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Five things I learnt at The Festival of Marketing 2014

Posted by Ian McKee on 19th November 2014

I made it over to East London for the Festival of Marketing last week. It was a triumphant event, brought to you by the people behind Econsultancy and Marketing Week, with the great and the good of the UK marketing industry under one roof (or was it several? I couldn’t tell in the labyrinth that is Tobacco Docks).

The overarching themes getting talked about most regularly were fairly predictable; customer experience, content and optimising marketing for cost efficiency. I did learn a few newer things though.

1. Marketing hasn’t changed

Sure, we have innumerably more digital tools, channels, access to new swathes of data, but at its core marketing remains the same. That was the argument put forward by Simon Carter of Fujitsu in his seminar on the changing face of B2B marketing.

The promise of marketing automation tools (for example) is more personalised communication. But what really happens is lazy marketers just adopt these tools for what they were doing before; throwing enough s**t at the wall to see what sticks.

Simon’s argument was that these tools can only be useful when you go back to the fundamental aim of understanding the customer, and communicating your message clearly.

2. Measurement is getting very, very advanced

One of the points Simon made was about the great promise of digital marketing enabling everything to be tracked and measured. A promise on which it mostly fails to deliver on.

So it was interesting to hear Dan Michelson of O2 explain how the company is using marketing attribution technology to go way beyond ‘last click’ models of measurement. Dan painted a picture of a company that was at one point ‘optimising itself out of digital’. They had focused so much on the channels that deliver sales at the point of the click, that they were losing the more hidden values of other channels and messages.

He then explained how through sophisticated attribution, they’d even started to put a value on brand messaging (service based communications), where previously the pressure had always been about using trade messaging (price, value and offers).

To me this marks a bit of a maturation of the web, where so much marketing and monetisation is focused on driving value through numbers, we forget about messages and any artistry. It’s also good news for channels like PR, where we’ve long been saying that brand messaging is still important.

3. Want to engage as a presenter? Use cat GIFs

That’s what BuzzFeed UK’s Philip Byrne did, to great effect. Although I’m pretty sure the cats were just to keep us interested at the end of a long day, there was plenty of insight in there too.

In a sense, BuzzFeed is the signifier of the maturation of the web I mentioned earlier. It gets a lot of stick, and yes it is very focused on metrics, but the way it achieves those metrics is not by looking at a spreadsheet and picking the top terms. The BuzzFeed approach is actually about creating content with emotional appeal to niche audiences, crafting the right messages that chime with people and giving them a reason to share. As Philip explained, the primary reasons we share things online are inspiration, information (when something is informative), humour and empathy (e.g. issues of human rights).

There is a lot for brands to learn here. If brands are to become the new publishers, they need to understand these principles and craft content accordingly. Most fundamentally this means not attempting to be all things to all men. My favourite example of this given by Philip being ‘beware the bowling ball’, referring to Homer Simpson putting his name on a bowling ball and giving it to Marge – meaning don’t just pick whatever you think is cool that day and stick your name on it.

4. Content and commerce are merging

Which brings me to the brand side of this equation and Laura Wade of Marks and Spencer. Laura used her closing headliner speech to talk about the UK’s beloved brand’s shift to ecommerce from a logistical point of view, but also covered how the brand is now taking a content-led approach to its online portal.

This is in part driven by the fact that M&S customers apparently do a lot of researching online and buying in store, or vice versa. So it’s important to give them a lot to chew on when they’re on site. But I think it’s also being driven by the need for brands to position themselves as publishers to really keep customers interested.

5. Centaur has some deep pockets

The last thing I learnt was more of a thought about the event itself. In amongst all of the speakers I’ve mentioned here were the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Tulisa and Professor Green. It was quite clear that the organisers were trying to create something big and glitzy, which merged the worlds of music and entertainment with marketing and technology. Which is a very valiant aim but I’m not entirely sure how successfully it was achieved.

As much as I love Wiggo, he didn’t have a lot to say about marketing, and Professor Green wasn’t that insightful either. I’m assuming that these bookings cost a pretty penny, and wondering whether something more could be done with them (or the dosh?) to create value for the audience. Perhaps the organisers could learn a little from Philip Byrne’s point about not just picking whatever’s cool that day and slapping your name on it.

Photo via @TJRHackett

Ian McKee

Ian started out his career working in travel PR, working for tourist boards, airlines and hotel groups. Whilst there he carved out a position as a digital communications expert, managing social media, SEO and email marketing campaigns for clients.