Gareth Kane, planning director, Game Room
Gareth Kane, planning director, Game Room
A view from Gareth Kane

Think BR: Threats are simply dangers we can see

A lesson from the games industry could affect marketers and creative agencies alike, writes Gareth Kane, planning director, Game Room.

With a passionate consumer base, the wider marketing community may see games marketing as simply preaching to the converted. However, in reality, these brands lead the field in many cutting-edge marketing techniques, most notably leveraging consumer data.

Game brands are the true kings of data because they sell a product that also serves as the most advanced consumer tracking tool in the history of marketing. 

The technology behind their products enables them to know what games consumers are playing, when and for how long - right down to how engaging any aspect of gameplay is. All this can be known in real time and - through software updates - quickly acted upon to optimize the consumer experience.

To put this in context, imagine a Heinz marketing manager instantly knowing that their customers now prefer 300g bottles of ketchup to 500g and would like their ketchup to have a little bit more salt. Then be able to make those changes to the product at the click of a button.

It comes as no surprise then, that at the recent London Games Conference, the games industry bathed in its own splendour. Talks by executives from Sega and EA both hammered home the same message - through data we can watch, measure and respond to the needs of the consumer in real time.

Yet, as the glory of this celebration wore on, a lingering doubt began to grow - that while this data is brilliant at describing the needs of the consumer, it fails to understand them. It answers the what, yet ignores the how and why. Knowledge is always limited to the means of how it’s acquired. In this instance the knowledge of games companies’ cannot extend beyond how consumers interact with their products.

The danger is that the more prevalent this data-centric perspective becomes, the more games marketers will fail to see what’s happening outside the world they are measuring. This leaves the door open for behavioral anomalies or wider cultural trends to cause serious harm to their business.

Because, as the old Eskimo saying goes, it’s not the bear you see that kills you.

There is a lesson here for the wider marketing community.  Today, brands operate in a data-heavy environment - social media metrics, web analytics, customer retail transactions both on and offline and in-depth CRM data - that provides an unprecedented knowledge of consumers.

This can make the power of the data-centric perspective insurmountable. It can place a stranglehold on brand organizations, transcending marketing to influence all decisions associated with the wider business. After all, in the age of consumer empowerment, who is going to argue against the hard facts that give a clear vision of what consumers want from your brand?

To avoid the myopia of the data-centric perspective, brands must ensure a share-of-voice for an alternative view - a second perspective. One that is more intuitive - a realm of creativity and innovation - with less focus on what the data says is right and more on what feels right. Less about responding to consumer needs by identifying behaviour and more about creating needs by understanding the motivations behind this behaviour.

Yet as the influence of the data-centric perspective grows and makes a beeline for the boardroom, such an alternative viewpoint could be left behind.

It is therefore essential that creative agencies - long guardians of intuitive and creative thought - become the champions of this second perspective. To drive creativity throughout client organizations, gaining influence and credibility from the shop floor to the boardroom.

If creative agencies fail to do this, then they could face being sidelined as client priorities change. Because while the agency perspective is that their ideas are critical to a client’s business, the boardroom perspective is that they are on the operational periphery. They exist to execute business strategy and not to drive it.

So when this business strategy changes, so do the type of agencies. In future, with the data-centric perspective left unchecked, there could be less demand for creative agencies and more for analytical consultancies. Competition could come, not just from the likes of Saatchi and JWT, but also from companies like Boston Consulting Group or McKinsey.

The agency world is an insular and incestuous one. We believe we have a firm view of our competitive landscape because we know who our competitors are and what they offer. But this makes us slow to react to the dangers outside of this landscape.

It’s a situation that consulting firms could take advantage of; blindsiding creative agencies to maximise their own influence within brand organizations. To repeat the old Eskimo saying: it’s not the bear you see that kills you.

Gareth Kane, planning director, Game Room