If Cnut were here today he would prove the digital tide cannot be turned

If Cnut were here today he would prove the digital tide cannot be turned

Mediatel’s Future of Brands event could have been called ‘The Future of Digital’, writes Greg Grimmer of Fetch Media

February’s Future of Brands conference raised many questions in its agenda including ‘Is the tide turning?

This led the history student in me to remind the audience that King Cnut – the king of England and Denmark between 1016-35 – wasn’t the egotistical ruler of yore.

He was instead a pragmatist who proved to his acolytes that even as a king he did not possess the power to turn back the forces of nature.

Now I’m not sure if Google, Facebook, Amazon and their ilk represent forces of nature, but being the Cnut fan that I am I will confidently predict that Keith Weed and Amber Rudd won’t be the formidable double act that my fellow Mediatel scribe Ray Snoddy predicts.

However, what the Future of Brands event did achieve was to increase uncertainty about all things digital, if not the wider marketing lexicon of our go-to definitions, from ‘trust’ and ‘performance’, to ‘digital’ itself.

As the day progressed, and similar viewpoints were shared, I was drawn mesmerically to my mobile screen…and then it struck me that one of the most gainful ways marketers are employing agencies is by using them to push into areas that their customers are starting to use before they become mainstream. The biggest task for advertisers is staying relevant, on trend and on message with fickle media consumers.

Agencies must know what their clients’ customers are doing first. Crucially, clients are always looking for agencies to push them into areas that they don’t yet fully understand or are worried that their customers (or worse still competitors) are innovating in before them. When we launched Fetch Media in 2009 – around the advent of mobile app usage – the proposition for our clients was to ‘Be Mobile. First.’
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Understanding the mobile consumer better than anyone else means being continually inspired by the changes happening around us and always actioning the best ways to use the tools available to us. Most of the advertisers we work with look to deliver their messages at scale across markets. That means delivering hundreds of messages and rescaling them across everything from Snapchat, to mobile display, to Instagram Stories.

Old-world ad agency art departments will fade in favour of slicker automation and a passion for formulating for the device in which they will live. That’s no less a creative business than the Mad Men world of the 1950s when TV storyboards replaced layout pads.

The senior client speakers at the Future of Brands all understood this and whilst some, like Mark Evans of Direct Line, were billed as anti-digital, Evans was very careful to talk about the silos of digital that he felt weren’t right for his current brand (BTW Mark give us a digital display brief and in the way of those of us with nomenclature alliteration. “I Solve Problems.”)

One thing is certain: brand advertising has been disrupted by digital. And whilst digital media has certainly been responsible for numerous fatuous brand efforts over the past 20 or so years, brand building can absolutely happen in a digital world.

Interestingly, in one session Just Eat suggested that its end goal is ‘fame’ and to be there ‘whenever and wherever you are hungry’. Whilst Just Eat – like many mobile-first brands – is foraying into TV advertising, it’s got the mobile thing down pat.

Meanwhile, Annabel Venner of Hiscox is ‘always being under pressure to prove that marketing investment is paid back’. She stated it’s far harder to prove the value of spend in brand advertising than it is digital advertising – which is imminently more measurable.

I’d go one further to say the two are not so distinct these days. At Fetch we talk only about ‘Brand Performance’. Everything we do and produce will affect the brand perception and everything must perform – but the choice (and time) of the metric is paramount.

With so much at stake, a healthy cynicism is certainly something every client should have. In a world where a recent Gold Blend campaign involved eight agency relationships, Steven Pollack of Nestle maintains that internal media experts fulfil an important role managing the plethora of agencies most clients now employ.

He also extolled the benefits of clients having senior ‘ex-agency’ leaders, like himself, taking on the role of chief media officer on the advertiser side.

But before we throw digital marketing under a bus (again) this year, I’d prefer to argue the case for mobile-first thinking.

Consistency of messaging is the most important thing. Advertisers who are using last year’s – or worse still, last century’s – media plan and still uploading their TV ad to YouTube could be the ones experiencing a truly unforgettable ‘Kodak moment’.

Greg Grimmer is the chief operating officer of Fetch Media

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