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Integrate digital technology into marketing rather than creating another silo

John Goldstone of Unilever recently said that he believes it makes more sense to digitally upskill a company’s employees than it does to bring digital specialists into the business (Advertising Week Europe, 24 March). To that end, Unilever is making heavy investments in upskilling thousands of its people in digital technology.

Coming from an organisation that is a leader in marketing, these comments should strike a chord with any big brand that is struggling with the imperative of digital transformation. His comments resonate with us at Acceleration; we share his view that brands should seamlessly integrate digital technology back into marketing rather than creating a separate silo of digital excellence.

The reason for this is that digital technology changes all aspects of the organisation, and not just marketing. Consider how brands fail to communicate effectively in social media, for example, because they haven’t adjusted their customer service approach or their governance models to cater for a digital world. Bolting digital technologies onto old processes is not going to work.

This is not a new challenge in marketing. The debate about how and whether PR and marketing should relate to each other, for example, may be resolved at a theoretical level, but few companies have successfully married the disciplines at a practical level. Despite being 50 years old, the concept of integrated marketing communications may now be further away from a practical reality than ever before.

Proliferating agencies and channels

The more the marketing supplier-base of most companies grows, the less easy it becomes to turn the dream of integrated marketing into a reality. The more new channels proliferate, the more complex reaching the right markets become. Instead of getting closer to one-on-one touch point engagement with the consumer, we tend to drift further away – that whilst most marketers buy the principle.

And the less a brand does to get it right, the more obvious its failings will be in a world where consumers have high expectations of brands and a powerful voice to shape their reputations through social media. Take heart, however. The potential competitive advantage in leading the revolution is growing as is the technologies that enable the layering and integration of consumer touch points.
Over the years, aspects of traditional brand management such as logistics management, pricing and even customer service, have become standalone functions with little direct connection back to core marketing functions. The complexity and importance of these functions today mean that each requires deep focus, but their separation into siloes complicates brand management across touch points.

As marketers, we tend to treat new developments as add-ons. Companies are more likely to create a Facebook page than to decide why it is there and how it fits into the wider organisation’s strategy and its marketing. Yet any marketing tool requires a plan for why it is there and what it must achieve.

We are also often reactive rather than proactive. That is despite the fact that the iconic brands of the world set the agenda for how things are done – they don’t react to trends, they take action to shape their world. The further fragmentation of suppliers makes the management of these disciplines even more complex.

So what to do?

The profound changes digital is bringing to our world will not go away.

  • Consumers will never go back to being disempowered.
  • Mobile technology is core to how the world now operates and will become even more so.
  • Industry convergence will grow.
  • So will the convergence of the digital and analogue worlds.
  • Developments made possible by digital technology will only accelerate and grow. More industries will get disrupted. (Almost all major new brands of the last ten years are the result of these technologies–Uber, Facebook, iPhone, and more). Most major multinational CMO’s now state that their spend in digital technology will increase dramatically.
    • What is disputed is what exactly to do with it.
    • Any non-alignment of company functions behind the core customer value proposition will soon become evident in a world where consumers are in control. Hence no brand can any longer afford siloed thinking and practices.

The above implies that digital and new marketing technologies are bringing about such radical change in organisations that it cannot be treated as a separate discipline with yet another job function to be filled. Brands that treat digital as a silo vastly underestimate its role and also ignore its potential to change the way the business works.

Instead, savvy marketers should see digital as a driver of strategic change. They should take the driving seat in digital transformation and chart a course for the digital journey. It remains better, after all, to change your own company than to have others change it for you.

Ignoring digital’s deep transformative potential is no longer an option. It is not only about creating competitive advantage – it is about avoiding being at a competitive disadvantage. Most companies are reluctant to shake up their established and profitable business models. Yet they’d do well to look at clever newcomers who are using these digital technologies to disrupt industries. To believe it will not happen to their business is naïve.

Creative engagement

But digital technology can be as much fun as it is hard work. New technologies enable far greater creativity in how content and engagements are managed than we ever had before. Yet because of their proliferation and a higher degree of external control, they will require far greater hands-on management, listening and responsiveness.

Decide how this impacts all aspects of the business, not just marketing. The easiest way to do this is to unpack the value proposition across all brand touch points and company support structures, roles, functions, systems and processes. Then to “re-pack” how these changes will and can potentially impact the company.

At the core of it all sits the consumer. To understand the consumer, it is vital to place data and insights at the heart of the organisation, and more importantly, doing what is required to align the organisation to the decision journey and brand touch points.

It’s lucky, then, that marketing is now measurable in almost all respects, addressing a key concern that CEOs had over the years. So we will increasingly eliminate non-effective campaigns and practices.

These changes will impact the marketing supplier base in every way. This is a whole different issue. The more progressive marketers are already talking about this.

Lastly, know that these changes will place digital and marketing technology at the centre of the organisation.

They bring about insecurity and uncertainty. There will be no standard answers, and there will be learning by trial and error. Companies that want to break the mould will need to develop a greater aptitude for risk. Copying others is not good enough as parity will now happen much faster.

Proactive thinking about how a company can re-envision itself, both within its core value proposition delivery and business model, as well as within the way it effectively engages in marketing, is essential.

This is an era of bold leadership. If your company does not do it, others will.

AccelerationGeneral News
About the author

Acceleration enables the transformation of marketing organisations. By building new data and technology-enhanced capability Acceleration stewards a step change from marketing which is fragmented, static and product-centric, to marketing that is orchestrated, agile and customer-centric.

Part of Wunderman Thompson, Acceleration employs 150 strategic marketing technologists globally.

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