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A Marketer today requires to have the skills of an Editor: Simon Clift

Simon Clift, Touch Branding

As digital impacts everything in its wake, marketers are required to almost respond in real time to the manner in which consumers are reacting to brands and their messaging. According to Simon J Clift, Former CMO of Unilever and Chairman of Touch Branding, the new age marketer needs to embrace the skillsets of an editor who is refreshing content constantly in order to not only keep the consumer engaged but also respond to, and hence influence, a consumer’s relationship with the brand. In a quick chat with DMA, Clift speaks on some of the things that are changing in fundamental ways, courtesy digital.

Can marketers truly embrace the fact that consumer is indeed king. Marketers have dominated commercial messaging for the longest time and they still use words such as bursts or target groups, which almost borders on war terminology…
The question is still very valid despite all that we hear around us. When I started as a young marketer, the job was much more like, if I can use the analogy, bowling. You had your skittles, you lined them up and you targeted them with your medium. You launched the bowl, which would be media, on the skittles, your target, and you knocked over three or four. You could then take stock, regroup, measure what you hit and then have another go at it to hit the other six. These days with digital media and the change in relationship between brands and consumers, it is much more like the pinball machine. A marketer launches something and if he is very lucky, he gets some chance to intercede or influence the impact on target. The skills required by a marketer these days are much more fast-moving like an editor. It is constant refreshment of content and reacting to how consumers think about brands. Marketers need to have editorial skills today.

The old school of marketing, where things were slow and measured and on your own terms, is no longer relevant. Consumers and marketers have to change the way they interact and that represents a massive cultural and technical challenge for marketers. They were brought up one way and are now expected to learn and behave in a different way. From a talk-down approach, these days it is genuinely a balanced relationship and many companies are finding it very difficult to make that part of their culture yet.

Another area of interest for marketers has been measurement in digital. As people move away from measured metrics in digital, to also increase spends in the medium, the famous ‘unidentified half of wasted advertising dollars’ seem to be an outcome. Do you think that is a concern?
Not a day goes by without someone sharing some new means of measuring digital effectiveness. In theory, digital is more measurable than any other medium and there are millions of tools to do so. That doesn’t mean to say that marketers are going to embrace those tools because measuring returns on investment and media effectiveness is kind of much tedious than making fun advertising and implementing great creative ideas. I come from the company that was known for saying ‘I know half of my advertising is wasted, it is a question of identifying which half’. In the future, there would be less excuse for that to happen. But marketers being what marketers are, I suspect the amount of attention in measuring effectiveness will still be lesser than it should be.

Everything is digital now. When will we get to the stage when we stopped describing something as ‘digital’ and just called it for was what it was?
For some media, I prefer not to call it digital, because as you said, digital is all media. People still like to call it new media, when it really should be just media. Digital is affecting everything. But it is useful shorthand to help focus people’s attention away from traditional medium. Media like television is not going to die and we are seeing it being integrated with digital. People expected at some point that television was going to die because you could watch everything on your computer screen, in the privacy of your own room. The reality is that today, people are beginning to sit around a huge, digitally linked, ultra hi-tech, digital television screen as a family. Everyone also has a mobile phone or tablet at the same time, and it has contributed to digitally enhancing the television viewing experience.

Print has not seen similar fate though, at least in news media. It is said that one of reasons why Washington Post had to go through a sale (to Amazon owner Jeff Becoz) was because it lacked a sound digitally relevant strategy…
It is fair to say that. Everybody knew that newspapers are selling fewer. But you have examples of papers, such as The Times of London, that have been very successful in translating to a digital strategy. Brands do not have a god-given right to survive. Things change and if you did not keep up with the change, then you suffer from it. That is perhaps one of the reasons why Washington Post was interested in Jeff Becoz because he may be able to inject some sort of foresight, some sense of urgency and a direction of understanding how consumers use media these days. There may be salvation in the brand through his expertise rather than just his money.