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Multi-stage solutions to the challenge of multi-channel marketing

With targetted spend set to out-strip search spend by 2020, owning and managing your data has never been more important to digital marketing success, according to speakers at the 2013 Dmexco event in Cologne.

Photo: Dmexco 2013: big screens and big ideas.
Dmexco 2013: big screens and big ideas.

It is widely acknowledged that e-commerce is rewriting the retail rulebook – whether in the form of massive international success stories (most notably Amazon) or through the more bespoke, local-based services that are thriving in a number of domestic markets. While the variety of online options and services available has been key to the success of the sector, it is the variety of consumer expectations and behaviour that is proving a challenge to e-marketeers across the globe.

Meeting the challenge of such a diverse and demanding user base was the central theme of the Dmexco event, held in Cologne earlier this year. Perhaps predictably, the solutions on offer were every bit as diverse as the routes and devices employed to access the digital retail sphere.

While the challenges are daunting, the rewards are undoubted. European e-commerce revenues were in excess of Euros112 billion in 2012, according to industry trade figures. By 2017, revenues are set to increase by 11% to Euros191 billion. According to a report by the Circle of Online Marketers (OVK), part of the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW), online advertising spend has now reached Euros28.6 billion in Europe and Euros24.3 billion in the US.

Identifying one, multi-applicable strategy for digital brand-building is all but impossible, but Dmexco abounded with real world best practices and a number of broad guidelines. Above all, though, one message was abundantly clear – the multi-channel element of any campaign is no longer an optional add-on, but a necessity that must be planned in from the outset.

A prime example of this came from Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever, the UK-based household goods and foodstuffs conglomerate. Weed's approach is simple – build brands for life. While obliquely put, Weed's message seems to equate to insinuating subtle sales drivers into innovative, non-hard selling viral promotions.

He illustrated his premise with the screening of a viral video featuring the birthday party of a five-year old Indian boy living in squalid conditions. The video focussed on a simple message: "Washing hands can save lives". No Unilever product featured in the on-screen campaign, although many of the hygiene issues it highlighted have direct relevance to cleaning products, one of the company's core offerings.

Weed also cited another innovative approach the company had taken, this time for its Dove range of women's skin care products. As part of the campaign, Unilever commissioned an artist to paint pictures of various women. The painter, though, was not permitted to see the women directly, but had to paint them from two provided descriptions. One description was provided by the woman herself, while the second came from an observer.

The campaign focussed on the revelation that the picture created in line with the observer's description was always more beautiful than that which followed the woman's self-assessment. Viral videos, featuring the women and the creation of their painted images, were distributed via social media platforms and generated millions of hits, all underlining the company's key proposition that you are far more beautiful than you realise.

A similar example of the virtues of taking a more oblique approach came courtesy of Wella, the German cosmetics company. As part of an online campaign to promote its range of female haircare items, the company eschewed any direct mention of its products, focussing instead on the new season's hair colourings and styles.

Aside from generating exposure by making the content genuinely fascinating and the product message peripheral, another principle highlighted in Cologne was the need to create targetted communications based on real-life experiences. Emphasising this, Michael Karg, the New York-based Chief Executive of Razorfish, a specialist digital advertising agency group, said: "Any strategy must be based on real data and on an actual customer."

Illustrating his point, Karg referred to a case where the agency had responded in real time to implied social media criticism of one of its clients, Smart Car. When one commentator asked, via twitter, how many pigeon droppings it would take to bury one of the compact vehicles, the agency took prompt action. It immediately calculated the relevant figures for pigeons and for a range of other birds, generating a huge barrage of media coverage as a result.

Karg also cited the importance of proper data management, including the integration of CRM information with social media opportunities. In one such example, Razorfish targetted lapsed customers of one client via Facebook, offering them a range of incentives to re-engage with the company in question.

Another issue of concern to many delegates was how to cross-target consumers using a rage of devices without breaching established privacy protocols. For United Internet Media (UIM), one of Germany's leading IT service providers, one solution was to adopt a "pseudonymised" key-based log-in for its mail services. While the pseudonymisation ensures the privacy of individual users, artificial identifiers can be introduced into other fields within a given data record. Explaining the advantages of the system, Michael Burst, Head of the Product Management Targetting Group at UIM, said: "The unique key we generate integrates user profiles on the basis of log-in data, but in accordance with all data privacy laws. This then provides the basis for multi-screen targetting."

Photo: A record number of 26,000 visitors attended Dmexco 2013.
A record number of 26,000 visitors attended Dmexco 2013.

The upshot of this is that UIM can now identify the same user across a range of different devices. This allows it to cap contacts at a certain level, in order to avoid irritating consumers through excessive exposure to any particular commercial message.

As well as the need to identify the same user across a range of different platforms, the importance of targetting the ideal consumer for any given product or service was also highlighted. Addressing delegates at the event, Jason Bigler, Goggle's Product Manager for Display Advertising, said: "It is crucial to combine the different ‘signals' a user sends. Identifying the appropriate combination of contextual indicators, demographical signals and behavioural trends will boost the success of any advertising initiative dramatically."

Bigler also identified another looming milestone for the sector – by 2020, he believes, targetting spend will exceed search spend. Put simply, this will see companies put greater efforts into accessing just the right individuals, rather than widely casting the net in the hope of snagging passing trade. His sentiments were echoed by Razorfish's Karg, who told delegates: "The age of untargetted campaigns will be over in a few years."

With identifying the appropriate consumer now the Holy Grail for digital marketers, Christian Vollmer, Founder of Luna-park, one of Germany's leading search-optimisation specialists, believes companies will have to learn to operate very differently. He maintains that social media managers, Internet marketing strategists and conventional marketeers will have to find new ways of working together in order to ensure success. He said: "Right now, many of these people are too focussed on their own narrow channels. They need to put less effort into defining keywords, and more effort into identifying the people they want to reach."

Overall, the consensus at Dmexco was that marketing was facing a paradigm shift in the digital age. Summarising the challenge, Frederic Joseph, Chief Executive of Performics, a Chicago-based performance marketing agency, said: "It is now far more a question of data planning than it is of media planning."

With this very much in mind, proper data collection and management is now widely seen as the key to successful digital marketing. Citing research by the Gartner Group, a US-based technology research company, Karg said: "By 2017 the Chief Marketing Officer will spend more money on IT than the Chief Technology Officer."

Identifying another challenge in the age of multi-channel marketing, Nicolle Pangis, President of Real Media, the global marketing technology specialist, emphasised the need to properly evaluate effectiveness across a variety of platforms. She said: "Digital is very different from television. With TV, you can get a tremendous amount of scale, but it is hard to measure the effectiveness. With digital, that measurement can be made, but there is a danger of forgetting the role that creativity has to play."

Despite Pangis's confidence, other delegates still remained concerned as to how best to evaluate effectiveness in the digital sphere, especially in terms of the multi-channel environment. Believing that one size does not fit all, Greg Coleman, President of Criteo, a French digital marketing specialist, said: "The buzz surrounding this topic is enormous, but every reputable company needs to work out a test platform that works with the infrastructure of their individual clients."

The growing trend for multi-screen usage – with consumers frequently watching TV with a tablet, PC or smartphone to hand –has further complicated bids to track online user behaviour. Highlighting the challenge this represents, Dave Madden, Senior Vice President of Global Media Solutions at Electronic Arts, a Los Angeles-based online specialist, said: "We fully expect the cross-screen experience to be the norm. We now estimate that around 34% of people are using other multi-media devices while they are watching TV."

He sees this change in consumer preference as one that requires brands to develop strategies that capitalise on this new environment. One tactic he favours is the integration of brand building activities into gaming applications.

Explaining his thinking, he said: "While playing online games, people are very focussed on the screen: Only 5% of gamers use other devices while they are playing."

In order to turning the gaming experience to commercial advantage, he suggests "supporting" gamers through the provision of a marketing-led bonus. If, for instance, a gamer agrees to watch a short promotional video, they are then rewarded with additional characters, lives or tools that will facilitate their progress in their game of choice.

Alternatively, he said, brands could consider a solution that combined real world activity with digital engagement. As a prime example of this, he cited Pepsi's initiative to distribute digital 'rewards' for online sports games through codes in bottle caps. For a more TV-led approach, he also praised a campaign by Germany's SevenOne Media that saw viewers recording their viewing of certain commercials on their smartphones/tablets. The viewers were then rewarded with "smileys" that were redeemable against specified purchases.

Photo: Multi-screens dominated proceedings at Cologne this year.
Multi-screens dominated proceedings at Cologne this year.

Dmexco 2013 was held from 18-19 September at Koelnmesse GmbH in Cologne. It featured 742 exhibitors and 450 speakers and attracted 26,000 visitors.

Pia Grund-Ludwig, Special Correspondent, Cologne

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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