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Digital Focus

By The Drum | Administrator

February 2, 2007 | 25 min read

Although it’s becoming difficult to continue to call it ‘new’, online has continued to upstage its media cousins year on year by developing in faster, more creative ways. The prematurely nicknamed information super-highway has evolved so dramatically that it is far more than just a resource for information - we now interact, bank, shop, get in touch with long-lost school friends, and even find our soulmates via the web. It’s fair to say the internet has come a long way since the days when all we used it for was surfing.

Paving the way for this ongoing development have been two major factors: technology and innovation. For every new technological arrival, there has been a spate of innovative thinking which allows the technology to achieve its potential. And for every new idea there has been the technology to make it come to life. Web users have also played their part, embracing wholeheartedly the advances and stretching the medium to its limits.

To explore these changes The Drum interviewed some of the finest experts in the field to bring us up to speed. Bravely battling through our questions, these digitally focused marketers have revealed how the internet has grown up and speculate on how it might mature. The results of this research are so comprehensive that it’s been turned into two versions.

The first is a full report, which, appropriately, can be viewed online at www.thedrum.com, while the second, which you’ll find here, is an abridged version.

How is new technology and innovation leading the growth of online communications?

Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O\'Reilly Media in 2004, refers to the evolution of how we interact with websites. The main points they highlight are the move away from information based and brochure-ware sites and towards the model of participation and integration, with sites prompting user input and creating a truly interactive experience.

This shift in behaviour is driving up user participation and drawing visitors back to sites that are offering a more fulfilling experience.

These new technologies have driven up user participation on the web and have helped to spawn social networks which have become incredibly popular amongst all Internet users, not just the technology savvy, but also the relatively technology naive masses.

In terms of marketing, increased interactivity and participation has helped drive up enquiry and sales conversion rates.

Shane Quigley, managing director, Epiphany

As a rule all aspects of marketing are finding benefits in introducing a digital aspect. Whether it’s as simple as directing people online for up to date terms and conditions to fulfilling on pack promotions or extending TV campaigns with online media, if you’re not using online there’s a distinct hole in your communications mix. For a well integrated campaign each communication should drive people to the next message, and seeing as most consumer investigation of products and services happens, to a great extent, online it’s essential that offline claims and depth of information is available.

Andrew Brown, creative director, Swamp at Brahm

Technology enables ideas to be better realised across multiple appropriate channels. New technology and innovation is opening up channels of communication, which allow users to receive a real-time experience and new level of interactivity. The growth of communication online has been fuelled with the advent of innovation such as blogs and photo sharing galleries. These types of user-generated content have brought together communities of individuals of all types and sizes.

Margaret Manning, CEO, Reading Room

New technology and innovation are not just leading the growth of online communications, they are fundamentally changing our society. This means that we, and our clients, must change the way we communicate from a marketing perspective or we will be left behind, not just by our competitors but by consumers themselves.

The first IBM branded PC for the consumer market was launched on August 12th 1981. By 1994 the PC outsold the TV in the United States for the first time. In that same year, the Internet started to \"take off\" as a major computing platform due to the World Wide Web being \"discovered\" for a myriad of commercial and social uses.

Since then the pace of change in our lives has been nothing short of phenomenal as consumers engage with technology in ever evolving ways. Consumers interact differently, they work differently, they engage with each other differently. We have moved from a watch and listen society to a search and share society. Consumers no longer sit and wait for messages to come to them, they seek out information, they share ideas and experiences and they do most of it online. And as they change, we need to change with them.

So, yes new technology and innovation are leading the growth of online comms, but they are doing so because of the changes they have brought about in the way we live our lives. Email, txt, MySpace, SecondLife, blogs, RSS, social networking, co-creation - the list is growing and when your audience of the future spend more time on MSN Messenger than watching TV we will all (agencies, media owners and clients) have to adapt or die.

Fergus McCallum, CEO, Tequila\\

With technology driving effectiveness and accountability, are they still key to online’s growth as a communications platform or is it now proving to be the internet’s widescale appeal that is the medium’s pulling point?

Effectiveness and accountability remain important drivers as fast, accurate and most importantly unbiased information will always be part of the anarchic appeal of the Internet. It remains to be seen whether the continuing attempts of the big brands to communicate online will overturn this anarchy into a push and not pull environment.

Margaret Manning, CEO, Reading Room

Both. Undoubtedly effectiveness and accountability remain as core tenants of online activity and a large part of its growing attraction – but consumer usage and the sheer omnipresence of the internet and the way it is pervading everyone’s day to day lives and activity is, I believe a large part of what is fuelling unparalleled interest in it.

What do people use the Internet for? For the most part it is information gathering, research, news, e-commerce and, of course, e-mail. The market is being driven by increased usage by people who can see the clear benefits afforded by these communications. Savvy users are spending more time online than on the sofa as the pond gets bigger and more interesting to swim in.

The Internet is young (one of the youngest industries in the world still) and is very much on the upward curve – not yet reaching user saturation. That said, as the Internet reaches the top of this curve and starts to come down the other side, technology will be the driver that will inspire and catch those who start to fall away, introducing appropriate and non-niche ways to communicate.

Andrew Davenport, client services director, Code Computerlove

Thankfully, the internet is starting to pull away from the niche positioning it used to occupy on marketing plans and is now firmly established on any integrated plan. Its appeal is so broad it can’t be ignored. Increasingly it’s not being seen as ‘new’ media any more – it’s just a medium like any other, with access being almost universal amongst many demographics. If you’re planning to target female office workers for example, you’d achieve much higher cut through with online than anything else.

Undoubtedly effectiveness and accountability play a part. The medium’s unprecedented growth in recent years (driven to a large extent by search technologies like Google’s Adwords) show that the figures really do stack up.

That said, we need to continue to think smarter about how we show the value it adds; unless you are actually offering products for sale on your site it’s a complicated process to accurately track the contribution it makes to overall brand value. Clicks, hits and visits tell part of the story, but don’t adequately justify the case for online spend anymore. More advanced return on investment measures are required and as every client is different these are developed or tailored appropriately.

Chris Conlan, client services director, magneticNorth

Is new technology making the web more effective?

Absolutely. Smoother more intuitive applications create better user experience, better integration with offline applications means joined up consumer lifestyles, the expansion of the phone and its functionality, the trend for social networking sites – all have technology underpinning them and driving consumer behaviour.

For the brand owner, the application of new technology can make communications more relevant through targeted and appropriate delivery, and therefore the opportunity for the marketer to persuade and convert is greater. Tracking technology is enabling the marketer to refine online processes and user journeys that minimize drop-off at points of inertia.

What’s interesting is that the majority of people use the simple applications on the web the most (85% of the Internet world use ‘search’ to find things), so you could say that the enhancement of search technology is the main area for potential when talking about effectiveness.

Users are demanding that the information they need is delivered on their terms. Examples such as news (RSS feeds from a variety of favourite sources), podcasts (for tv and radio shows they want to enjoy when they are ready to enjoy them) and blogs (easy and frank peer communications) are growing. These technologies are out there and being adopted – but are far from being core and populous.

But for the 85% that are still searching, once they find what they need, technology will help them to keep it and manage it and change it and grow it.

Andrew Davenport, client services director, Code Computerlove

It has the potential to make the web more effective. It’s the intelligent use of it that actually makes a difference. All too often you see new technologies being used just for the sake of it, which can end up doing more harm than good.

Chris Conlan, client services director, magneticNorth

Faster technology and the power of the search engines help make the web more effective. Because users are looking for fast, relevant results, the search engines work hard to filter out inappropriate content. A visitor leaves a website in under one second if it doesn’t feel right. But it’s the introduction of ethical search engine marketing that has significant impact. The white knights of digital marketing are constantly striving to make sure that websites are optimised within guidelines and traffic is driven to a website by effective use of complementary marketing activities such as pay per click.

Jamie Murphy, xxxxxxxxxx, Cube3 Digital

New technology allows different things to happen. On demand over PC means more people consume digital just like telly, which makes the case for above the line advertising on new channels. But that’s not what makes things effective, it just brings with it new opportunities. Creativity makes things effective, regardless of the format.

Andrew Brown, creative director, Swamp at Brahm

Is technology being held back by the speed (or lack of) consumer’s uptake?

User-need drives technology to a greater or lesser degree. However no one needed a Dyson until Mr Dyson placed his ad in the yellow pages. For every Dyson there are 100 others that didn’t make the grade.

As a technology owner you have to truly believe in your product, understand its place in the market and have the energy to market it and persuade the early adopters to give it a shot (iPod is a great example here, as is more recently the iPhone).

If technology can answer a common and pervasive problem, people will carry it forward. Speak to Dyson.

Andrew Davenport, client services director, Code Computerlove

In general the power of computing is outpacing what most people are using it for. Sure, you can’t run high end games (or even Second Life) on your Mum’s laptop, but you’ve got to be doing some pretty heavy stuff with audio or even 3D graphics now for your machine not to cope.

Andrew Brown, creative director, Swamp at Brahm

Are clients now investing more in their online strategies, rather than just building a website and hoping that an audience will arrive?

Strategy is vital to moving forward for all clients, in particular communication and how users of their website utilise the available methods of interaction. Clients are looking at how to market themselves, how they can use interaction and innovation to engage their site visitors and how they can communicate their message.

What is certainly true is that clients now expect a more tangible return on their online spend, and to do this requires a more considered approach to what they are doing online. Strategy and planning across the whole communications piece is the key to success here - to understand how the client\'s online requirements fit in the rest of their marketing goals.

Margaret Manning, CEO, Reading Room

Until the fairly recent past, many companies online strategy was to get your website built, submit their site to the search engines, throw a limited budget at a pay-per-click campaign and cross your fingers. And there were plenty of unsophisticated web ‘specialists’ to help you do it. Chances are that if you got there before the competition you saw acceptable returns on your investment. How times change and so quickly.

Christmas 2006 confirms what most savvy Marketing Directors and agencies have known for sometime, online is here to stay and needs to be taken seriously. In the UK, customers spent £7.66 billion on the web, up 54 per cent from last year and almost double the amount spent in 2004, that is too big an opportunity to be treated as second fiddle. If you are a brand that doesn’t do online with the same vigour that you apply to every other channel you are about to be seriously left behind.

The internet is evolving at an alarming rate and the consumers reliance on it for information and transaction is only going to increase. Just when you think you are on top of organic search, PPC, online PR, podcasting, affiliate and banner advertising we witness the commercialisation of social

media. Getting our heads round how to utilise the branding and now selling opportunities that phenomenons like ‘Second Life’ present on an almost daily basis is a full time job. It’s increasingly important to get into bed with an agency that knows your brands’ inside out, so integrated thinking becomes reality, and can help identify real opportunities for online exposure and response.

This year I predict that whilst still a valid channel for most of us the return on investment for mainstream PPC will reduce; so we’ll have to get more intelligent about how we plan and implement our online campaigns. The big growth areas are going to be bespoke community driven activity (social media), Online PR and Local/Personalised search. At the end of the day, its all about generating more opportunities to see your brands in the right places.

Peter Young, Connectpoint

Clients are definitely investing more in online as a whole (design, build etc) and giving more thought to driving traffic to their online properties, but there can still be a reluctance to invest in the purely strategic side of the process. Ironically the accountability of the medium can act against it, with every online marketing Pound being scrutinized.

Chris Conlan, client services director, magneticNorth

God yes. Anyone with more than a base level understanding of the medium is as focused on traffic, site activity and ongoing campaigns as they are on site development. You cannot separate the two, which is why Code Computerlove’s integrated platform is proving so attractive to both new and existing clients.

As an organization we deal mainly with brands that have Internet technologies at the heart of their communication strategy. In some cases digital communications ARE the business, not an extension of an existing function, as online adoption grows and offline effectiveness declines.

Code clients such as HMV and Waterstones are embracing digital communications, targeted marketing initiatives and affiliate relationships to thrive in an ever-competitive marketplace.

Andrew Davenport, client services director, Code Computerlove

Research shows that investment is being put back into search engine optimisation for example and most of our clients are happy to realise that this is a long term investment that forms part of their overall marketing strategy. Because as more companies start using PPC the more competitive and the more expensive the keywords are becoming.

By using a combination of digital marketing techniques including SEO

can cost effectively attract new customers.

The tracking of all of the campaigns is the real secret to success. By measuring real time results you can react quickly making sure that your budget is spent in the right place at the right time.

Cube3 Digital

The answer is yes, clients are investing more in their online strategies. Are they investing enough however? In general probably not, but the signs are encouraging in many cases. Globally this can be seen in the emergence of brand involvement in sites like Second Life and You Tube and if there was ever an example of the word spreading just check out http://myspace.com/isthisjesus.

From our perspective, the evolution of online is becoming an ever-increasing part of our clients\' agendas. And even where our clients are yet to invest heavily in financial terms, at the very least they are recognising the need to learn and invest their time in absorbing the online culture that surrounds their customers.

Our work is therefore wide-ranging as clients engage at varying speeds towards embracing a digital relationship with their consumers. In every case however we seek to ensure that client and consumer relationships are strengthened, by putting the user need and experience at the heart of our work.

Neal Andrews, head of digital, Digerati\\

Certainly. Two years ago we were travelling the country educating prospects about the benefits of online marketing strategies but over the last 12 months more and more marketing departments are allocating separate budgets to online campaigns.

Increasingly clients are requesting our input in web projects from conception in order to maximise the results they see. Often we build skeleton sites and up to 6 months before a project is due to go live. This will enable us to generate \"ready made\" Google rankings for a brand new project.

We are also building support campaigns for offline activity, for instance, building search marketing campaigns around keywords used within TV and Radio advertisements. If a viewer/listener fails to catch the full web address or company name in the advert but remembers the hook lines or slogans, we can catch them when they search online. This technique can also be to capture visitors destined for competitor sites by capitalising on their slogans and hooks.

Shane Quigley, managing director, Epiphany

Yes, we are most definitely witnessing a continual increase in the budget clients are allocating to their online marketing spend. This can be explained by the increased awareness by these companies as to the clear benefits Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) can bring, and also as a result of education by Digital Marketing agencies on exactly what is involved in building and managing profitable campaigns. People know that building any old website just doesn’t cut it anymore. Almost every client who asks Quba to build a new website for them mentions SEO. SEO has become an integral part of site design. The problem companies in competitive online markets now face is because SEO has been around for so long, any search you do will most likely return at least a full page of either shopping portals, or information directories. It is rare to find an un-optimised online market – but not impossible! Utilising digital marketing techniques such as SEO & PPC, clients can stand out from their competition by driving targeted traffic to their site from day one. Assuming certain other factors are in place, such as the product or service being competitively priced, and the site is simple to navigate around etc, conversions into sales are bound to follow. Search Engines such as Google are gradually shifting the emphasis from “highest bidder comes top”, to encouraging businesses to spend time on producing quality written adverts. Companies now prefer to spread their investment over several campaigns including Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, MSN AdCenter, MIVA, Mirago, Webfinder, Kelkoo, Froogle, and Shopping.com. Once clients recognise the return efficiently run campaigns can offer, sometimes up to 500% ROI in less competitive markets, they are more willing to explore other campaigns promising similar returns. Working with clients to develop their online marketing strategy is an integral part of Quba’s account management process. In depth competitor analysis has to be conducted in order to gain a good understanding of where the client stands within their particular market place. This research will highlight the key areas of growth to be exploited. It may be a series of keywords that their competitors are not using, yet attract tens of thousands of searches on the major search engines a day. The main attribute any website should strive for is an abundance of inbound links from other reputable sites. Ultimately this is the factor that presently determines a websites overall ranking on search engines such as Google. An optimised site with 1000 inbound links from reputable sites will not rank as highly as an un-optimised site which boasts 100’000 of the same inbound links. This is how you sometimes find terribly constructed sites out ranking a huge blue chip corporation for a popular keyword. The best solution is to utilise a combination of campaigns proven to offer substantial returns, over a period of time to increase brand awareness of the company, product, or service, then as public interest is established so will the natural linking and popularity. This is how sites such as youtube.com and myspace.com have prospered. They are online communities attracting millions of people, each linking to the site.

Chris Norton, SEO / PPC specialist, Quba New Media

Our offering is all about online marketing. We approach all our work from a strategic point of view taking account of the entire marketing mix and with an understanding of how the website relates to display media, pay per click activity, online PR, eCRM etc.. There’s still a need for specialist web design companies, technology partners, media buyers and link builders. But these will tend to be used by agencies looking after a client’s marketing strategy, rather than direct by the client themselves. Online is a whole world, there’s too many different skill needs for clients to manage.

Andrew Brown, creative director, Swamp at Brahm

Viral films, blogging, SMS messaging, digital TV, intranets, email marketing and online advertising have all contributed to the revolution in communication. How important is it that a full spectrum of platforms are utilised in a campaign to gain the full benefits of the online medium?

The more touch points your brand has the more important it is that the story is consistent and rewarding each time. Brands see a positive cumulative effect from using multiple platforms – greater than using platforms in isolation. But before we run off and integrate everything digital, it’s important to remember that the adoption of these techniques must arise because the brand believes it’s for the benefit of the people, not for the benefit of the brand. Miss this trick and you’ve wasted your time.

However, what’s most important is knowing what you want to say and deciding how you are going to measure it, then refining and going again.

Andrew Davenport, client services director, Code Computerlove

It’s really important to consider all available platforms, but always consider them in the context of your objectives and question why you would want to use them in your campaign. Do the people you’re targeting really want an SMS message from you; will they really write on your blog (and do you want the headache of moderating the entries if they do)? Brendan Dawes, Executive Director here at mN, calls it ‘Mariah Carey Syndrome.’ She has an impressive vocal range of about eight octaves or so and the ability to switch from the very high to the very low in an instant. And she does so on every note of every song, simply because she can. It’s the same with the interactive tools at our disposal; it can sometimes be as much of a challenge knowing what not to use.

Chris Conlan, client services director, magneticNorth

For advertisers trying to communicate with consumers in the digital age the same basic targeting rules apply; gain an understanding of media consumption habits and, depending on budgets and creative execution, deploy activity that provides reach, frequency and impact in as cost-efficient a way as possible (using both traditional and digital media routes if necessary).

Putting aside the unique abilities of digital to engage, using as many digital touch points as possible will naturally maximise reach and frequency, and ultimately improve impact and brand saliency, just like the offline world. However, although these additional touch points exist and present new opportunities, some will be more relevant and effective than others in reaching different target groups and communicating certain types of message, just like in the offline world.

It all comes down to what\'s right for your brand, taking into account target audience, objective, creative execution and budget.

Neal Andrews, head of digital, Digerati\\

The more complex a subject, the more important the online communication is. As it is such an intimate medium and the main educator in most marketing campaigns, the richer and more interactive the experience, the better the results

Shane Quigley, managing director, Epiphany

It is not important to use all communications in every campaign but rather to look at the needs of the client and determine the most appropriate strategies to appeal to their target audience. From this you can work out which platforms are used by the target audience and how these platforms will work in collaboration with other media. Decisions can be made about future campaigns depending on the successes of a previous campaign, for example, the collection of data, direct sales and an increase in brand awareness. However, the full spectrum of platforms should always be considered and monitored, as new methods are constantly emerging and appealing to new audiences. For example, ten years ago, the Internet was not key to marketing financial products as it was not seen as appropriate and now financial products are predominantly sold online. Discerning businesses and organisations should always keep an open mind about which platforms to use.

Craig Johnson, commercial director, Rippleffect

It’s misleading to think that you can encompass everything that all these things do by labelling them as internet marketing or communications. A viral movie is a million miles away from an intranet, they do completely different things. What people need to understand is how, as we progress through the heart of the communications / digital age, the virtual world and the real world simply bleed into each other. Consumers don’t differentiate between auto trader online and auto trader the magazine – they’re just looking for a car. Email is a way of sending letters whereas YouTube is like watching a sketch show. In the 21st centaury people work, talk, shop, play, cook, relax, flirt, study and bank by mixing the real with the virtual without prejudice.

Andrew Brown, creative director, Swamp at Brahm

Using the full spectrum of platforms is largely dependant on the needs and budget of clients. There are many different digital channels available to communications campaigns.

The key is in selecting the channels that match both the defined audience groups and the brand that is being communicated. It has to reach the target market whilst retaining the authenticity of the client. This is true in both on and offline media; integrated campaigns, that intelligently use interruption style communications - irrelevant of whether they\'re online or offline - to drive consumers online to interact with the brand, will be the future of effective communications campaigns

Margaret Manning, CEO, Reading Room

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