Going digital: boffins’ brains picked on how to get organisational buy-in

The humans are digitising. And the adspend is following suit. Hell, you can even get fridges that connect to the internet these days. So, given that it’s still considered by many to be a rather intimidating, mysterious realm, it’s not surprising to find that the marcomms community can’t get enough of that educational digital stuff. As such, the Marketing Association/Jericho’s Brainy Breakfast gathered together a few of the country’s successful digital exponents to offer some of their insights and tell marketers how they can convince their corporate gatekeepers to fully embrace digital marketing.

Digital used to be on the periphery. But Tui Fleming, multi-channel marketing manager for The Warehouse, says it’s now everywhere and it’s integral. In New Zealand, 92.5 percent of the population are now online. And it’s only just starting. Some estimates show three to five times more people will log on to the internet via their mobile than via desktop in a few years and mobile payment for offline purchases, like ASB’s Pago, which has actually been around for a few years, is a burgeoning digital area. Also, with things like Sixth Sense, a “wearable gestural interface” that allows you to use your hands to project digital information onto anything, this is where things could be heading in the future.

Fleming spoke (very quickly) about how she was able to get organisational buy-in, find the necessary resources and deal with turf wars over digital responsibilities in what she described as a fairly difficult digital journey from “cowboy to cultured” for The Warehouse’s e-commerce site.

At the start, she says the online store was seen as a drop in the ocean compared to its bricks and mortar retail business, so it wasn’t considered a big priority. This meant her team of seven had to start it and complete it largely in a silo that was separate from the rest of the business.

To get buy-in and eventually have digital marketing taken seriously by the powers that be, she says it’s important to identify the pain points and then take them away. For her, the existing teams were concerned about how the website would increase their workload, so her team wrote all the content and took a lot of the product photos. There was also a fear that the website would canibalise existing retail sales went, so she made a point of showing whether products were available instore on the website.

It was also about convincing those in different departments that the website was another marketing channel. The Warehouse mailer is still King, she says. But the best way to change the minds of the non-believers was to point to its suceess. In the case of The Warehouse, the website, which draws 400,000 visitors per month and up to one million over Christmas, attracted more young and higher socio economic visitors, which generally aren’t core groups in the bricks and mortar operations. So, rather than cannibalising, it actually tapped into new retail markets.

There’s still plenty of separation, however. And there’s still plenty of work required before digital is fully integrated with the existing, traditional and powerful marketing channels. Once again, she says it’s all about proving that it works so she had to show how the relationship between offline marketing and online sales was linked (higher TARPS, for example, equal higher web visits).

“Digital is not new media. Take it out of the shadows. Make it real. Start the conversation and keep the momentum going,” she says.

Rebecca Smith, marketing consultant and former head of business communications at Telecom, had plenty of good, practical and entertaining advice in her presentation (although, as MC and NZMA e-marketing chair Michael Carney quipped, she probably could have called it ‘The seven secrets to sneaking things through’).

Her first piece of advice was to stop doing something right now. Of course, it’s very hard for marketers to stop doing things they’ve always done. So how do you know what to stop? The answer, she says, is to look very critically at everything you do and ask what would happen if it was stopped. With Telecom Business, she stopped search marketing for a month, which saved $60,000 to use somewhere else. After that website visitors were down, but sales didn’t change, so she says this meant the wrong people were being attracted to it.

She doesn’t believe succeeding in the digital space is reliant on increasing headcount. It’s something she thinks should be seen as a university project; a chance to change the learning environment and the working dynamic among an existing team. You just need really good communicators, a lot of personal time and a willingness to learn, she says.

So what about the sceptics? And the lack of resources? If you’re in a big business, she says it’s easy to get caught up in that “loop of non-approval”. So her advice is simple: go around it. Ignore the bosses and do it anyway (and if you are pitching, tailor the pitches for each project and ensure it meets the specific demands). Dedicated online teams are usually overworked and under-resourced, so it’s about finding other ways to get things done, like, in her case, paying someone outside the company $5000 to build a WordPress website.

Another of her wise digital pearls was to focus first on a high-profile low risk project (hers was the small business section on The Herald). If that’s successful, it means you can usually keep the other ten projects you’ve tried under the radar. “If the projects work, tell the boss about it in your monthly report,” she says.

All the ‘behind the backery’ that seems to be required shows that digital still has some way to go before it’s seen as a full-blown legitimate marketing channel. But to ensure it keeps going in the right direction, she says it’s important to be unerringly enthusiastic, because if you’re sitting on the fence, everyone else will be sitting on the fence with you.

As for the elderly elephant in the room, she busted the myth that digital is a Gen Y gig with a few stats that showed the old folk are heading online at a rapid rate too (for example, the age of the average social network user is 37 and 64 percent of Twitter users are over 35).

Smith starting off her presentation by saying that if any of the audience weren’t on Twitter or Linkedin, they shouldn’t be in the room, and, strangely, the last speaker, Richard Manthel, managing director at Robert Walters recruitment firm, was one of those people. He spent the first few minutes of his presentation talking about how little he knew about social media and digital (although he had delved into it for a few weeks as part of his research for the presentation), but then proceeded to give the audience advice about social media and digital.

Mostly, Manthel’s speech was an exercise in stating the obvious (ie as digital continues to rise, employees with digital expertise are becoming more sought after, which means it’s a growing area for recruiters and marketing teams). There were certainly more than a few sniggers and furrowed brows when someone who obviously didn’t know too much about the topic started dishing out hints and tips (like checking out the “cool new website” Posterous.com, which has been around since 2008, or being bold and just not worrying what the legal team had to say) to an audience that were presumably pretty well-versed in the digital arts.

Still, if there was one consistent message, the only way digital will become normal is time, results and bit of moderately duplicitous experimentation.

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