The digital revolution has led to a huge transformation in marketing communications. The abundance of customer data available via recently developed technologies is the marketer's biggest commodity and the intelligence to use this must be at the core of any marketing strategy.
Today, we approach every assignment recognising the unprecedented levels of data we have access to, combined with the evolution of technology and opportunity to gain a richer insight into consumers' interaction with brands. Thanks to these insights, married to the continuous convergence of traditional channels into internet protocol, we can identify customer behaviour, how consumers relate with a brand and define in which channel a particular shopping mission occurs.
Despite these opportunities, the digital marketing space can feel overcrowded and presents a tough environment for marketers to keep up with the latest trends. Agencies must simplify the complex challenges of communicating effectively in the digital age. Free of media bias, but powerfully informed by the knowledge that there is no "digital culture" - and that, today, digital is the culture.
Social media - yes, but with a focus
Social media is a prime example: a self-service technology allowing consumers to select the right information for their needs on the platform of their choice. Looking at consumer data and behaviour derived from this should then determine which tactics work best for customers. The trick here is not to use any medium for the sake of it and, crucially, having something relevant to say, giving a brand's audiences something they'll want to share. It's too easy to set up a Facebook page and encourage consumers to "like" it. Far more valuable is driving consumer engagement, brand awareness and, ultimately, sales.
The opportunities to communicate using social media are vast. By aggregating data to see the most-visited channels and interacted touchpoints, shared common denominators become clear, identities can be converged and the most appropriate channel established.
The recent explosion of location-based marketing raises another issue: which provider can most effectively grow your business? Mobile coupons? Or does it make more sense for a scavenger hunt on Gowalla? Despite being in its infancy, Facebook and Google are heavily investing in this area and their huge customer base and convenient integration with their existing infrastructure will help LBM tactics become mainstream.
Another recent innovation: Facebook Deals, one of the many forms of monetary incentive for what could be described as digital word-of-mouth - a public "check-in". We have already seen retailers experiment with deals that entice customers with discounts.
Hundreds of start-ups are experimenting by building a social layer on top of online commerce, often directly connecting to the social infrastructure that Facebook offers. The gravitas of Facebook and the sheer traffic it generates makes it an invaluable tool for business. The platform is shaping e-commerce for the next generation as more shops are being created within Facebook: selling products from their fan page via the creation of a "shop" tab. This shopping experience gives users the ability to view a product catalogue, read reviews, make a purchase and interact with friends, all from a fan page. A simple and economic process, neither hosting fees nor sales commission need to be paid (for now). Unsurprisingly, it's one of the fastest-growing subsets of social commerce.
Mobile - the perpetual next big thing
Then there's the vast influx of data insights available through mobile marketing. Brands are still unsteady when it comes to using mobile in their marketing campaigns. While mobile has been touted as the next big thing for a long time, only recently have mobile broadband penetration, mobile CPU power and affordable rates finally and officially launched the rocket that is the mobile web. While actual mobile commerce hasn't yet taken off and only a few people run their grocery shopping errands on their iPhone (though apps do exist), mobile's main fuel is the social context and location data - marketing gold dust.
This area of convergence, aptly named SoLoMo (social local mobile), covers recent trending practises such as location-based marketing (via Foursquare, Facebook Places etc) and mobile coupons/deals (via Groupon, Facebook Deals). While SoLoMo marketing currently has a higher immediate significance for small local businesses than for big international brands, large companies should keep a close eye (and test budgets) on this trend, to carefully align goals, strategy and tactics.
The evolution of customer and agency
Customers are, in essence, becoming their own media agency communicating directly with retailers. Likes, shares, recommendations and check-ins are exchanged for monetary incentives such as discounts and coupons. Equally, the introduction of Facebook credits, a micropayment system in social games and virtual goods, is an area for massive digital retail growth. If customer trust increases, Facebook credits could become a central virtual currency to purchase real goods.
No matter which discipline we're working in, agencies need to work against the same overarching goals. Give a brand's audiences something they'll want to share; show how the brand offers ways to participate in its story; and facilitate the happy transfer of influence - from brand to person to groups and back to brand - that people expect nowadays.
Focusing on identifying how people differ and which attributes of a brand proposition appeal to which audi-ences enables the creation of a true connection between the brand and consumer. This insight allows us to select the best self-serve technology, enabling consumers to select the right information for their needs on the media platform of their choice.
To reflect the needs of the ever-evolving consumer, the agency of the future requires a robust communication planning process; placing data at the core of the planning process and technology at the heart of our delivery platforms; leveraging creativity to transform high-potency insights into powerful ideas and stories engaging enough to be shared by the target audience. With these elements, we can ultimately build brand commitment and drive seamless customer experiences.
Customer data is the marketer's biggest commodity and its intelligent application must be at the core of any marketing strategy.
The agency of the future needs a robust, integrated planning process enabling the delivery of seamless customer experiences across all touchpoints, combined with the ability to transform insights into powerful ideas and stories that engage the target audience.
Tim Hipperson is the group chief executive of G2 Joshua (UK) and Stefan Kneiss is the chief executive of G2 Germany
(From Campaign's "What Next in Digital" supplement, July 1 2011)