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Most of us would like to believe that sound ethics and corporate responsibility is important to us when choosing a brand. But how many of us would say it matters more than convenience and cost?

We may not like to admit it, but it is purpose that attracts us to a brand. To grab the attention of consumers and progress past the courting phase of a relationship, a brand has to convince people that its purpose will meet their needs. If the goal is to provide things quickly and cheaply, and that’s what we want, we’ll take it. 

Ethics and purpose

One of the best current examples of this paradox today is fast fashion. It’s one of the most blatant examples of what we think we’ll do versus what we actually do. Consumers under the age of 30 care about corporate responsibility and ethics, about what companies do to the environment and employment issues. If you’re a brand looking to develop a relationship with the under-30s, you should be doing so with an ethical standpoint and an awareness of your corporate responsibility in mind.

But here’s the paradox. Fast fashion is an industry that is mostly enabled by people under the age of 30. So why, when it comes to clothing, are morals compromised? Fast fashion retailers were recently cited by the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee as some of the UK’s least sustainable and responsible clothing firms. Yet the sectors’ customers are, apparently, among the most concerned about the environment.

Fast fashion doesn’t trade on ethics or sustainability. It trades on purpose: to supply trend-led clothing at low prices. That’s the place in the market it looks to fill. It’s clear that many consumers don’t expect a higher purpose from their clothing brands either, with a Morgan Stanley report from 2016 showing that 49 percent of the 1000 surveyed expressed ambivalence or no interest in the ‘ethical credentials’ of clothing companies.

The large, lucrative brands, such as those in the fast fashion sector, attract a lot of dislike, sometimes even from their own customers. But that doesn’t stop them from being successful. They’re aware that they will continue to sell well due to their convenience and are prepared to accept any ill-feeling as collateral. In 2005 Wal-Mart was sued, on average, 17 times a day. That didn’t stop it from becoming the world’s largest company by revenue in 2014, with 2018’s figures weighing it at $500,343m.

Further to that, I would argue that budget airlines are successful. And this isn’t because they’re leading the industry’s efforts in improving sustainability or are carrying out an important environmental mission. They’re attractive because they sell cheap flights to places people want to go. They’re a means to an end. Often, a budget airlines’ relationship with its passengers works because the brand is purpose driven; the purpose is to fly you somewhere for not very much money, and that’s it. It doesn’t promise anything else. And as such, people are prepared to overlook the shortcomings.

Purpose trumps traditional notions of attraction. If a brand’s purpose is easy to understand, and offers us something we need, it becomes attractive because it’s authentic. Equating purpose and authenticity with something inherently good is a common mistake in marketing. Brands don’t have to have be altruistic to be authentic. You just have to do what you promise and if a customer understands what they’re getting into and what they’ll get out of it, ethics and responsibility matter less.

Sustainability as brand purpose

This is true for some consumers, some of the time. But is it sustainable? Purpose can also be found in brands whose selling point is that they do no harm, or even actively have a positive impact. Given that we like to think we’d choose the responsible, ethical brand, if it was available and viable, would we?

Such brands do exist. Soko mass-produces jewellery in Kenya, paying its 2500 individual craftspeople five times the industry standard. The products aren’t as cheap as some of the truly fast-fashion accessories, but neither is it particularly expensive. It’s an ethical decision. Soko isn’t going to be troubling fast fashion’s £4 necklace anytime soon, but it does prove you can mass-produce affordable consumer goods ethically. That is Soko’s purpose. That is what makes them attractive.

Televerde runs demand-generation campaigns from its own call centres, many of which are staffed by women prisoners in US jails. The inmates get a second chance, and many go on to work for Televerde. The reoffending rate for Televerde employees is just 6 percent. The US national average is 40 percent. I’m extremely proud to say that Marketo is one of Televerde’s partners and some of those women become Marketo-certified, helping to increase their chances of employment after release.

This isn’t something Televerde has done because it ticks the box marked corporate social responsibility. It’s Televerde’s purpose. The company started with six inmates on the phones in a caravan outside Perryville prison. It works with prisoners not because it can afford to, now that it’s a global $45m company, but because that’s how it became a global $45m company. When Televerde says ‘we put people first in all we do,’ there’s substance behind it.

Not every business can make sustainability their brand purpose but they can, at a minimum, be honest about what their purpose is. It’s clear that what attracts us to a brand is not always a noble choice, but if it serves a purpose, it will attract customers. Offering a service that is cheap and convenient will always entice a customer base. So, whether your pursuit is honourable or simply necessary; the key is to make that purpose clear to the public, so they know what they’re getting.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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Are you reaching your audience directly through mobile apps? If not, there is a whole new digital market that remains, literally, untapped.

Content consumption is nearly universal on mobile devices in 2019, especially on apps. From Instacart to Waze, apps capture the attention of billions on a daily basis.Three of every four users not only say their phone is useless with apps, but default to using apps when they’re bored. Access to these app users is easily unlocked for mobile marketers, who have access to targeting capabilities that other advertising forms do not. The prevalence of in-app marketing is currently the biggest shift in the digital marketing industry especially in the rapidly growing Asian marketplace, and any brand or company not taking advantage could fall behind fast.

In an era of short attention spans, in-app advertising can attract consumers’ undivided attention in ways that billboards, television commercials, and radio segments cannot. Rewarded video ads trade users’ attention for an in-app reward, native ads integrate seamlessly into apps’ interfaces, and prioritised listings and branded promotions get products in front of potential consumers without being instantly tuned out like traditional marketing formats. Additionally, in-app ads tend to be the only ad on a user’s screen when they are shown.

Generally, audiences’ favourite apps are the ones they use most frequently. Audience networks help advertisers gain instant credibility by reaching consumers on the apps they actually use the most, rather than guessing or generalising based on less-specific data. By positively associating their brand to a potential customer’s favorite apps, marketers gain a leg up on competition trying less-refined target methods that reach digital audiences on the wrong apps and websites. 

There is already proof that in-app audiences are the most valuable players to advertisers. They cost far less to reach than their desktop counterparts, while clickthrough rates for apps more than double those of the other major platforms. The fastest-growing app category right now is shopping, showing that purchasing decisions are happening more and more on mobile devices. Even if advertisers can’t always reach users on other companies’ apps, this trend only drives home that apps and the shopping process are now interconnected.

When it comes to finding the apps that will end up hosting others’ brands and companies’ advertisements, social media networks are also doing a lot of the work. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have their own audience networks that advertisers can utilise to expand their reach, and Snapchat is reportedly developing an audience network of their own right now too. Outside social media, Google and demand-side platforms also connect advertisers and monetised apps (apps where external ads can be placed) with available inventory. Today’s marketing experts have no shortage of ways to put content in front of those most likely to consume it.

Mobile apps also offer the most precise data that can be optimised to reach users. Mobile device IDs ensure ads can target any app on a specific individual’s phone rather than just the web browser app. Hyperlocal geotargeting lets location-specific advertisers, like event promoters or restaurants, only target people in a physical location close to or relevant to the product being sold.

Developments like Pocketmath’s AppGraph even empowers advertisers to target users based on the apps they already have and use. The term “customer relationship” is used frequently in 2019, but apps open up whole new strategies for marketers to reach their audiences at the right time and place to provide them an advertising experience that will provide the highest chance of a conversion and ultimate return on investment.

The digital marketing space can be overwhelming and imperfect. Users may find ways to block or filter in-app ads, while others may gradually avoid apps that serve ads from outside companies. But a trip into any coffee shop, salon, or food court will show an all-too-familiar scene of potential consumers on their phones scrolling, liking, and engaging with mobile content. Society has become app-reliant, and marketing strategies should act accordingly. 

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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Teradata recently had the pleasure of partnering with the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) for the fifth year in a row, on an annual event in San Francisco titled, “It’s a Modern Marketing World: Creating a Frictionless Customer Experience.”

During our discussion, host Professor Eric Bradlow, faculty director of the WCAI, brought up a key point that struck a chord with me. “Marketing builds brands. Time kills brands.”

Bradlow’s statement is rooted in his research. From my perspective, it is also proven from experience. It is a stark reminder that brand equity, the commercial value that is derived from consumer or customer perception of the brand experience (rather than the product itself), is both dynamic and fluid. Regardless of industry, size or standing, building and maintaining a brand still remains the biggest challenge facing any CMO.

Measuring brand equity

The study of brand equity has long been of great interest to marketers, CFOs and CEOs. Strong brands are often associated with financial and marketing advantages including greater consumer loyalty, less vulnerability to competition, improved margins and less sensitivity to price changes. In fact, brand equity has been largely recognised as one of the most valuable assets of an organisation.

Bradlow’s research illustrated that a company with an excellent brand equity, has the power to charge a premium price for its products because of its brand. This direct link to pricing and consumer preference makes brand building, and understanding how brand equity impacts customer choice, a critical function of marketing that leads to better marketing strategies for businesses.

He went on to state that, at its most conceptual level, many marketers accept the broad definition of brand equity to be “the added value to the firm, the trade, or the customer with which a brand endows a product.” While this definition may be accepted as an industry standard, it has not been reflected in most analytical models concerning brand choice.

The old way of approaching brand equity from an analytics perspective was to simply state that strong brands are “more preferred.” Bradlow’s point is that modern thinking now shows there is more to brand equity than just favorability. This includes:

  • Understanding how brand equity impacts customer choices
  • Customer experience is the new brand
  • Appreciating that strong brand equity leads to better marketing productivity

Ensuring that brand equity is being calculated accurately, using these factors, determines how much a company will invest in marketing. A data model which ignores these variables can lead to substantially different pricing decisions that can impact your bottom line.

When taking into account Bradlow’s assertion that brand equity is dynamic and changes over time, marketing executives must be thinking about ways this fluidity impacts their data models - a complex, but important task to ensuring your brand, and your business, stays relevant.

For the CMO, the challenge is not to wrestle with and compound these complexities, but rather to simplify and reduce them to deliver accurate and timely answers - insights that directly impact the health of the business. This is something we are helping our customers solve on a daily basis.

Making it personal

When I first joined Teradata a year ago in March 2018, we were a nearly 40-year-old brand with a rich heritage. Yet, for all the years spent building and nurturing brand equity, time seemed to play the biggest role in chipping away at the company’s perceived position in the market. We have always had great products, amazing employees and incredible global customers, but we needed to focus on restoring some of the brand equity that was lost, or eroded, over time.

We decided to simplify – to shift back to our core capabilities and double down on our purpose: helping the world’s most visionary companies find answers to their toughest challenges. We started with a transformation strategy (a multi-year effort) that was well on its way when I joined the company. The timing was right to support a repositioning and rebranding, which included “Voice of the Customer”-driven research into our vision, mission and purpose. Why did we matter? Why should our customers care?

In order to successfully reposition the company, we had to first bridge two brand gaps:

  • Brand perception: We allowed time to erode our brand. While our strategy, offerings and company had changed, the market perception had not
  • Brand awareness: We had not invested in brand equity for many years and the awareness of our brand had eroded

Understanding and quantifying our brand value in the market through data and analytics was a key component to this undertaking. We’ve operationalised as a marketing function what we preach as an organisation – leveraging data to solve our largest business problems and gain insights that give us a competitive edge.

Why is customer experience the most important investment a brand can make?

Now that we have completed the initial work of repositioning, rebranding and rebuilding brand equity around the new Teradata, our challenge is to maintain and build upon the initial work we’ve already done. But this work is just table stakes – today 89% of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, compared to just 36% in 2010. While 80% of companies believe they deliver “super customer experiences,” only 8% of customers agree.

Everything a brand does – the way it markets, conducts research and communicates, in both physical and digital environments – plays a role in shaping the customer’s experience.

Focusing on customer experience may be the single most important investment a brand can make in today’s competitive business climate and will be the building blocks and focus of our brand strategy moving forward.

The positive feedback we are hearing from our customers leads us to believe we are on the right track. However, we need to remain steadfast in our commitment to be insightful, forward-looking stewards of Teradata brand and. more importantly, customer experience.

Conclusion

While there were many answers gleaned from our discussion at Wharton, the key takeaways for me centre around how brand equity is built by marketing, eroded by time and that customer experience is the new brand.

Moreover, data and the massively important role it plays in building brand equity and maximising customer experience is keenly important - particularly as marketers strive to become “Sentient Marketers.” This means leveraging data to sense and respond intelligently to customers. In short, our vision for customer engagement and experience is powered by data, scaled with automation and personalised at scale.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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How should marketers prepare for the incoming move of Generation Z into the workplace? According to a new report, the narrative of a more conscientious, ethical generation is mostly true – but don’t feed any stereotypes.

The 2019 AFFDEX report, from student discount hub UNiDAYS, found Nike, Netflix and Instagram were the most popular brands across all categories. YouTube and Adidas completed the top five.

What marked them out was what the report put as part of its methodology as an ‘affinity surplus.’ While across some industries these attributes were universal – ethics, trust, recommendations from friends – others painted a more complicated picture.

“Gen Z is boldly and enthusiastically embracing everything the newly connected world has to offer,” the report notes. “However, through this study there runs a strong thread of pragmatism amongst Gen Z. This can be seen not only in strongly-held affinity for certain long-established brands but by prioritisation of more complex ideas such as brand trust.”

A report earlier this month from creative agency ZAK explored the changing social status from younger users. Two in five respondents, for instance, said they used Facebook as purely a messaging service. The report noted Gen Z is a demographic with the ‘spirit of an entrepreneur and the heart of a hacker, shaping what they have around them to achieve personal, social or work goals.’

When it came to social media usage among Gen Zers Facebook predictably polled poorly. Instagram, cited by 80% of those polled, came top, ahead of Snapchat (71%), WhatsApp (68%), Facebook Messenger (60%) and Facebook itself (58%).

These shifting sands mean potentially billions of dollars at stake whether brands had an affinity surplus or deficit. Automotive is a fascinating example, with Tesla and Jaguar cited as brands with a particular surplus. With younger generations increasingly eschewing driving – again with an environmental bent – it could explain the most ‘dramatic’ situation, as the report puts it.

“In a market such as automotive that is worth billions of dollars of year, having this much market share at stake for a whole demographic equates to dramatic amounts of revenue at risk,” the report notes. “In fact, the threat is even greater than these numbers suggest because Gen Z are at the lifestage when their buying behaviours are being shaped and crystalised.”

This publication has previously explored Gen Z trends and the issues and implementations facing marketers. Writing for MarketingTech in January Omri Mendellevich, CTO at Dynamic Yield, noted the importance of visual search technology going forward.

“While sectors like fashion are well-suited for visual search, retail industries like electronics, automotive, and other industrial eCommerce sectors who typically target shoppers according to brand loyalty may pass over the bells and whistles,” wrote Mendellevich. “Visual search is set to become an indispensable piece of the eCommerce puzzle, already driving meaningful results with Gen Z shoppers.”

“While it’s revealing to see Gen Z’s stereotype doesn’t necessarily stack up, it’s important to note that ethical concerns are still important to this generation,” said Alex Gallagher, chief strategy officer at UNiDAYS.

“What the UNiDAYS AFFDEX shows is that Gen Z students, like all generations before them, are complicated consumers; consumers entering the workforce and increasing their buying power each day. The companies looking to succeed, not just in the here and now, but in the future, will need to learn to treat them as more than a stereotype.”

You can find out more about the report by visiting here (email required).

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

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It has been 83 years since TV hit UK screens, nearly 40 since Channel 4 broke the boundaries of a three channel TV service, and just over seven years since all television broadcasts went from analogue to digital. There is estimated to be 27,000 hours of domestic content produced a year at a cost of £2.6 billion.  But that’s just TV.

We all know that how we consume media and our entertainment has evolved more in the last few years than it had in the last century.  Media consumers are now watching video content on a computer or a smartphone (92%) and 58% stream TV content via the Internet according to a recent survey by Salesforce.

We also know that more millennials discover content through personalised recommendations rather than ads or publicity and, regardless of what channel we are consuming media on, we will see more advertising (around double from 2015-2019) and as our data continues to proliferate, those ads will be more tailored to our individual musings. 

Add to this that more than three in five (61%) media consumers have increased consumption of subscription based streaming video over the past two years, again according to Salesforce, and there is no doubt that today’s media consumers are increasingly likely to pay for additional services that meet their unique needs.

How do we make an impact on consciousness?

But, what does this really mean to those of us working with the world of media and how do we look to engage those who are using these platforms and make an impact on their consciousness?  We are living in a world centred around convenience – Gen M and Zs want to stream content, as and when they want it. They want to personalise their viewing and want technology that allows them to do this. They want to discover more about what they are viewing and are happy to rely on recommendations by friends, even if that friend is virtual.

View “anytime, anyplace” culture

Technology is enabling this “view anytime, anyplace’ culture with 5G having the potential to revolutionise the media and entertainment world.  Allowing super high definition content to be delivered to mobiles, it will bring high quality, watchable content from anywhere be it at events, festivals, on a commute, on a train, plane or automobile. Super-realistic AR and VR immersive experiences will transform our experience of education, news and entertainment allowing us to watch coverage as it happens, in real time and often in 360 video.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will have a seismic impact on the way we consume media and entertainment in the future. Advertising and film previews are already being designed by algorithms that help maximise search optimisation and AI technology is being used to support the production. And of course, the user experience continues to be more and more personalised with machine learning recommending content based on data from user activity and behaviour. 

Layers on layers of storytelling

As the technology becomes more sophisticated so does the way we can consume the content. From virtual reality, where the consumer steps into the story, to augmented reality where they step out of the story, to mixed reality where layers on layers tell the story to the consumer. We are already beginning to look to XR – extended reality – combining virtual and reality and VR/360 where streaming of VR/REAL generates an environment for true immersive content that understands the location of the consumer watching.

The latest tech advance on the block is 6DoF (6 degrees of freedom) video which allows the user to effectively alternate between six different sorts of movement enabling them to guide their view of the screen as if looking inside the sphere of the video. Complement this with immersive exploration where consumers don a VR headset and a wireless haptic feedback vest as the action on screen is mimicked to the consumer – be it a shot in the chest or the sensation of an elevator rising.

However, it is not just visual tech that is changing the world of media and entertainment.  Products incorporating mobile face biometric authenticator technology are already becoming available with companies such as North Focals, Bose AR sunglasses and Vuzix’s Blade allowing the real and virtual worlds to blur into one. Likewise, augmented audio that provides real location information for the user are available from Bose AR and Google amongst others meaning you can have your own local tour guide literally in your ear.

Want to cast your daughter in the latest superhero movie?

If we think that the future is already here, what will the next 5 and 10 years hold for those consuming media? And how will the face of consuming entertainment change?   By 2021, Cisco predicts that 81% of all internet traffic will stem from digital videos, there will be 26.3m VR headsets used worldwide and the delay of transfer of data in 5G devices is predicted to be a mere 0.001 seconds.  For a media consumer this means that the ability to transfer image onto motion will become a reality allowing your daughter to be cast in the latest superhero movie or your grandmother in the latest dance video.

What about the music industry? With technology already helping assist songwriters and fine-tuning melodies such as Flow Machine you can now have your own creative assistant suggesting possible harmonies or rhythms to accompany your creative output.  Research being undertaken by Sussex University means that not too far in the future technology will be able to push unique sound/voice content to individuals that only they could hear taking audio personalisation one step further.

Technological advancement will, of course, not stop there. As digital replaces analogue across the board and algorithms weave into every platform we will see new types of “edutainment”, game based storytelling and personalisation of our media – with storylines we choose, and endings that we want – differing on who we watch with and when we watch it.

Going to live forever

Yet that is not the end of what technology might be able to do. While user generated content grows exponentially, consumers will be able to start to make their own movies, creating massive amounts of data with AI deep profiling your likes and dislikes. Finally, AI will start to make movies for you, personalised by your tastes, created from the data you have produced, personalised for you.

As deep learning continues to improve, we will face a point where we will have the capability to download and upload the human brain – singularity.  Our favourite actors could be resurrected after they have gone – both on-screen body and digitally imaged mind. The same goes for our relatives… we will have created a world where we live forever.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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Getting to grips with emerging technologies is the backbone of any digital marketer’s role. From artificial intelligence – whether it is process automation, chatbots or dealing with machine learning methods – to blockchain, the temptation to avoid ‘shiny new object’ syndrome and find a practical strategy for building and adopting technology is key.

A new report from independent consultancy R3 has explored a variety of new tech, including musings on the future Gen Z consumer and the future of retail, alongside the companies making it happen.

The 69-page Future40 report had a comprehensive methodology; hundreds of technology companies were analysed, of whom 40 – hence the name – made the cut because of their strategy, creativity and innovation. In other words, whether it was blockchain, VR, or another buzzword, the implementation and difference to the customer experience was key rather than the tech itself.

A good way of looking at things, MarketingTech argues. So what does the report have to offer?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is to see not so much the tech or the vendors, but the brands who are utilising them. Coca-Cola is cited as a key client of no fewer than five influential emerging tech providers, most frequently with augmented and virtual reality, in the shape of Friends with Holograms and Sight Plus. The other citations are for automation (Herolens), demand-side ad platforms (iPinYou) and data intelligence (Tezign).

While the soft drinks giant has done various campaigns featuring augmented reality over several years – a partnership with NASCAR here, a deal with the WWF for pop-up polar bears there – Coca-Cola’s focus is on creating an immersive, personalised and emotive experience fuelled by data. Simon Miles, global customer director at Coca-Cola, told attendees at DMWF Global in April of the company’s goal on putting customer-centricity first.

This is a theme across all of the key players in the report; ‘personalisation’ was cited 55 times, ‘experience’ 75 times, and ‘data’ 94. Don’t aim to alter human experience but augment it. Shang Hailong, Hong Kong general manager of AI startup SenseTime, argued that information received by visuals accounts for between 70% and 80% of all information; it is a means that “AI can solve 70% of the problems in life.”

Similarly, emerging tech needs to augment business processes rather than alter them significantly. Matt Schlicht, CEO of Octane AI, added that the future of eCommerce and CRM ‘relies on chatbots.’ “You do not have enough brain power to maintain quality relationships with all of your customers, and it’s going to be too costly to hire the army of people required to do so.”

The report gives three recommendations for executives and organisations looking to immerse themselves in the next wave of marketing technology:

  • Start with your own risk profile: Ian Lowe, VP marketing at Crownpeak, told this publication in May it was the biggest open secret that marketing departments didn’t get as much value as they could from the tech stack. R3 advocates likewise; don’t be the victim of a ‘here-today, gone tomorrow’ scenario
  • Get your house ready for innovation: If possible, don’t leave any stone unturned. Systems, processes and, indeed, talent may need to be audited before going full speed ahead
  • Ensure all stakeholders are on board: Data ownership and security needs to be the key; don’t go too far without the knowledge, support and acceptance of the CIO, CTO and legald departments

You can find out more about the report by visiting here.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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Brand safety scandal? The phrase alone is enough to send shivers down any marketer’s spine. After all, what could be worse than pumping big budgets into a perfectly planned campaign that inadvertently results in a brand appearing next to a terrorist video – or worse.

It’s no surprise that brand safety dominated conversations at Cannes – especially when new research by Ebiquity has revealed that a scary two thirds (65%) of Britain’s top 100 advertisers were exposed to potentially brand unsafe environments in the first quarter of this year alone.

Shifting mindsets - from where to how

Brands are understandably rattled – and many will be considering where to direct their spend to reach the right audiences while maintaining peace of mind. But rather than focusing on where to target consumers, perhaps advertisers should take a step back and consider how.

Audience targeting is a brilliant way of engaging with the right people. If a brand’s target market is men in their early thirties who live in Birmingham and have a passion for cycling, the right data will tell them exactly who to serve ads to. But what if those ads are served to the right people, but in the wrong context? 

The comeback of contextual

One of the original forms of targeted marketing, contextual targeting is shooting back to popularity as advertisers scramble to protect their brands’ reputations. It’s simple – serving an ad for a product or service in a context that a particular user is likely to be looking for or interested in that product or service. For example, if someone is searching for party poppers on eBay, we can reasonably assume that they’ll be interested in balloons, invitations and perhaps even fancy dress as well.

The benefits of contextual targeting are plentiful. For starters, people behave in diverse ways, buying different things at different moments in a way that is difficult to predict - so even with data it can be hard to find them at the right time. An advertiser might know that I’m a keen tennis player and potentially in the market for a new car. But they won’t know when my tennis racket breaks and I suddenly need to buy a new one, or that my plans this evening have been cancelled, freeing me up to research my next set of wheels.

Pinpointing people in a particular situation or frame of mind takes the guesswork out of advertising and allows brands to engage with more specific, receptive audiences than can be reached via demographics. The result? Greater accuracy and ultimately a more impressive return on investment.

Plus, by only targeting people in a particular context, it removes the risk of following them round the internet with ads for an item they’ve already purchased. People hate this – meaning it can be reputation-damaging as well as wasteful.

Bigger and better

It might feel a bit old school, but far from a forced resurgence of an outdated way of advertising, contextual targeting 2.0 presents a big opportunity for brands to get closer to consumers with relevant content. After all, the insights at our fingertips are richer than ever before – for example, at eBay we know what mobile phone network half of our users are on. And the proliferation of programmatic means that – unlike in the past, with manual media buys - ads based on contextual data can be served in real-time and deliver scale, but also granularity.

Brands no longer need to worry about restricting their audience pool or wasting precious marketing budgets by serving ads to the wrong consumers, or the right consumers at the wrong time.

In fact, because contextual targeting taps into real-time triggers, it’s better aligned with programmatic than any other type of targeting – suggesting its shoot back to fame is almost overdue. And it’s getting even smarter. Sophisticated technology means contextual signals can be determined by consumer behavioural insights rather than human inference. To go back to the party popper example, today we can be pretty certain that that person is in the market for some balloons.

And it’s getting easier and easier to incorporate contextual targeting into ad campaigns. It won’t be long before contextual signals will be accessible through the open marketplace – making it truly automated and enabling advertisers to reap the benefits faster and on an even bigger scale. This all feels pretty exciting to me.

Time to give it a go

Of course, there is a time and place for audience-based targeting and I wouldn’t knock it for a second. With rich insights into the 33 million unique UK users of our site each month, as well as 185 million shoppers globally, it’s something we do incredibly well. But if brand safety is a concern – which is clearly is, and understandably so – advertisers should give contextual targeting a go. The results will be worth it.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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Access to a wider range of products at the touch of a button and receiving highly personalised shopping recommendations based on past buying habits has led to a major shift in customer expectations. Today’s customers expect, as standard, a highly responsive, top quality service from retailers across all available channels.

As the volume of goods sold online continues to rise, UK retail stores on the high street look set to shift from holding large volumes of stock towards being more of a physical showroom for online outlets.

Tackling retail industry challenges

The increasing dominance of internet retail sales necessitates a strong online presence for all retail businesses. This in turn requires a reliable eCommerce platform. Despite a strong level of investment and willingness to adopt emerging technologies in the retail sector, there are budgetary constraints, capacity limitations and sometimes retailers simply don’t have the technical capability to connect disparate business processes and systems together.

We have seen some businesses attempt to roll out ambitious digital commerce projects without notable success. Therein lies the first – and arguably the killer – problem... the word “project”. Projects are dangerously slow and, in terms of digital, are all too frequently driven by fear and the perceived need to be doing something innovative. The harshest of critics simply label this as guesswork.

Additionally, the dependencies introduced during a programme of works create negative siloing and trickle-down effects on day-to-day business activity, limiting the potential to seize opportunity. This can largely be attributed to a misappropriation of agility: there needs to be a shift in internal thinking away from the methodology and into BAU.

Rather than look to omnichannel, retailers need to start to think of a 'unified commerce' approach as the next logical step beyond omnichannel for their business – one that avoids major ‘rip and replace’ projects in favour of integrating and streamlining existing business systems and processes through the easy deployment of APIs and if required, the cloud.

Revenue depends on strong customer service – no matter the purchasing channel

If businesses can’t deliver a consistently high level of service across the customer’s platform of choice, they will struggle to drive revenue growth or develop brand loyalty. The customer experience must be highly personalised and seamless – if a customer switching between platforms loses their selected discounts or is presented with a different set of offers, the customer journey risks being disrupted.

But it requires more than this. For retailers to be successful, they need to be able to react much quicker to market opportunities – and threats – to better serve customers. Is there a major demand for seasonal products due to unexpectedly warm weather? Is there a market gap that urgently needs filling – and if your products can fill this gap, can you promote this fast enough?

The businesses that are on the right path are the ones that think like their customers and understand their needs. They achieve this by building complete personas of their customers. However, although this is a good customer experience exercise, there is a chance that it remains exactly that – an exercise which all too often ends with a wall covered in high level customer type CVs.

To execute and achieve success faster, businesses must work with “personas in context” which evolve and are frequently re-tested. This is continual integrated thinking between digital, trading / merchandising and customer service teams which delivers the capability to both react and proact to influencers and market condition. The goal of accurate customer personalisation at “point in time” creates its own journey, upon which every business should embark.

We strongly recommend businesses map out a pathway of all possible customer touchpoints – digital or physical – to identify if all stages are linked and, if not, how to better integrate systems and teams to ensure the customer journey does not falter or end prematurely.

Unified commerce avoids the disconnect of omnichannel

To address customer demands, retailers need to look beyond the now almost ‘traditional’ omnichannel approach and move towards unified commerce. This will leverage existing systems and processes at every level and department of the business to ensure any customer engagement results in a consistent experience each time.

This is not in any way a disruptive approach for a retailer. A wider unified commerce approach evaluates the suitability of existing systems across the business and integrates them using simple APIs. By linking together systems spanning e-commerce, CRM, inventory management and POS, employees are presented with business-wide visibility and can avoid a disconnect between individual departments.

Tracking customer interactions this way provides a single version of truth for employees and management, helping to identify browsing and purchasing habits, and provide the more personalised recommendations customers love. At the business level, this approach helps retailers avoid errors and duplicated efforts across departments – leading to significant time and financial savings.

‘De-siloing’ and information management essential to connect the dots

Central to the unified commerce approach is the need to undergo business-wide ‘de-siloing’. Data may be gathered at every available opportunity – but beyond this, is it being sorted, filtered, stored and analysed? If it’s not, you won’t be presented with accurate insights in real-time, and you won’t get a complete centralised view.

Businesses need to know that product information is up-to-date across all platforms, and that the latest offers and promotions are visible and correctly applied at the point of sale. Consistent communication across all departments is required to ensure assets, campaigns and offers are accurate across all possible channels and points of entry. It is essential that businesses harness a Product Information Management solution to gather, manage and feed product data into ERP and eCommerce systems as required. We have seen the benefits of this first hand.

One of our longstanding eCommerce clients is an online business that successfully shifted from being a vitamins retailer to a health and wellness provider. Product information, branding and marketing assets all had to be updated accordingly – and this could only be achieved by ensuring all systems and channels were linked and updated with accurate content.

Rise above today’s competition through unification

It is important to note that this degree of business transformation is not limited to the largest of businesses – thanks to a SaaS deployment model that minimises the cost and maintenance time typically associated with deploying various e-commerce solutions.

Moving forwards, the retail sector looks set to adopt emerging technology such as AI at an even greater pace. Today however, unified commerce represents the next logical step beyond existing omnichannel strategies. By taking a measured approach and engaging with all departments and existing systems, businesses can begin to realise the end goal of a consistently high customer experience across all channels.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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Social media usage continues to evolve at a rapid rate – and as Generation Z continues to flood into the working world, its applications for both users and brands who wish to take advantage of it come into much sharper focus.

That is the idea behind the first in a new series of reports from ZAK, a London-based creative agency which purports to ‘create big brand ideas that engage under 30s’, in its own words. The first paper explores the disparity between mainstream social networks and gaming communities, and the lessons which can be learned for brands.

From interviews with 1,000 20-somethings – or indeed younger – the report found almost two in five (38%) use Facebook as a messenger service only. In other words, users are no longer spending serious time on the platform, meaning there is a discord between interests and the service provided. Discord, the voice and text chat platform for gamers, by contrast is ‘likely to be what Facebook wishes it still was for Gen Z’, the report adds.

“The death of Facebook has been greatly exaggerated,” the report explains. “Granted, the use has plateaued, just as TV has in the 21st century, but this is merely a function of reaching critical mass, rather than mass migration. The post-millennial generation merely use the layers of social media with greater purpose and specific intent.”

Facebook, however, does still work well for under 30s when it comes to activism or organising events. “Facebook works well when trying to mobilise a mass of people and being seen beyond your immediate circle of interest or connections,” the report notes. “Messaging is a main reason why they continue to use mainstream social networks.”

For the younger demographic, the Cambridge Analytica scandal was a turning point for Facebook as a ‘calculated and institutional betrayal of users’ data’, as the report puts it. Regular readers of this publication will have seen how users are becoming increasingly aware of how much their data is worth – although the journey can be of many steps. According to recent research from Insights West, based on Canadian consumers, found growing fears on how data was being used did not yet translate into significantly improved data and security hygiene.

Ultimately, the rules have changed. To create a successful social media community, scale and targeting are out, while depth and authenticity are in.

The report notes its view of the Gen Z demographic. It is one with the ‘spirit of an entrepreneur and the heart of a hacker, shaping what they have around them to achieve personal, social or work goals.’ In other words, they have seen millennials – perhaps older siblings – struggle to find work after the financial crises and want to go it alone, fuelled by monetising YouTube or Twitch platforms.

In spite of this, the report also recommends brands need to treat ‘demographic’ as a dirty word. “The social media space is a blunt tool at the mass end of the scale, which relies on catching numbers in nets; but niche networks rely on the heady use of culture to catch people willingly in their gravitational radius – and that’s fine,” the report explains. “They understand the culture within which they speak.”

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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One of the co-founders of Wikipedia has called for a two-day strike of social media to protest against ‘serious grievances’ and a ‘long train of abuses’ by the platform arbiters.

Larry Sanger had posted a ‘declaration of digital independence’ on his blog at the start of June in which signatories – numbering just over 300 at time of writing – can advocate for decentralised social networks. The primary principles of decentralised networks, of which there are nine in total, focus on publishing data freely ‘without having to answer to any corporation’, supporting better privacy practices, and ensuring no company, or small group of companies, control standards and protocols.

Sanger has subsequently called for users to not post on social media, unless to post notices of being on strike, on July 4 and 5 to ‘flex collective muscles and demand that giant, manipulative corporations give back control over data, privacy, and user experience.’

The declaration makes for a stark warning. “For years we have approved of and even celebrated enterprises as it has profited from our communication and labour without compensation to us,” it reads. “But it has become abundantly clear more recently that a callous, secretive, controlling, and exploitative animus guides the centralised networks of the Internet and the corporations behind them.

“The long train of abuses we have suffered makes it our right, even our duty, to replace the old networks.”

Social networks continue to battle against allegations of misinformation and abuse and are refining their regulations – in the case of Twitter, on a regular basis. Last week the company announced steps to make it clearer when a message remains on the platform which would otherwise have been taken down because of public interest. Earlier in the month, Twitter updated and shortened its rules following user feedback.

The question of addiction when it came to social media networks was explored in a recent piece of research. According to Insights West, which analysed Canadian consumers, weekly usage of Facebook, YouTube and Instagram , despite increasing fears from users around news and information shown to them, as well as targeted, behaviour-based advertising.

This is not Sanger’s first attempt to provide greater internet transparency, however. Since leaving the Wikipedia project Sanger has been critical; as far back as 2001, as reported by the Financial Times, he noted the rise of ‘trolls and ‘anarchist types’ who were ‘opposed to the idea that anyone should have any kind of authority that others do not.’

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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