By Kenneth Evans

In the age of technology, social media, influencers and the steady decline of conventional media, it’s clear that new marketing strategies involving non-traditional advertising should be the direction brands should be considering. Yet are chief marketing officers (CMOs) shifting their strategies accordingly?

This is what we set out to answer when APEX PR, ruckus Digital and research partner MaruBlue launched the CMO Lab (http://cmolab.ca/) project in fall 2018. Our motivation was to determine if Canada’s marketers are genuinely keeping up with the pace of change.

Alas, the results were not what we expected. The CMO Lab revealed that only one-third of Canada’s CMOs have changed or evolved their strategies in the last few years.

There are a few reasons as to why there’s been a slower shift to a more digitally directed marketing approach. Canadian operations are often viewed as satellite offices of their parent foreign companies, with budgets and campaigns determined by the head offices, thereby putting their Canadian marketers in a more transactional position. Some organizations are still relatively siloed and are not prone to collaboration between divisions. For others it’s the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, convinced there’s more risk than reward when it comes to switching things up.

But conventional marketing no longer delivers the audience, engagement or impact that brands need today. And it’s evident that marketers who are unable to shift from traditional tactics to a strategic and integrated approach are putting their organizations’ brand reputations and customer loyalty at risk.

Facing the fork in the road
What are the one-third of senior-level marketers doing right? Those who’ve changed their approach are engaging with their audience in more holistic ways, using an integrated communications strategy and collaborating with multiple agency partners, all while understanding effective content that works for their brands. Today, there’s a bigger emphasis on digital communications—with more dollars being spent on influencers, video production, social media and paid digital—while still driving earned media coverage.

Rather than work with just one agency, many senior-level marketers have chosen to collaborate with multiple agency partners across creative, media, digital and PR to strategize concepts. The goal for this type of collaboration is to have strengths come from wider networks to execute campaigns in a coherent way, where all channels have strong editorial sensibility. Content has to tell a story to drive engagement and create word of mouth.

When APEX PR and ruckus Digital published its CMO Lab podcast The Pivot, our goal was to dive deeper into the importance of integrated marketing, gaining insights from some of Canada’s top marketers and shining a light on how they have responded to change.

In the non-profit sector, the SickKids Foundation stands out as an organization that’s fully adopted a digital/PR approach for its VS campaign to raise $1.3 billion for a new hospital. In episode one of The Pivot, Lori Davison, vice president of brand strategy and communications, discussed the vitality of the digital approach to reach new donors. The VS platform was designed with the ambition of talking to new audiences, to jolt the potential donors who are sitting on the sidelines. The VS campaign was an incredible success, earning Lori Canada’s Marketer of the Year award from the Canadian Marketing Association in 2017.

Based on our own experience, there’s no doubt that marketers in Canada’s retail sector also fall within the one-third of those who’ve shifted their approach. Walmart Canada is one example of a brand that has successfully collaborated with its multiple agency partners to execute its integrated programming. As a leader in sophisticated integrated communications, the brand also played in the digital space with its unbranded web series, Upstairs Amy.

The three steps to take
Here are three steps to pivot your marketing strategy in order to take full advantage of what digital media can offer to both the customers and the brands.

1 Get integrated. Senior-level marketers should expand their use of integrated communications to further optimize programmes, reach more audiences and stand out from their competitors. By doing so, they will achieve greater consistency of brand messages and enhance consumer engagement, and public and employee engagement, while driving sustainable growth.

2 Scrap the hero agency model. Working with one agency could hinder the creative process. Allowing multiple agencies to participate in the ideation phase reaps better results. With this model, the “big idea” for a narrative can come from anyone. Giving others a chance to form a brand’s narrative and effectively working together on execution paves the way for a rush of new ideas.

3 Tell your story effectively. When developing a content strategy, ensure that the content has editorial sensibility. Strong content puts the consumer first and the brand second on an ongoing basis. Find the right audience and communicate with them at the right time, in the right way.

To learn more about the CMO Lab and to listen to The Pivot podcast, visit CMOLab.ca. Follow the conversation using the #CMOLab hashtag.

Kenneth Evans is managing partner, APEX Public Relations/ruckus Digital (www.apexpr.com).

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