can do in very different ways that you might not necessarily have done before.
SS: Data can be quite dangerous because it only focuses on the past, not what the consumer will do next. What we have to try and guess is what the consumer doesn’t know and what they plan to do. So I think that this very data-driven culture is actually going to be replaced by a very experimental knowledge of customers where you have to move very quickly – it’s instinctive, and the answers can change if you wait.

MW: What is the value of good quality content online?
PT:
One-to-one marketing has been around a long time and companies aren’t good at it, even with the best technology. It’s easier for us to master a content strategy, like our partnerships with Mercury and Live Nation. We are either buying content or creating content. It’s a sign of moving from an age where advertising was king to one where content is king. The recent Virgin ad [showing glamorous stewardesses] was great, but it has no content value, it’s not different; there are no legs to it. The T-Mobile ad [showing the public singing in mass gatherings], on the other hand, has legs. Our own “water slide” iPhone game has had over 5 million downloads in 57 countries. I’m so confident I would actually buy shares in content; the reason we partner with other companies is to get great content. As a low engagement, low interest category, it gets people to engage with us.
WK: I don’t know if there is still creative genius in content that will earn respect. Cost of transmission and publication is plummeting, and modern technology means you can do similar things yourselves at home with relative ease.
AG: There is an awful lot of new technology and lots of content is now going online and it’s becoming more of a community type of business. Banners are becoming irrelevant and uninteresting, but personalised cross-sell banners will mean that the consumer might be a bit surprised, but they will value these as a service and as incredibly relevant. Email has led the way in this, but there will be more. Search results will start catering for this, based on where a person has come from, using a high degree of personalisation.
AB: Online content can help marketers to uncover where the real money to be made is, especially from large expenses such as TV shows. For example, you might watch clips from The X Factor on sites like YouTube. This could be a great continuation of the brand’s presence after the show has aired. A company such as ITV could negotiate a deal so that it gets a slice of the revenue made from these acts by ensuring that contracts recognise the share of voice you are helping the act to achieve and how digital opportunities boost that.

MW: Are the boundaries between creative, media and in-house management blurred by the rapid growth of digital marketing?
AB:
It’s symbolic of the change in organisations and processes. If you think about the old days, you’d have researchers, the consumer, creative agencies and media agencies, which were, broadly, quite similar. Now insight comes from research into the media itself. You’ve got content that isn’t just about ads, it’s web content, either consumer-created or brand-created. It’s a bit more blurred. Who’s responsible for which bits – the content, the ads and the placements? There is a turf war between traditional agencies and digital agencies over who owns this space, and who should buy the ad space online.
AH: Media agencies have assumed more powers and are selling to the buyer houses. Over the next 15 to 20 years, more content will be sold online and digitally; media agencies will have that role.
PT: We haven’t seen the full force of push-pull yet. There are still mini battles around how to buy it. The digital agencies will battle the ad agencies. There will be tension over who can prove they are great at creating good creative content, for lower costs in production and using less of the expensive ads with long lead times.
BR: There is incredible crossover right now between media, creative, PR and digital agencies. They are all fighting similar battles and the reality is that in the future you will see this even more than now. Key to solving this will be the formation of a ‘communications’ type agency that incorporates everything. In addition, you will see TV buying changing, there could be a shift towards working with producers directly. We are driving agencies to fulfil this model, fit for the 21st century and leading edge. It’s not about one agency winning out; it’s about bringing everything together much more than it is today.

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