Five Things You Need to know about the future of digital communications

Tweet Shop: Kellog's launches social media push for Special K Cracker Crisps rangeWe all know the digital world is innovating at exponential speed and marketers are playing constant catch up.  Indeed, IBM’s recent Global CEO Study shows that organisations feel they are being bombarded by change and struggling to keep up.

That is why this year’s World Media Group Digital Communications seminar last week set out to provide an understanding of what these rapid transformations mean to advertisers, and how they should be adapting as a result.

This is because, as publishers, we have had to stay one step ahead of the digital curve.  There is a blizzard of information available over the internet; to retain the role of ‘trusted media brands’ we have had to adapt – continuing to deliver the highest quality content while being flexible enough to engage on different  platforms.

There was a great line up of digital marketing practitioners at the event, each with their own snapshot of the future of digital communications.  What became clear as each person spoke is that marketers need to change to survive and one of the mantras of the day was to test, test, test.  Different approaches work for different brands and, with technology often driving down the cost of experimentation, 10% of marketing budgets should be set aside for trying out something new.

Here are the top five lessons which I took from the day and which offer marketers a snapshot of thinking that will help them to shape their marketing, now and in the future:

1.   The power of connectivity

According to Neil Perkin, Founder of Only Dead Fish, marketers should see themselves as facilitators, creating an environment where people can come together to achieve something.  Social media and the web has driven a need for connectivity and led to popular content achieving ‘half-life’ (i.e. half the hits they’ll ever achieve) within three hours.

Perkin explained, “The reason that content is spreading so fast is the increasing interconnectedness of all devices, platforms and services for exchanging data. Take Instagram where you can now post pictures to five places at once.  With so many ‘parasitic’ services riding off the back of each other, content now lives in many places, not just one.”

This connectivity means that, for marketers, ‘shareability’ is key, creating passion amongst people around what they are doing and making it easy for them to pass it on.  Stephen Ward, Business Director at Mindshare Worldwide agreed, adding, “‘Connections Planning’ is an important role within marketing – shining a light on all relevant touchpoints and connections in order to optimise marketing efforts through the line.”

2. The collision of the real and virtual worlds

Florian Wupperfeld, Managing Partner at Brand Your World, declared, “We are seeing a growing romance for real, physical things and have an increasing fascination for experiences where online and offline experiences collide.”  It is as if, with more and more of our lives (books, music etc) becoming digitised, we are starting to clamour to get real things in our hands.

There are many examples of this.  For instance, Impossible Instant Lab for turning digital photos into instant ‘Polaroid-style’ pics, message Qube for printing out text messages  and even gravestones with QR codes!  For marketers this coming together of the analog and digital worlds offers real opportunities to engage with consumers and also create ‘social currency’ that endorses brands.  Kellogg’s Special K Tweet Shop in London provided a physical pop-up shop where consumers could pay for a pack of the brand’s new crackers with a tweet.

Simon Andrews, Founder at Addictive, also explained how mobile creates a bridge between online and offline, especially in retail.  Shoppers are increasingly chasing a deal and more people are using their mobiles to check prices in store and even find out which nearby shop has the product in stock.  In addition, a number of new mobile technologies are coming into play which will enable payments to move away from the till (in ‘Apple Store style’) which will enable anyone to take credit card payments and become a seller, on or offline.

3.  Agile marketing is the name of the game

It’s hard to believe that it still takes 24 hours for the world to revolve on its axis as everything else about the way we live has got so fast.  This means that the way campaigns are planned and implemented needs to change if we want to engage consumers.  It seems that ‘the big idea’ has lost its way in today’s fragmented media landscape.  Instead we should be thinking about lots of small ideas joined together.  In order to make this new form of ‘agile marketing’ work, agencies need to work together, not in silos, to make multiple creatives and media touchpoints work in sync effectively.

Neil Perkin added, “The traditional waterfall of ‘concept, detailed design and then build’ no longer works.  Today we need a continuous process of innovation, design, test and learn, being adaptive along the way.”

By working in a more agile way, Mat Morrison added that marketers can respond quickly to social media comments (good and bad) made about them.  This can sometimes lead to phenomenal results, as Bodyform recently achieved with its genius Youtube spoof apology in response to a man’s Facebook rant.

4.  Culture gives brands a story

Culture is becoming an increasingly strong influence in marketing.  Rather than being elitist it has now gone mainstream, with more people attending the last day of Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Weather Project’ exhibit in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern than visited Bluewater, Europe’s largest shopping centre, on the same day.

According to Wupperfeld, after years of globalisation driven by brands, there is a shift amongst consumers to ‘re-localise’ themselves through culture.  Increasingly, they want there to be a story behind the products they buy and art and culture can offer them that.  Wupperfeld commented, “Culture is the glue that binds modern society.  And what’s interesting is that for every cultural movement, there is a counter-culture.” For brands this means that they need to understand what cultural influences are important to their consumers and create actionable brand activity around it.

5.  The imperative of insight.      

There has been a data tsunami, driven through the rise of multiple touchpoints.  It’s essential that marketers use the insight they can glean from this data to understand the changes that are being seen in behaviours and how people get their information.  For instance, as Mat Morrison, Social Media Strategy Director at Starcom clarified, “Insight is needed in order to understand the content or value that you need to offer consumers in return for a share, ‘like’ or an email address.”

Interestingly, Suresh Balaji, Global Head of Media and Marketing Innovation at HSBC added that many marketers are missing a trick in terms of how they use insight.  In particular, he explained how forward thinking agencies should analyse their clients’ needs and motivations in order to understand their value system.  In his experience, clients are driven either by a need to change, or a need to preserve the status quo.  Agencies that work from this heightened level of understanding are likely to create longer, more effective, working relationships.

Full copies of the presentations from the World Media Group Digital Communications seminar are downloadable here.

Belinda Barker is a Director at the World Media Group.