Earlier this month I traveled to New Orleans to attend Collision for the first time, hoping to understand more about the convergence of technology, communications, and creativity. What I found was that entrepreneurs, marketers, and brands all suffer from the same challenge: to engage with consumers in as authentic of a manner as possible while trying to scale and gain better insights in how to generate more revenue. Below are a few themes discussed throughout the conference that every marketing professional should consider:
“The customer is always right” is a classic business trope. Other than just having great customer service, really engaging with customers and listening to what they need is necessary to build a relevant brand. Digital and social media demand for brands to be transparent and respond to customer needs no matter the size. According to Kristin Ward, the General Manager of Windows and Devices Marketing at Microsoft, the technology company is going through a culture change where they are focused on actually listening to customers, all based on the logic that “by earning customers, you are earning fans. By increasing users, you are building advocates.” Brands need to be sure to ask for responses, serve the unhappy customers, and try to provide a one-to-one interaction when possible. However, it is a two-way street – consumers have an obligation to give feedback to brands they constantly use in order to get issues fixed.
Company Mission Matters
Scott Belsky, Venture Partner at Benchmark Capital and former founder and CEO of Behance, said entrepreneurs will find success if they are mission centric rather than marketing centric. A strong mission can carry over to any medium and any direction your business may pivot. Patagonia is a strong example by showing how their company mission has remained true throughout the company’s lifespan. Rick Ridgeway, the Vice President of Public Engagement, discussed how Patagonia has always been conscious about resource scarcity; to the point where in 2011 they took out an ad in The New York Times that simply said “Don’t buy this jacket” while providing information about the footprint the creation of one jacket produces. Following the 2008 recession, Patagonia realized that people were redefining their relationship with consumption, hence why they developed their own consignment market, Worn Wear, for consumers to resell Patagonia merchandise. Patagonia ended up selling out two to three months’ worth of inventory within the first 36 hours of launch.
People are spending less time watching broadcast TV, so brands need to think about what consumers are doing away from a screen, which is actually experiencing the world. AR/VR technologists are making bets that it is not enough for consumers to digest static content; they want to experience it as well. This is made evident by media organizations investing in technology, such as when The NY Times bought digital marketing agency Fake Love, who is especially known for their use of VR technology. Layne Braunstein, the Executive Creator Director and Partner of Fake Love, stresses that instead of trying to jump on the AR/VR tech bandwagon, it’s important to figure out what story you want to tell first.
Niche Audiences Matter
Neil Vogel, CEO of About.com (now Dotdash) shared how the media company was now focusing on a vertical-first policy. They spent an extensive period tracking their content and learned to begin launching separate brands as a way to appeal to segmented audiences. They would take existing content and simply repackage it as a separate site. So far their results have been successful for multiple brands: health site Very Well increased traffic by 42% the first year year, their personal finance site The Balance went from 6.5M to 13M visitors in a year, and tech site Lifewire went from 3.4M to 6.6M. They are now the fastest growing publisher online even compared with Vox, Meredith, Conde Nast, Vice, Hearst, and Buzzfeed.
Fake News Matters
Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Beast, John Avlon, defines fake news as fundamentally meaning to dissuade and written with the intent to deceive. While journalists should continue striving to report hard facts and focus on being objective, social media platforms like Facebook have a responsibility, as do marketers. Brands tend to focus more on sponsoring entertainment journalism due to a fear of being associated with “hards news” that may have the a negative outcome. Programmatic ad buys enable fake news to be spread even though brands don’t want to accidentally sponsor fake news. The overall business model of journalism should be altered, so the focus is more on increasing subscriptions rather than advertisements in order to lighten the pressure. There is no coincidence that The New York Times is running its first brand campaign in over a decade in order to drive more subscriptions.
Data-driven Marketing & ROI Matter
Every marketer is always questioning “what’s the ROI?” Thankfully, digital marketing has a higher degree of attribution due to a higher available of consumer data. Business with an e-commerce especially are more likely to be able to measure ROI since the entire customer journey happens online. Alicia Hatch, the CMO of Deloitte Digital, says that when tracking ROI, getting research on consumers and accessing the right tools is crucial. However, purchase decisions are driven by emotions, which is hard to capture through data. Therefore, the most important aspect of measuring for ROI is to develop insights along with data to further optimize ideas and campaigns while assessing whether the word was effective. It’s not just about capturing data, but having the right mindset to interpret that data.
Overall, it’s clear that while marketing is becoming more data-driven, communications and authentic engagements with consumers will become an even more crucial part in developing holistic, integrated campaigns. Data may be used to inform the strategy, but at the end of the day, it’s about human connections.