Our thoughts on the Modern Marketing Manifesto

Fjord Family

A little while ago, Econsultancy, the digital marketing and ecommerce network, released its Modern Marketing Manifesto. Masterminded and authored by Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein, it aims to set out a new vision for how marketing should be done in a primarily digital and interactive universe, bringing digital marketing into the traditional fold of the bigger marketing machine.

A manifesto can be important to setting the tone for how we approach our work and can even result in industry-wide shifts; the Cluetrain Manifesto started something groundbreaking in the late 1990s and still feels as fresh today. As such, it’s heartening to see Econsultancy champion a digital approach to marketing, and I’d like to take this opportunity to further the discussion and offer some hopefully useful insights that go beyond simply ensuring that digital marketing is front of mind within the marketing mix.

Below is a deep dive into the Modern Marketing Manifesto from our perspective of Service Design. Naturally enough, we often trumpet the importance of people-centric design thinking, but it’s for a good reason:

1. Strategy – We believe marketers should sit at the board table and help set strategy.

This is one of those opening salvos that many advocates of a new way of thinking start with. Sitting on boards is an easy thing to aspire to; but being there is a difficult, often dirty and controversial business. If we’re serious about setting strategy, we shouldn’t only have the voice of marketing there, we should take a bigger view and have someone up there setting the overall strategy for how the organisation surfaces the needs of real human beings and seeks to get products to market that meet those needs, not just market research and eyeballs. Why not have Design at the table – then you’ve got all bases covered. This argument is covered in greater depth here.

2. Brand – We believe the internet has forced transparency upon brands and businesses. Brands no longer control the media, consumers do. […] In a digital age what modern marketers need most is a strong brand.

I’d argue that what most organisations need is not just a ‘strong’ brand, but it’s an authentic brand that’s thought through digitally, physically and philosophically, and authentic relationships with real people. I think we’re in violent agreement on this one, but the ethos of the brand needs to be manifested in every corner of the organisation that it embodies, not simply articulated in the most compelling way to get people to notice. As designers and marketers, we need to help brands rise to this challenge.

3. Experience – We believe that improving the customer experience must be the relentless focus of modern marketing. Customer experience is about customer centricity as evidenced by the service or product that we deliver across channels. It is about respecting the power and importance of great design.

This is critical. And what this points to is the need for services and products themselves to be developed and designed consciously with branded, authentic customer and user experience at the heart. Again, not just when designing how people will ‘discover’ the thing. Some of the best digital services in recent years haven’t been marketed. At all. And yet they’ve gathered millions of fans. The customer experience is pretty much the most important facet of how companies do business, and doesn’t sit in isolation from any other aspect of the product or service. If we’re serious about ‘experience’, then it’s about a whole lot more than marketing. It starts from the very beginning.

4. Data – We believe data must be turned into insight and action to be a source of customer, competitive and marketing advantage. Data is the bedrock upon which successful research, segmentation, marketing automation, targeting and personalisation are built.

I’d want to posit a slightly less creepy-sounding approach to data. My colleague Matti Keltanen has written an excellent piece for The Guardian on this very topic, which shows a different way to approach data, much more from the point of view of ‘what can we really do with this’ rather than ‘how can we optimise our marketing’. We’re notionally calling this ‘lean data’ and it can be a powerful design tool, not just a targeting and optimisation tool. After all, data exists to help organisations learn in the first place, then predict. And on the flip side, people increasingly want control over their own data.

5. Digital – We believe digital thinking should be embedded in marketing strategies as a matter of course. Digital may not be relevant to every marketing effort but organisations need to properly consider digital and change their culture and processes to become more digitally oriented.

Design is the bigger game here – organisations have to consider digital services and products not just as a communication strategy. Not every organisation will even need to be digital, but most probably will. And the really successful organisations know how to blend online and physical, ultimately meeting the needs of real people, who don’t just exist in a digital bubble, far from it. Digital is most definitely not (just) a channel.

6. Personalisation – In the quest to deliver outstanding brand experiences across channels, we believe that personalisation offers the greatest opportunity to transform what customers currently get. Digital channels in particular allow us to use everything we know about a customer to inform and optimise each interaction. Location, device, screen size, usage characteristics, the weather… we are in an era where we have exciting and powerful new data points to power personalisation.

I’d want to temper this slightly: it’s not about what the technology can enable, it’s about what is relevant for people in their contexts. Tailoring messages and campaigns to be as freakishly close to people’s everyday life as possible can miss the point of data, design and digital in the first place. Our aim should not be to engineer some kind of ‘uncanny valley‘ of marketing, but rather to sensitively provide people with services they need, designed around their contexts, which data, design and digital provide us with the tools to do. There’s a reason why many designers yawn or cringe when you mention Minority Report…

And being purely pragmatic, ‘personalisation’ is a very easy term to throw around, but very, very hard to deliver on. You don’t really have an idea until you’ve defined the input/output rules and the algorithm that makes it happen.

7. Technology – We do not believe technology is a solution in itself. Technology is an enabler. But modern marketers must be comfortable and adept at procuring and using technology to their best advantage.

Not just marketers, but anybody in the modern organisation needs to learn this. The world of massive systems, CIO budgets and multi-year outsourcing deals will probably not go away; our approach to launching new products and services should evolve to best leverage the technology at our disposal (writ large), not just to be constrained by the fact that we have a CIO organisation. Great products and services come from collaboration, not from handing stuff over to the tech guys to build them. But taking a slight step back, it does feel really strange to be talking about ‘technology’ almost like it’s a scary ‘Other’ – it’s just how business is done now – we need to be more specific about what we mean – after all there’s nothing that any business does now that doesn’t involve technology.

8. Creative – We believe we need creativity just as much as we need technology. We need storytelling just as much as we need data. We believe in the power of emotions and the irrational just as much as the rational.

Hey, we’re designers, so naturally enough we agree! Creativity is not just about how things look and feel, it’s about what connections can be made.

9. Content – We believe that content marketing and the focus on owned and earned media represents a fundamental shift in marketing that is more than a fad. Content is more than just words, pictures or video. Games, apps, events, APIs and so on deliver rich content experiences too.

The whole ‘content marketing’ phenomenon is interesting. Content is important for sure, as long as it’s not optimised drivel or mass produced, written simply to get clicks and drive leads. This goes back to the Brand point above. It’s difficult to get people to take an interest in what you write (or produce), especially if it’s to be authentic. The Modern Marketing Manifesto feels pretty authentic, but few companies talk so frankly and openly. They should.

10. Multi-screen – We believe that the mobile revolution is only just beginning. But we see beyond just ‘mobile’. TVs are screens, books are screens, in-store kiosks are screens, billboards are screens.

As designers, a lot of the work we do is inherently multi-screen, because that’s just everyday reality now for people. And what’s even more interesting is stuff that doesn’t even have screens, but which connect with things that do, the most famous current example being the Nike+ FuelBand, but closely followed by a number of home automation solutions currently being developed.[s1]

11. Social – We believe social media is about changing our business culture, the ways we work and the ways we engage with our colleagues and customers. It is about creating businesses that have social in their DNA.

This is indeed an important consideration, but shouldn’t be limited to just ensuring that brands and campaigns have an element of social, else it misses the point. It’s more about understanding people and their context, part of which for sure is social. But not trying to muscle in on the conversation or do something that feels forced.

12. Commercial – We believe modern marketers have to be commercial. This means knowing the P&L backwards. It means knowing where money is being made and why. It means knowing how to measure and optimise key commercial metrics. Marketers can, and should, take increasing responsibility for revenue targets.

Refreshing to hear this. When I was taken on by Fjord to do something called ‘business design’ my remit was basically to bring a sense of commercial viability to the design work that Fjord produces, basically to ensure that we design for real people, and real business targets in tandem. This point comes down to measurement and success, and aligning our design principles and user needs to a sense of commercial objective. If we measure purely on commercial targets, we’ll miss a trick; if we measure purely on non-commercial targets, the same applies. The ‘balanced scorecard‘ approach can also apply to design.

So that’s my take on the Modern Marketing Manifesto. It’s starting a great debate, and that’s what we need to break down some barriers and get this right.

(this post was authored by John Oswald with a fair bit of help from Matti Keltanen)

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