How Do Brand Marketers Maintain Control When Digital Natives Are Riding Shotgun?

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Fresh from the Festival of Marketing in London, some clear themes stood out. It is evident from speakers such as Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed and WPP’s CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell that understanding a digital native’s mind-set is vital if brands want to be a part of the future, especially since by 2025, 70% of the workforce will be Millennials. Younger marketers may have less experience, but they are adept at learning technology, highlighting the importance of marketers keeping their fingers on the pulse of the latest tech and trends.

The way in which we engage consumers must reflect this shift in attitude. With that in mind, here are the three key learnings from the Festival that prove marketers need to push limits, bend traditions and experiment with new platforms.

You’ve got to be in it to win it

There is a lost generation of people who are not digital natives and are bluffing that they are ahead of the next digital wave. “Don’t be one of those CMOs who reads the FT and Economist and then pretends you know where digital is heading,” warned Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, “immerse yourself with where your customers are active. I’m not saying go and be a tech junkie, but you’ve got to be in it to win it”. Weed went on to express the importance of learning how to think differently by working with start-ups, upskilling your team by leveraging digital partners, and getting under the hood of how digital natives behave and communicate.

Digital has injected colossal fragmentation into the consumer journey for marketers, as Weed said, it’s no longer about “marketing to consumers – it’s about mattering to people” and to do that you need to have the right “tool set, skill set, and mind set”. For brands to survive, they must challenge what they’ve done in the past and ensure they keep up to date with the latest technologies and social platforms.

Adhere to the rules of engagement, in the era of personalized advertising

When it comes to data monetization, it’s clear that some companies are walking a thin line between tailoring to a consumer’s needs and being seen as creepy. Christine Conner, Managing Director at Accenture Interactive stressed the need for data permissions to be handled very carefully. She emphasised the importance of brands being clear and up-front on what they’re going to do with the data they generate. Being more curious when asking customers questions when sourcing data can add more value for brands and the customer for example, a pet food retailer could ask “do you buy your cat a present for Christmas?” The question was then posed to the audience, where about 10 of us were left shamelessly holding our hands up. This survey tone can be a lot more telling, not only increasing engagement in the short term but when married to data, it ultimately creates more relevant advertising in the long term.

Involve your audience  

Consumer generated content (CGC) has been challenging traditional advertising for the last few years. In terms of convincing the traditional board of Wimbledon Tennis Club to bend their 140-year-old brand guidelines and go with Snapchat (most of whom are Snapchat virgins), Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications and Content’s advice was to start small and recognize wins.

Wimbledon shared their 2016 social campaign at the Festival, with personalisation at the core, they initially mirrored the concept behind Snapchat stories in their newly built mobile app. Following this pilot, the Snapchat campaign was underway with two live stories to test, distributing authentic content to users that implied that Wimbledon is more than just tennis – it’s about the overall experience. Snapchat provided a number of creative tactics and tools, including a strawberry head filter and a snapcode to unlock exclusive content into the distribution queue. The drawbacks were the content quality threshold declines so marketers must be prepared to relax brand guidelines and not expect in-depth analytic reporting, as it’s not as detailed in comparison to other social platforms. Attendees had the chance to show what was important to them in 5-10 second snapshots, which were then filtered out to Wimbledon’s Snapchat audience. Serena Williams held centre stage, which was extremely nerve-wracking for the marketing team to hand brand control over to her in near-real-time. However, it was a success, the platform enabled Serena to offer ‘behind the scenes’ insights of her life, which provided an intimate, real-time and virtual experience to Wimbledon’s audience.

Adjusting the golden hand-cuffs

After Unicorn brands like Uber and TransferWise have shaken up the finance and transport industries, we are now witnessing a ripple effect through 100+ year-old brands like Wimbledon and Unilever who are leading the charge by stepping up their game to be just as challenging in the Sport & FMCG sectors. Both brands have the consumer experience at the forefront and are embracing technology as the vehicle to ensure they keep their audiences both engaged and loyal. Consumers now expect a two-way transparent dialogue online resulting in brands being increasingly exposed by consumers for the good as well as the bad experiences and interactions. P&G’s Director, Scott D. Cook says “a brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is, it’s what consumers tell each other it is”.

Reverse mentorship was touched on by various C-suites who expressed that It’s as much about coaching millennials as it is being coached by millennials; there is a lot to learn from their mind-set and digital savviness. When WPP’s CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell was asked “if you were to start your career again, what would you do?” he answered with “I would learn two languages – code and Chinese”, which is living proof that marketing professionals (whatever the age) must truly embrace digital in order to be a part of the future.

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