Kate Howe: How do you make digital and data add up?

Kate Howe is CEO of marketing communications agency gyro London. With 25 years of agency and client-side experience, she was previously UK CMO of Burger King and managing director of Leo Burnett London.

data and digital

The dilemma is acute: to transform marketing model in face of digital disruption. And this goes way beyond Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. Or Sir Martin Sorrell leaving WPP in such a sorry state that pundits are estimating its break up value to be greater than its total market cap. Probably way beyond Arthur Sadoun, chairman and chief executive of Publicis, talking about shifting from “being a communications partners to helping clients transform their marketing model” in the face of digital disruption and the threat of new entrants. And the clients we’re talking about? Take a good look at them. Most big conglomerates, structured for mass production, are squeezed by smaller rivals, and failing to serve the greater demands of the modern consumers and in turn crushing agencies on fees and costs. So how do we square the circle?

The question facing all of us is whether these problems can be solved by adapting to new technologies, employing big data, machine learning, AI — all rather Delphic terms when looked at in isolation. The answer to all the complexity surrounding us cannot be even more complex solutions, but rather a return to tried-and-true marcomms practices.

Here are the three things that will matter in the future — Data. Talent. Client centricity.

With investments in marketing technologies growing, our industry has access to more data and insights than ever before. However, what is most critical to understand is the fact that while data and technology enable us to pin-point the exact moments that matter, the only way to truly create connection is with experiences that add feelings and emotions to that precision.

Let’s turn to Cambridge Analytica again. The whistleblower Christopher Wylie during his appearance in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee at the House of Commons suggested that the referendum would have had a different outcome without the data and marketing tactics that had been sanctioned. But as marketers we know that we’ve been building similar systems that profile the customer market. And really the consumers in question don’t always realise that it has been going on (just go ask people queuing up in Boots with their loyalty cards, or those with Tesco Clubcard). So we have the tools, but where is the human connection? Our industry has the means to optimise our opportunities and find new ways of creatively reaching and influencing our audiences.

The reason why attracting, retaining and inspiring new talent becomes so vital. And indeed if automation is already replacing human tasks and jobs, we have to start changing the skill sets of our people. Not wait for time to unfold. It is the same for leadership as well. In times of change and unease, leadership needs a rethink.

A recent gyro research shows emotional still precedes the rational when it comes to business decisions. As we accept the opportunities brought about in these volatile times, it is not 'visionary leaders' but instead 'change-makers' that need to be empowered with relevant, emotionally charged messages to help others to channel their fears into creativity.

But to what end? For the sake of our customer (both B2B or B2C).

I have to confess I hate the phrase customer centricity. What is also true is that I firmly believe that customer experience is the only sustainable source of competitive differentiation in all this noise. Customer centricity is what ultimately creates a watershed moment for businesses to establish deep human connections with their customers and to influence their interactions or their purchases.

The only way to make it all work. It seems perverse to reject these options that have always been available to us all. Even Sir Martin seems to have realised that. He’s vowing to start again, but with a model that is more agile and responsive. But we knew that already, I think. Let’s make it really count this time. But the only way to truly create connection is with experiences that add feelings to that precision.

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