Three Means to an End: Lessons in Digital Marketing

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Any brand worth its salt today is giving serious thought to how best to engage with audiences, stay relevant in consumers’ eyes and maximize value in the digital-first universe we live in. Inside of this world, the two most sought-after consumer groups, the much-considered Millennial set and Gen Z (the first generation to live their experiences, content and life through a digital lens) are critical audiences to win over for the future prosperity of many a consumer, fashion and automotive brand.

Tech vendors across our industry keep hawking their ability to deliver exactitude and technical prowess. It seems they’re forgetting something vital: Digital is table stakes. In and of itself, digital doesn’t offer any kind of competitive advantage anymore; it’s simply too ubiquitous. Brands need to be thinking about creating adjacent digital ecosystems that provide real reasons for brand retention and brand loyalty—in essence, marketing’s Holy Grail. We have all had great but quickly forgotten, app or service experiences. Because to do this well, it’s not about apps. Brands need to take digital to the heart of the business and marketing strategy. That is the leap of courage many CMOs and CEOs are grappling with. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Under Armour is great example of a brand that has embraced a digital business ambition and developed a holistic digital strategy connecting utility, wearables, e-commerce, lifestyle, and the brick-and-mortar experience–all focused on providing consumers with channels, choice and support to be their best self. Under Armour even goes so far as to acquire digital companies that have the required expertise in-house. The result is a digital-first experience that constantly invites consumers to connect deeper into the service- and utility-based world of the brand, which only enhances its relevance.

As a result, Under Armour’s marketing has become a service. Business is always on and truly “Live.” This is the point at which brands start to matter to consumers.

What really underpins such a shift is the enablement and accountability that ad-tech, mar-tech, open APIs, processing power, data management and platform/app technology – just to name a few – have lent to business and marketing. Driving new levels of engagement, creativity and opportunities for monetization. At the heart of all this, data (big, small, third party and first party) is enabling personalizing and allowing us to measure and optimize as we go.

In addition to data, creativity matters more than ever.   With an abundance of choice for consumers, a brand’s creativity solidifies how memorable it will be in today’s world – where a human’s attention span is supposedly shorter than that of a goldfish. And creativity has to go far beyond simply interruptive marketing stunts and campaigns. Brands are realizing that they need to provide real experiences which matter, which are talked about and which demonstrate the brand vision and deliver value for the individual they are trying to reach. Thanks to the portability of technology, creativity can pop up in all kinds of places. Naturally, it must be contextually relevant and individualized.

Recently I was at the annual SAP Sapphire event. A veteran of B2B IT events for the past 20 years, I know the typical attendee behavior. Check in, watch keynotes, meet contacts, exchange cards and retire back to your hotel before the coat check line becomes too long. This year, SAP developed an amazing event experience showcasing its new digital transformation proposition, Leonardo – using virtual reality. Once engaged, the experience gave me a VR view of how SAP technology could transform my business. I could interact, learn, see demos and gain a textured appreciation of the proposition in a much more involved way than any ad, banner, app, video or web page could have delivered. The genius was that, as an attendee, I had onsite access to a SAP design thinker to continue the conversation, or leave my details and be contacted later. The experience was indeed memorable.

These types of connected brand engagements are becoming much more important to business and brand owners; providing contextual experiences rich in content and universal accessibility – showing rather than shouting. Brands must be leveraging digital, technology, data, innovative thinking and creativity to deliver propositions which matter to consumers.  And the final piece of the puzzle is cultural – it’s changing our philosophy of marketing from pushing onto consumers what we think they want, to communicating and engaging in a way, and at a time, which makes sense for them, not the brand. Brands and marketers must give up control, to engage on the terms of the audience. Brands are now embracing this fundamental shift – and data, technology and digital all make this possible.

Amazon does this very well in a multitude of ways, offering consumers its help and service but ultimately letting them choose how best to proceed. Through new product introduction, Amazon drives you to uptake its services, offers its own label products, proposes and re-proposes you use its app – but is equally content for you to continue on your preferred platform. Amazon also broadens its portfolio share with consumers through trials of services like Amazon Prime, and making related purchasing recommendations. Bottom line, Amazon keeps users engaged and transacting throughout the relationship in a way that embodies future-facing connected engagement, all focused on understanding and servicing the individual in a way that is highly personalized.

Taken on their own, these three examples of successful marketing offer a veritable masterclass in engaging on an individual level – especially with Gen Z and Millennials. What we see with brands is a growing desire and imperative to develop and nurture such direct relationships. Rather than loyalty programs or continual campaigns, brands are looking more and more to smart always-on strategies.

These are models any CEO and CMO should be taking to the heart of their business and marketing strategies. Today’s generation of consumers are the savviest yet, so it’s time for us all to step our game up to win!

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