Will technology save or doom marketers? A review of the 2014 NZ Marketing Summit


2014-09-25 11.56.03

Marketers are by nature an optimistic bunch, but a hint of pessimism was detectable at the recent NZ Marketing Summit, organised by Conferenz.

The problem is, of course, technology.

No one denies that tech is responsible for a lot of exciting innovation in marcomms, and some superb examples of this were presented at the Summit. But the digital revolution has caused marketers a few headaches, too.

The tenor was set by keynote speaker Sam Cheow, of cosmetics giant L’Oreal. New York-based Cheow titled his presentation ‘The Future is Lonely’, and noted that although we are all connected to each other in ways unimaginable just a few years ago, we are less social than we have ever been.

His sentiment was echoed throughout the conference. Greg Whitham of Ogilvy NZ claimed that “everything is going to get harder” for marketers and advertisers, with technology creating silos and people disengaging from each other.

Several presenters pointed to the deluge of online content, with Colenso BBDO’s Andy McLeish using the term ‘infobesity’, and noting that 100 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every 60 seconds. Even with people now using multiple screens, there’s no earthly way anyone can consume that amount of stuff.

The saving grace of apps

How then can marketers cut through the kitten videos and simply reach their target audience, let alone engage with them in any meaningful way?

Inevitably, many presenters turned to technology, particularly mobile and apps. Given that New Zealand has 70% smartphone penetration, this isn’t surprising. Hamish Wilkie of energy provider Powershop offered a case study of how his company’s efforts in the mobile sphere actually increased levels of engagement, to the point where customers have become advocates. The real transformation, he said, was when Powershop “shifted its customer experience off the desktop and in to people’s pockets”.

Unlike social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where you shout and hope someone hears you, mobile makes it possible to contact people directly and, unlike an email, act instantly – handy if you’re offering them a special deal, for example.

Wilkie admitted that Powershop had to make significant investment. Not everyone has that sort of money, and even at the best of times it’s difficult to convince purse string holders of the value of spending money on marketing. Richard Boyd of Office Max underlined the importance of aligning digital initiatives with business goals, and creating evangelists within an organisation – preferably among those with clout.

Stop talking digital; start talking customers

Pleasingly for those of us who, even in the digital age, still believe that marketing is above all a set of social interactions, Boyd also urged marketing teams to stop talking digital and start talking customers. It should be obvious; that it isn’t, is cause for concern. Nevertheless, more than one presenter tried to solve the problems caused by digital communications by repositioning humans at the centre of the question.

Ogilvy’s Whitham, for example, noted that programs such as Google and Facebook respond to the avalanche of content by using algorithms to hide anything they think you don’t need to see. As a marketer that’s a problem, because things like adverts are often filtered out of your digital streams. The solution is to make your content more human, so that filters don’t tag your information as advertising.

Stolen Rum, represented at the Summit by Katie Du Fall, simply used social media to appeal to the sorts of people who would normally be attracted to the company’s product anyway (hipsters, basically). Marketers will know that’s tougher than it sounds, particularly if you’re trying to convince achingly cool people to buy something, but a canny combination of anti-brand strategy, social media events and product seeding among the influential seems to have worked wonders for Stolen Rum.

Even Powershop’s McLeish, whose company took a determinedly technological path, noted that to reach people you start with the customer and use the tech to improve their experience. It was a sentiment echoed by Richard Boyd, who added that customer expectations are more important than whatever your tech team identifies as technical limitations.

In other words, customers trump boffins. Every single time.

– By Richard Betts

Richard Betts is a Qantas Media Award-winning writer with more than a decade’s experience in journalism and publicity.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @RicardaoNZ

Read Richard’s blog: http://richardbetts.wordpress.com

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