Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Marketing's new mindset

Brand marketers can now analyse campaigns in real time, but they need more than logic to succeed.

Last week, my daughter introduced me to her friend. Five-year-old Lola had a remarkable habit. So keen and insistent was she to gain your attention, that she would tap you on the forearm. If this failed to have the desired effect, she would tap you on the upper arm. If even this failed, she would repeat the tapping further and further up, until she was patting you on the forehead.

Although initially amusing, I don't have to tell you how quickly this became irritating. Her father observed with weary resignation that she would almost certainly end up in marketing.

Oh ha-ha, you think - a cheap shot at our dignified profession. But is Lola's dad right, or is his an outdated view?

Marketing departments are wrestling with the shift from periodically producing big, set-piece initiatives to continuous activity. Digital has given them the capacity to behaviourally target their ads, deliver personalised creative and be relevant to individuals. Search has given consumers the ability to put up their hand at any time and say 'I am interested in ...' Social media has enabled people to express their thoughts and feelings about brands.

None of this is suited to a campaign approach, and in recent years there has been a sea change in how marketers view communication, with continuous dialogue being the most significant indicator of the transition from organisation-centric to consumer-centric marketing functions.

At the same time, marketers are developing the capability to act in real time. Whereas old-world metrics delivered with a lag of several weeks, now, we can see search volumes, site traffic, buzz and sales pretty much as they happen. This has created two types of opportunity. First, we can truncate the planning cycle and build feedback loops to refine messaging and media as we go along. It can also allow us to alter advertising creative and content in the moment between a user clicking and seeing a page, so they see something our data tells us is more likely to interest them.

Nowhere is this likely to be more powerful than in mobile. The device in your pocket is changing how people consume, giving them better information when in a shop, opening new channels and generating new business. For some sectors, it will push decision-making and bookings later.

As more consumers make direct connections with content made by brands, be it on websites, Twitter, blogs or Facebook, increasingly brand-owners are becoming media owners. Media has long been the biggest cheque most marketers wrote, but few really took the time to understand it. Commoditisation allowed this; but creating and orchestrating content is a new skill many marketers are developing, which requires (and creates) a much deeper understanding of their audience and the way they use media.

All of this demands the ability to manipulate, analyse and understand data in a way that marketers never had to before. But before we get carried away with our charge to the new left-brain/right-brain horizon, there is one thing we should not lose sight of.

For all these new skills, techniques and technologies, no product will succeed if it doesn't get noticed.

So great marketing will continue to attract extroverts; people with personality they want to impose on the world, and who are capable of imbuing brands with the qualities that embed them in our collective conscious.

They just may need to rein in that inclination to tap you on the forehead.

- Andrew Walmsley is a digital pluralist

30 SECONDS ON ... LEFT BRAIN/RIGHT BRAIN THEORY

- The theory of leftor right-brain dominance posits that each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Those who are 'left-brained' are said to be more logical, objective and analytical than the 'right-brained', who tend to be characterised as intuitive, subjective and thoughtful individuals.

- The theory developed from the work of neuropsychologist Roger Wolcott Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1981 for his 'split-brain' research into epilepsy patients who had undergone surgery to sever their corpus callossum, the bundle of fibres that joins the hemispheres of the brain, in an effort to end their seizures.

- His finding that each side of the brain is 'a conscious system in its own right' has contributed significantly to research into the lateralisation of brain function.

- Functions widely associated with the right side include reading and expressing emotions; music; colour; recognising faces; intuition; images; and creativity.

- The left hemisphere is associated with language; numbers; logic; critical thinking; and linear reasoning.

- The reality is not so black-and-white, however. In fact, research by the American Psychological Association has found that our abilities in subjects such as maths are strongest when both brain hemispheres work together.

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