As part of Marketing's series to mark 25 years since Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web, April Redmond, chief marketing officer of Kerry Foods and former senior Coke marketer, remembers how her boss once scoffed at the potential of the internet.
I’ve been in dotcom since before dotcom was cool. Back in my early career, I vividly remember a meeting when I was trying to explain the potential for how people would use the internet in the future to my boss.
I excitedly said 'people will listen to music and watch videos on it'. He flippantly replied 'kind of like the radio and TV then!'.
I left the meeting feeling stupid but a big part of me knew the internet would change the world. And so it has.
Human connection is a big part of what makes life worth living and the internet has enabled a level of social sharing and connection that is unprecedented. I am an ex pat American who has spent a good part of my adult life overseas but thanks to tools like Skype, Facebook, and WhatsApp, I still feel really connected to my family and friends back home.
From a marketing point of view, we have not even begun to see how a hyper-connected society will alter the way that brands grow. The majority of our interactions with the world are now recorded in bits and bytes and marketing as a function will increasingly be judged by how well it extracts meaningful insight from the tsunami of digital data that is being created - and how well it turns that insight into a commercial opportunity for growth. On that front, FMCG marketing is well behind the curve.
I remember a meeting in the 1980s where I was trying to explain the potential of the internet to my boss. 'People will listen to music and watch videos on it'. He flippantly replied: 'Kind of like the radio and TV then!'
Over the years, FMCG marketers have wasted a lot of money by not taking time to really understand how to best engage with people in a digital space. In the early days, brands poured millions into building whizzy websites that in reality only touched a small number of consumers.
Now brands are doing the same thing with social media. How many brand managers do you know who see Facebook likes as a marker of a job well done? Trust me, a few thousand Facebook likes has very little to do with driving brand growth or delivering a credible return on investment.
I was recently with a brand manager who was bragging to me about the effectiveness of his social media strategy. I asked him for the evidence and he pointed to a few thousand Facebook likes. I asked how much he reckoned he had spent with Facebook and other related activities and we divided that number by the number of likes. The return on investment was not pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. Sadly, I expect that scenario is not unusual in the world of FMCG.
The internet will change things for better - and also for worse
I predict the CV of future marketing directors will look a lot more like that of a Google techno nerd than that of a classically trained P&G marketer
In the future, the winners will be those who use the bits and bytes to create more meaningful connections with people and those that do so with enough scale to make the financial investment that is required worthwhile.
I predict that social media will become a much bigger contributor to marketing ROI than TV in time. I also predict the CV of future marketing directors will look a lot more like that of a Google techno nerd than that of a classically trained P&G marketer.
But then again, I also predicted the demise of Ugg boots a few years ago, which seem to be more popular than ever judging from the high street. So what the hell do I know!
All I really know for sure, if I have learned anything over the years, is that the internet will change things in ways that we can never expect or predict, for better and probably also for worse.
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