Has the concept of power changed?
Has the concept of power changed?
A view from Staff

In the digital age, has the concept of power changed?

We asked six leading marketers whether in a digital age, where the students have, in effect, become the teachers, do they believe has the concept of power changed?

Peter Markey, Chief marketing officer, Post office

It’s an obvious thought that being digitally savvy is vital to the success of any marketer. But digital knowledge alone doesn’t guarantee success. Some of the basic rules and principles of great marketing remain. It’s still vital to know your customer, provide them with products and services they need and ensure engaging communications to both win them and keep them. In short, don’t forget the four Ps. It’s the fusion of technical skill, knowledge and expertise that makes for great success in marketing. It’s vital that marketers keep the pace with a changing and dynamic media landscape and the idea of the less-experienced coaching those more senior is a great one – but this can’t be the be-all and end-all of what makes really great marketing

Sean Kinmont, founding partner - Creative, 23red

We’ve seen a long-term shift in the balance of power from top-down ‘command and control’ to bottom-up ‘empowerment’. Like most revolutions, this one is being led by the young: the ‘digital natives’ are teaching their bosses the ways of new technologies.

We only need to look as far back as 1997, to the start of the dotcom boom, to see that what is now mainstream was once cutting-edge speculation led by those born at the same time as the tech.

So while the power has never been solely in the hands of the establishment, increasingly it’s being influenced by the voices of young people – by those using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other tools to communicate their points of view – and they have become very influential. It’s a case of ‘power to the social media people’.

Paul Houlding Managing partner, Isobel

‘You can’t win anything with kids.’ It turned out that Alan Hansen rather famously underestimated the talent, passion and team spirit of a certain group of youngsters.
And we live in an age now where the ‘kids’ can have a ball. They have grown up on digital, learned everything from scratch and their natural state is one of change and experimentation.
Undoubtedly they have knowledge the ‘grown-ups’ don’t and will influence decisions in ways they never have before.
But success isn’t just about the players, it’s about the manager, too. He doesn’t need the skill set, he just needs to know how to use it to his advantage. His job is to see the bigger picture and understand human behaviour.
Something that tends to sit best with experience.

Sam Bridger, Managing director, Sam Bridger Consulting

If knowledge is power, then today’s digital natives have certainly been dealt a stronger hand.

Back in the day, many marketers would feign knowledge of TV-buying. Today it’s digital. But no matter how knowledgeable (or old) you are, the challenge is to stay current. Any decent marketing director knows you never stop learning, and some of the freshest thinking often comes from more junior colleagues.

But digital is just one aspect of comms, which, in turn, is part of a much bigger job, and marketing is a team game. The best marketing directors surround themselves with specialists (both internally and externally at their agencies) and don’t ignore expertise on the basis of age. Someone will always know more than you on any given topic.

Ultimately, knowledge comes from broad experience. A one-trick pony doesn’t run the circus.

Tom Knox Chairman, DLKW Lowe

The problem with this question is that it seems to presuppose that channel planning is more valuable than identifying a brand positioning and articulating a brand idea.

Power in marketing will always reside with the people who add the most commercial value. Experience suggests that the most valuable (and therefore powerful) people in any marketing organisation are the ones who can come up with clear and compelling brand ideas.

Knowing how to use the various tools at your disposal to bring your brand ideas to life is important, and there’s plenty of evidence that digital natives are really rather good at doing this in new and increasingly exciting ways.

But it’s not the ultimate power nexus and it won’t be any time soon.

Zoe Harris, group marketing director, Trinity Mirror Group

The question is about connectivity and the value of those connections (for customers as much as brands), so the answer is 'maybe', because it depends what type of brand-owner or manager you are.

If you worship at the altar of 'likes' and believe you are connected on that basis, then you are guilty as charged. Business is largely about managing change, and to do that knowing 'who' your best customers are - and, more importantly, 'why' they are - is critical management information.

What businesses don't listen to their customers? (OK, I could name a few.) But do customers want a conversation with brands? I think they do, at the right time, in the right place. So, on that basis, the answer is 'no'. As a potential value-driven route to market, meaningful customer conversations are critical and actually need fostering.

Follow the debate online marketingmagazine.co.uk

Nigel Vaz, senior vice president, managing director Europe, Sapient Nitro

The metaphor is an interesting one. In the same way teachers used to stand in front of a class and broadcast lessons to passive recipients, marketers used to get away with just speaking at a mass audience. It’s been a while since either approach was effective or acceptable.

In truth, power was shifting even before Generation Z – the first generation to be born into the digital world – came along and fundamentally changed the rules. Generation Z is device-dependent, trusts digital sources more than traditional media and moves in social circles not restricted by geography.

The eldest among Generation Z are 18, so they don’t yet hold the reins of power in a traditional sense. Their power as consumers, though, continues to teach us to think differently about marketing fundamentals such as product, place, promotion and price – once defined by distinct boundaries, but now collided in a world of connected behaviours.

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit www.marketing-society.org.uk

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