Royal Mail’s Ben Rhodes: Marketing’s digitisation must be led by brands, not just agencies and publishers

Brands must drive digital standards, according to 2016 Vision 100 inductee Ben Rhodes, director of customer marketing at Royal Mail and executive committee member at ISBA.

Some of the most successful business growth stories in the past decade have come from ecommerce brands that have taken advantage of the expansion and consumer adoption of digital channels to drive rapid business growth. As businesses have realised the potential represented by ecommerce, we have seen a rapid growth in online marketplaces.

Today, this dash for online cash has resulted in brands competing to be heard, seen and chosen by customers at the point of purchase online. In this respect, it is no surprise to find that, to drive growth, brands are increasingly investing in digital media alongside more established channels, such as TV, outdoor, radio and direct mail (which continues to enjoy a place in consumers’ minds).

As the importance of digital communication increases in tandem with the complexity of multichannel marketing activities, it is critical that brands participate in shaping the rapidly changing ecosystem. A large part of any business’s future growth will be determined by how effective its media usage is. It’s worth reminding ourselves of some key aspects of the media landscape today.

First, media is available through a small number of providers. There are three major sales houses for TV advertising, two in radio, newspaper sales houses are looking to consolidate to one, and there are a handful of digital sales networks. Media buying is concentrated into six large buying groups.

Consistent measures of value

Meanwhile, standards for ad fraud, viewability and measurement currency are being developed by JICWEBS, but there is still a long way to go to raise standards in digital media investments across the board. Today, for example, we have little way of consistently comparing the value of an advertising impression in terms of ‘effective reach’ across different media channels.

One of the most challenging developments is the rise of ad blocking on mobile devices. This matters as more media consumption is moving to the handheld screen. Many commentators fear that ad blocking undermines the publishing/advertising ecosystem by disrupting the commercial models of publishers, who make money from selling advertising inventory, to fund content generation, to attract readers. At its heart, maybe the problem is that we don’t have an ad format that is accepted by consumers on their phone in the same way that the 30-second TV spot, 48-sheet poster or 25cm by four-column press ad have in other media channels.

To help ensure we can continue to make our marketing investments as effective as possible and drive growth across all channels, advertisers need to engage with the wider industry. It is very important that the voice of the advertiser is heard consistently and clearly to provide guidance to the other players across three areas:

  • Common standards on digital media and how to measure its effectiveness: JICWEBS meets four times a year to debate and agree online standards. Advertisers need to attend these meetings and participate.
  • Maintaining a competitive trading market with an equitable value exchange: advertisers should be working with their media agencies and media auditors, such as MediaSense and Ebiquity, who can advise on setting the right KPIs for delivering effective integrated advertising activity and audit performance appropriately.
  • Evolution and adoption of mobile advertising best practice: advertisers should use the existing guidance on common standards available through ISBA and the WFA, and contribute to further development in this space.

Advertisers need to lean into this changing landscape with professionalism and commitment. It’s about taking a joint approach to the future of digital and all other media channels, and putting commercial rigour and commitment into our relationships with agency partners to drive growth.

After all, if there is concern over the effectiveness of the largest part of the marketing budget, marketing budgets definitely won’t get bigger.

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Ben Rhodes is a member of Marketing Week’s Vision 100, in partnership with Adobe. The Vision 100 is an exclusive club of the brightest and best marketers, all worthy of the moniker “visionary”. Click here to see the full Vision 100.

Vision 100



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Ed Pilkington

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