Diageo’s Andrew Geoghegan: It’s basic stuff, but marketers are still failing to put their audience first

Brands need to rethink how they fit into consumers’ lives, whether that’s online of offline, to ensure the audience always comes first.

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No one can have escaped the conversation on digital marketing in the last decade. Traditional media are dead. Millennials no longer watch TV. Mobile is the future. And then the backlash, which shows how digital media doesn’t work, that so-called millennials watch more TV than any previous generation, and the fact that media may be fragmented but its owners certainly aren’t.

Regardless of how you navigate your way through all the contradictory headlines, one thing that is certain about building brands in a digital age is that we all need to recalibrate how to be present in our consumers’ lives in a meaningful way.

I’ve recently started on the next phase of our marketing effectiveness work, going much deeper into how our digital activity influences consumer behaviour. A fresh look at all the data has crystallised some important things.

In a world where marketers are focused on growing penetration, this still means thinking about what your brand needs to say and do and how best to reach your consumer holistically. It is true that we buy digital differently from offline media, but it’s odd that we still hear talk of the ‘digital plan’, as if it were one homogeneous channel.

Instead of starting with digital in mind, think about your audience’s mindset and ask yourself about their journey to the purchase or consumption occasion. It’s basic stuff, but I am not sure it is natural behaviour for all marketers yet.

Consumers don’t recognise a distinction between digital or traditional channels. But there are differences in how channels are consumed and the role they play in your audience’s lives – the extent to which they can control how they consume the content, how long they may dwell, and other unique characteristics – all the way from the amazing experience of cinema advertising right down to the banner ad.

For brands, acting within the cultural context and having real world experiences are necessary fuel for great digital work.

All this informs how relevant and effective each channel may be for the message you want to land.

Moving on to measuring success, ignore the latest fads and focus on real business impact – sales. How many people you reach still seems to be the ultimate driver. To get the right comparative view of channels, it is important to measure reach in a channel-specific way, recognising that the conditions necessary to create a proper branded impression are different.

Relevant content also matters. Brands that do this best in digital seem to understand what’s going on in the offline world.

The best content from real people, let alone brands, gets attention because it shares real and relevant experiences and points of view. For brands, acting within the cultural context and having real world experiences are necessary fuel for great digital work.

I see a lot of brands getting this right, such as the Economist, Harry’s, Fox, Bodyform, Uniqlo, and our own brands Gordon’s and Baileys. Their work is typically focused on fewer channels overall, and disproportionately on channels which have the greatest synergy between their consumer and their message.

Both Gordon’s and Baileys’ recent campaigns were designed to work in the channels in which they needed to appear, and not from TV backwards. Baileys has been smart in leveraging cultural trends such as baking – for example, the #recipeunfudged campaign, which showed how it can be used to salvage baking mishaps – and veganism to make its take on real adult treats relevant. It has also created real-world experiences such as its Treat Bar, where visitors could create their own festive drink.

Static digital advertising does work – we see decent short-term return on investment these days, but the returns from more highly engaging video-based channels like TV still dwarf them in the long term. That said, digital channels seem to provide cost-effective ways of maintaining meaningful awareness throughout the year.

Marketers of the future will probably look back on our obsession with ‘digital marketing‘ as rather quaint, but it will have served its purpose in provoking us to think beyond TV and outdoor as the default media mix.

Andrew Geoghegan is global consumer planning director at Diageo.

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