Have you been left behind in the digital revolution?

John-Hamm-Mad-Men-dealThere can be few sectors that have been disrupted to the extent that marketing has been by digital.

The days when marketing directors splashed the cash on elaborate global TV campaigns with gigantic budgets and expenses to match harks back to a bygone era that’s much more Mad Men than the reality brand owners face today.

Most marketing is campaign driven. Brand owners are constantly under pressure to get product and service to market in the shortest time possible. This then takes on a life of its own, spinning activity on a monthly, quarterly and seasonal basis.

Just take a look at the adverts on TV if you don’t believe me. Yet the reality is that at any given moment, only a small proportion of the TV audience will be vaguely interested in what the advertiser has to say.

Digital has turned this on its head. Digital hasn’t just changed the rules of engagement. It’s completely rewritten them.

It’s time to recycle those out-of-date marketing books.

It’s the consumer and not the brand owner that now decides how to interact, and not the other way round.

Digital allows marketers to have something for everybody and use the data they have about an individual in a particular moment to segment them very differently and market to them personally. This could be as a result of a search term; visits to various pages on a website; the level of social engagement and interaction on Twitter or Facebook. This means having something for each of them and delivering the type of information and content that they actually find useful is the first step towards getting them to buy something.

So instead of pushing a small number of products and services, a far greater degree of personalisation of the offer is possible.

At the beginning of the internet age we used to call this ‘mass customisation’ and for many years most brand owners paid lip service to this.

threadToday, it’s much easier to achieve than you think. One of my favourite examples is the tee-shirt company Threadless, a billion dollar turnover business that rewards its customers for designing and voting on their favourite designs and then sells them at a premium price. Genius!

But marketers often stick to what they know rather than try to rewire their marketing processes that actually delivers value.

It’s much easier to think about a promotion or campaign and how this will play out with an audience or customer segment rather than listen to what customers actually want and focus the marketing effort on delivering against that.

Digital is about real-time. And it’s in fact much more complex as a result but not that difficult to master. Digital tends to reflect an approach that shortens the development pipeline so that product and service is delivered at the point of demand. Marketing has become a race of ensuring brand owners can be much more in ‘receive’ rather than ‘transmit’ mode rather than being bogged down in creating an environment where the sale is more likely to take place than not. That’s what those out of date text books on marketing used to bang on about.

Today, consumers create their own environment. Brand owners need to be part of that and not think that there’s a line of consumers waiting for brands to create an environment in which they want to be part of. Unless it’s done in a way that this is done on their terms, like many of the campaigns that the FIFA World Cup Sponsors are currently executing, then consumers may be too busy to notice.

Glastonbury festival 2013One of my MSc students in international marketing at London Met Business School is exploring the consumer’s digital journey at music festivals and how understanding this can deliver incremental sales for brand owners that sponsor such events.

What’s becoming apparent is that companies should start to think about doing a limited range of things that are going to deliver the highest value for a particular audience and customer segments. What’s the data required in order to do just that? And what lightweight digital architecture is required that will deliver this?

Collaboration in achieving such gains is absolutely key. And that means collaborating with the sports fan, the festival goer, the theatre goer, the car fanatic, the fashionista or whatever.

Each of these segments are on a cross-channel journey and they’re going to touch your mobile site, use their laptop, talk to someone over the phone, go into a store, attend an event. It’s all one journey. And marketers must now be able to look at this in its totality and get people to work together and acknowledge the fact these channels are all going to have different roles.

But rather than leave this to guess work or luck, it’s important to test and to learn. Skipping this step can prove fatal. And it needn’t break the bank. One of the best ways to do this is through small-scale pilots.

Start with a small geography, a defined customer segment, a few products – a small scale, contained base and test and learn to improve things as you go along. Very quickly, you’ll discover what the challenges, problems and opportunities start to look like and where the knowledge gaps in data exist.  Start to develop this before rolling out into a global campaign and you’ll see better results.

However, some of the biggest brand owners tend to focus on big tools and systems and large-scale algorithm development whereas a lot of the smart development should be focused on organisational issues and process design.

With all of this talk about ‘big data’ it’s really easy to drown in a sea of meaningless metrics. Marketers must prioritise rather than swim against the tide of data coming their way! This requires keeping focused, having the right blend of skills and experience and of course leadership.

Brains2The boffins at McKinsey’s agree. They recommend prioritising data; getting the right people from different functions to work together and favour rapid cycle-test and learn as the combination that marketers should strive for.

But they also warn that many IT systems in organisations are locked into older technologies and nobody is focusing on end-to-end set of decisions, which of course presents a digital challenge.

“For many companies, they do need to make some pretty high-stakes decisions about their technology stack and whether it’s getting data, analysing it, building their models, content management, getting it out to market, measurement and optimisation on the back end. The whole stack does need to be thought through,” observes David Edelman of McKinsey’s global digital marketing strategy group.

So there’s something that brand owners need to do technology-wise but it needs to emerge from a sense of what they really want to do from a customer-management perspective.

In summary, there are a bunch of questions that the vast majority of marketing books simply don’t touch but as a marketer you need answers to:

  1. How do you harness the power of digital; change the way you operate; use data in order to achieve faster cycle times; drive more interactivity and empower more consumers to do business with you?
  2. How do you get the senior leadership team to buy into this?
  3. How do you get to see good practice outside of your own industry sector?
  4. How you become much more ‘outside in’ rather than looking at the world ‘inside out’? For example, do you know how some brand owners are using Facebook in-store to ask their customers whether their products are any good or not?
  5. Do you have the right team in place to meet these challenges and opportunities? The ‘best of the best’ use cross-functional teams to help problem-solve, getting stuff out of the door, and reducing cycle times.
  6. What are the barriers facing you that prevent channels and product teams from working together? What can you do to role model or change the incentives to get people to solve problems in an integrated way?
  7. How do you prevent data overload? And does the data you’ve already collected actually drive a lot of the decision making, help manage the customer journey or indeed add value to the marketing process, for example, by opening new ways of getting recommendations for your products and services?
  8. How are you getting more information about customers when European legislation is getting increasingly tighter with respect to data protection and privacy?
  9. Apart from a product strategy, what’s the customer-centric strategy and is our marketing really ‘fit for purpose’?

For the vast majority of brand owners, it’s still work in progress. For the ‘best of the best’ it’s about using digital for competitive advantage and for the vast majority of marketers it’s time to burn those marketing books and learn the new rules of the game.


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