Performance happens at the intersection of content, media, technology and data. But as the world becomes increasingly digitalised, marketers are experiencing two opposing dynamics that require an increased focus on both specialisation - which often creates departmental siloes - and integration, which aims to break down these siloes.
The first dynamic is a fragmented one; people are consuming more media in more places than ever before, and the rate of change and complexity within each touchpoint is only growing. For brands to deliver true value, there is a need for deep-rooted specialists that arrive from the departmentalisation of areas of expertise (search, analytics, programmatic, e-commerce, social, etc.).
The second dynamic, and what we should be striving for, is 'connectedness'. Everything - including people, media, content and data - has become inter-connected and inter-dependent. The most successful brand communications are those that link bought, owned and earned touchpoints seamlessly together, delivering value to both consumers and brands greater than the sum of its parts.
Delivering connected communications and products is extremely difficult when organisations are made up of so many different disjointed departments, all working to different KPIs and goals. Conversely, organisations that are too focused on integration often lose the specialism needed to be true experts in every field, and risk being quickly beaten by competitors.
The most successful brands are the ones that have built the specialism needed to deliver every pound of value from touchpoints that are becoming increasingly complex, while at the same time understanding that real creativity happens when different people from different disciplines provide input on what others do. These brands understand that collaboration results in better communications, products, and services.
Brands that have been able to deliver this way of thinking have organised around people, not products - leveraging audiences, limited resources, and technology to drive true performance. These brands have embraced the digital economy, which is not just about digital media, but about audiences and the relationship they have with brands.
Understanding audiences is key not only to breaking down departmental siloes, but also in future-proofing a brand’s success. In the digital economy, what brands are today is not necessarily what they will become tomorrow.
Who's doing it well?
If you look at a brand like Google - or more correctly the multinational conglomerate Alphabet - you can see its focus is primarily on monetising the audiences they have created through being the world's largest search engine.
At its core, Google will remain the primary revenue driver of Alphabet, and to do that search will always be one of Google and Alphabet’s most valuable specialisms. But while there will be a continued focus on growing search and all the other products that fit within the Google ecosystem, the audiences that use these products and services are a springboard to new revenue streams that would never be considered if planned in isolation.
With over one billion Google searchers globally, this audience has created a unique opportunity for Google to think of its users not as just people who use search engines, but as unique individuals who partake in many different activities and cultures. Taking this perspective and acting upon it, Google has been able to introduce new products and services - such as Nest, Fiber and Calico - that have nothing to do with search, but have been identified as products that meet an unmet need through Google’s understanding of people.
Striking a balance
We are seeing this understanding of audiences being the key drivers of the most successful brands in the digital economy, such as Uber, Google, Apple, Airbnb, and Facebook. Each of these has found the balance between the specialism required to deliver a product or service that is in fact incredibly complex, and how their products and services connect people together. This in turn has created new opportunities for successful business growth, whether that is Uber’s EAT, Facebook’s Personal Assistant, or Apple Music.
As marketers, we have talked about being consumer-centric for as long as planning has existed. However, there is a difference in being consumer-centric and understanding people, not as consumers of brands and products, but as people who partake in individual activities and cultures.
By understanding people as individuals, we are able to organically introduce a brands’ products and services at times that people are most likely to be interested, across bought, owned and earned touchpoints. This approach naturally breaks down departmental siloes, enabling teams to share audiences across departments, which in turn allows brands to not only deliver a more integrated approach to communications, but also identify future revenue streams that may not exist today.
Being product-focused created departmental siloes; being audience-focused inspires collaboration and new ways of thinking.