Collaboration is key to a successful digital transformation

By Alex Tait. Originally published in Marketing Week.

This year’s Cannes Lions seems a long time ago already but I wonder how different next year’s event will be.

This was the first time I had attended and although I could justify only a few days there, the festival was well above my expectations in terms of content. The march of technology into the communications industry is, of course, unavoidable. Veterans mentioned that five years ago the event was dominated by creative agencies, but this year the amount of beachfront taken up by tech companies told its own story.

WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell’s description of the evolution of the creative sector from “Mad Men” to “Math Men” is already a cliché, but many advertisers I speak to are still unclear about how best to make this transition in a way appropriate to their sector or business model.

In its sound bite form this is, of course, a big simplification for many advertisers, and the ‘digital first’ model feels distinctly uncomfortable, not just in terms of expertise and knowledge but also of what they find works.

I did observe at Cannes tech providers experiencing a ‘problem’ in communicating with certain sectors and advertisers the need to further embrace digital thinking. For example, if your product or brand is so mass-market that reach is a key metric (as it is for many in FMCG ), TV is usually a staple on the media plan. However, for smarter advertisers looking to exploit data and digital it is logical to evaluate moving further down the purchase funnel. ‘Targeted reach’ seemed to be the buzzwords this year allowing advertisers to do both.

By this, they mean driving relevance and engagement in personalisation and segmentation, as well as achieving reach for the various platforms that claim to be able to deliver it. It will, of course, be obvious to most working on brands or products of this kind that you are unlikely (and, in most cases, would be unwise) to abandon TV, due to its sheer scale and likely return on investment, provided you plan and buy correctly. If adopting targeted reach, it needs to be a complementary approach.

Of course, most brands or sectors perceive the need to accelerate their use of technology. Much of this is evidence-based but fully embracing the business opportunity often takes a leap outside traditional paid, owned and earned digital marketing or comms.

This isn’t anything new for brands that are reported as having embraced digitisation, for instance American Express, Sky or even (I think) to a great extent Coca-Cola .

However, it will be a big leap for some of the types of organisations mentioned above that are still hesitant about digital. I like the phrase Kellogg’s agency Isobar used: “It matters less what you can do in digital than what digital can do for your organisation.” This is in effect marketing for a “digital world” rather than just doing more “digital marketing”. This applies to creativity as well as to business models and, as with all creativity, you need to rely to some extent on intuition to make the initial leap.

Think of how Lego, to coincide with The Lego Movie, launched a website with Google called Build with Chrome where people can construct whatever they like using digital bricks. Or how the company released the Lego Fusion set in the US allowing kids to import 2D models via an app into a 3D world where they could then play with them.

As with many things, the most important part of this is people – their willingness to embrace change, perspective, external orientation and expertise. It is also important to recognise what you don’t know and proactively seek it out. How you structure yourself and your external partners is key and this is a journey we have started in earnest at Kellogg’s, working with our agency partners in a highly collaborative way.