Dmexco is traditionally seen as a marketing technology show, but, this year, one of the main themes was “Lightening The Age Of Transformation.”
The tone was set early on the first morning, when Nigel Morris, chief strategy and innovation officer at the Dentsu Aegis Network, introduced a session specifically about transformation.
“Digital isn’t a channel,” he said. “It’s transformed the rules of the economy. It’s created conditions of perfect competition and made markets transparent. And every business has to be a 100% digital economy business.”
Brands, too, were talking about the need to change. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of P&G, talked about hearing “the rumbles of the next wave of transformation getting louder,” while Alison Lewis, global CMO, consumer companies at Johnson & Johnson, argued the winners in the future would be those companies that took the old marketing playbook and infused it with the new thinking.
Marc Mathieu, CMO of Samsung Electronics America, went even further. “I believe there’s now a completely different relationship between brands and audiences,” he said. “People want to be part of the conversation, and our role as marketers is to give them that greater involvement.”
Morris described what brands need to do in this changed environment as “engineering back from the consumer to the brand.” But, perhaps, the best description of what it all means came from Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital. “We’re making old companies new again,” she said. “Companies have to integrate everything to create a new experience.”
The Value Of Experience
Speakers across the conference agreed that customer experience was now the key battleground. The clearest illustration of this came from Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times Company. Talking about how people expect their smartphones to deliver what they want the moment they want it, he argued that all publishers had to aspire to delivering a customer experience that was seamless and “just works.” But, without that basic functionality, nothing else will happen.
Customers, he argued, are willing to pay for content, and to engage with advertising, but “the functionality and the experience have to be perfect, or that won’t work.”
The Next Step
With widespread agreement across the conference that the customer is now in charge, discussions understandably focused on what brands needed to do to respond.
Several speakers highlighted the need for brands to have a compelling purpose behind what they do, both as a way of signalling the brand’s authenticity, and as a way of motivating employees.
Jean-Marc Pailhol, head of group market management & distribution/chief marketing & distribution officer at insurance giant Allianz, described his business’s approach to purpose: “To know where you have to go, you have to know where you come from.” For Allianz, for example, brand purpose doesn’t mean selling insurance, but rather supporting risk-takers.
Other speakers talked about the importance of innovation.
“We can’t just deliver what’s expected,” Suzanne Darmory, executive creative director at Zeta, said. “We have to innovate because, if we don’t, we’re going backwards.”
Deloitte Digital’s Hatch went further, describing creativity and the ability to innovate as the most important business skill of the 21st century. But she also acknowledged that, with the need to be innovative, comes the possibility of failure.
The secret to surviving failure, she said, is “to think big, but test small. The difference between failure that’s a waste of time and failure that’s a stepping stone is learning. You can be brave without being stupid, and the key to that is persistent learning.”
Hatch also advised delegates to create a “Day-one plan”—to think about what they would do if today were the first day of their business and they were starting with a clean slate.
Similar advice came from Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation marketing officer. He recommended thinking about what a new person would do if they started in your job. “What do you do that they would keep?” he asked. “What would they do that you wouldn’t, and what would you both think you should do, but they would do and you wouldn’t?”
Integrate To Innovate
The other aspect of transformation that was widely discussed during the conference was organisational structure, and the need to break down silos within the business. Adobe’s VP platform & products, Suresh Vittal Kotha, described one of the values of the adoption of AI—another key theme of the event. In order for AI to deliver to its full potential for a business, it needs to operate across all the business’s data, so one of the crucial pre-adoption steps is to integrate functions and data sources. And the single customer view created by doing so allows other new ideas and approaches to be adopted.
The other organisational question that speakers across the event agreed on was the need to spread the responsibility for innovation across the whole business, rather than housing it in an innovation department. Visa’s Curtin described it as thinking more about adjectives and less about nouns, about being an innovative company rather than having an innovation team.
He was also one of a number of people to warn against allowing routine to set in, that businesses had to constantly think about innovation, about working smart rather than hard.
“It takes a lot of bravery to revisit the ground you’re standing on, especially if you’ve been successful on it,” agreed Deloitte Digital’s Hatch. “But you have to challenge what you do on a daily basis.”
This was the point made by Morris from Dentsu Aegis at the start of the conference—that we’re only at the beginning of the digital age, and the transformation will continue. That transformation will be driven by customers, and the need for brands to keep up with it was summed up by Zeta’s Darmory: “Unless we’re talking to consumers in the way they want, we’re just talking at them.”