A blinkered digital vision makes marketers forget the customer

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Kraft’s European marketing chief Daryl Fielding said something very profound this week, which on first glance could come across as stating the obvious: “marketers must remember they are talking to people”. It almost looks daft when written in black and white, but it is astounding how many digital marketers seem to forget this simple principle.

Whether it has been augmented reality, mobile apps or QR codes, brands have been quick to jump into using new technologies as part of their brand strategies. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong in this, but forsaking the customer need for the sake of being the first to try out a new technology is unforgivable.

Speaking the Guardian’s Changing Advertising Summit, Fielding said: “Modern marketing is about how many Facebook fans you have got, but your question should be ’what is the role of that in your brand strategy?’. I see everyone diving off after the new things like Facebook and Foursquare, but what is the role going to be with your customers?”

There are far too many examples of brands “diving off” after new technologies, blinkered into thinking they must win the race, rather than first defining how the technology will add customer value.

Take Facebook’s latest design overhaul and the launch of “Open Graph”, which allows brands to build apps to allow users to share what they are doing with their friends – be it listening to music or reading the news.

The idea of Open Graph itself completely fulfills a customer need, by allowing serendipitous sharing and recommendation; making something users were doing already that bit easier. I wonder whether some of the apps built by brands for Open Graph were made with customer needs at the forefront.

The Guardian Facebook app, in its present format, could be one example of a marketing product that – as Fielding said yesterday (20 October) – might have been built to chase the “latest marketing handbag” rather than its objective being to enhance the customer experience.

You cannot search the Guardian app for stories that might be of interest, instead you are pointed towards popular articles or those that have been read by friends. The app, unlike the Independent’s Facebook offering, only allows users to share the stories they have read actually on Facebook.com (unless they post a link), rather than harnessing a social log-in so that articles on the Guardian.co.uk website can also be shared.

Perhaps I’m just going bonkers, but what consumer need is the Guardian fulfilling, beyond what is already readily available on its own website? Why would a user feel compelled to read the Guardian through the app? If they want to share an interesting article, they’ve read, surely it’s good enough to do that actively by clicking on the Facebook and Twitter buttons that already exist on the site.

It might be slightly harsh of me to pick out one example of the hundreds of digital campaigns that could be perceived as not being customer-centric, especially considering the Guardian is expecting the one millionth installation of the app this weekend (I wonder how many of those people still use the app regularly…) and has several other truly innovative digital products. But the fact that there is even one example at all (really, there are hundreds) suggests we need to rethink the way digital is implemented as part of the marketing mix.

Also speaking at the Guardian’s Changing Advertising Summit, Aviva’s chief marketing officer Amanda Mackenzie echoed this sentiment: “We can’t let technology wag the insurance dog. It’s about being there when you need someone to be there.”

Digital is exciting, beautiful and I’m fortunate enough to be able to write about all the fantastic internet , mobile and other technology marketing innovations that are launched on a near daily basis.

But digital is more than a “me first”, a “me too” or a dipping the toe in the water exercise. At the heart of any campaign must be the consumer and if we let ourselves lose sight of that then we’re not really in the marketing business at all.

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