Mike Berry gave this interview ahead of his trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka to present a 1-Day Seminar,  ‘Marketing In The Digital Age’.


Q. Your show is about the best, effective digital campaigns. Can you generalize – what are the key success factors of digital marketing campaigns?

A. Digital has made a massive difference to marketing, particularly as regards the technical skills needed to make the most of the new communications platforms, but deep down the fundamentals are pretty much unchanged. The role of the CMO is the same as in the days of ‘Mad Men’ (the US TV Show about a 1960s US ad agency). It follows that successful digital marketing campaigns share certain common characteristics viz. being true to the brand, driven by sound strategy and cut-through creative ideas and also technical/ production excellence. All of these are necessary to make the most of the ‘new’ media. For The Best Of Digital Show, we monitor over 200 Marketing Awards globally and select cases which demonstrate the best business results rather than ‘cool’ creative or technology for their own sake. For me, the most exciting examples of digital marketing are those which communicate a universal brand truth whilst reaching the end user at every appropriate touchpoint which could be on their mobile phone, tablet, computer, but equally it might be via newspaper, billboard or direct mail. It gets really interesting when you combine old and new media for maximum ROI. Today’s best marketing directors and agency planners are (of course) web-savvy, but truly media neutral both in strategy and execution. We’ve included several of the very best recent examples in the Best Of Digital show.

Q. In Sri Lanka, almost half of Internet users access the net via mobile phone. How should marketers design their campaigns based on that knowledge?

A. We are now getting a little tired of the ‘experts’ predicting ‘The Year of Mobile’. Mobile is here and now and is growing rapidly. Sri Lanka is no exception. We are seeing better handsets with more functionality and better networks resulting in a vastly improved user experience on mobile devices. Of course, the iPad has been a real game-changer (as the iPhone was) but we now have Android tablets including Kindle Fire which are genuine competitors to the Apple devices. A generation of internet users is growing up with little or no PC experience. This trend is set to continue. For marketers, this means they should be thinking mobile; both in terms of their current website rendering on mobile devices and but also to take advantage of location-based targeting opportunities. Ultimately, marketers need to ensure that their brand is accessible and consistently available to their customers and potential customers at any time via any device which is convenient for the customer, not the brand owner.

Q. Internet penetration in SL is less than 20%, but growing very rapidly. In a few years’ time it will probably reach the critical mass of 50%. Based on the experience of UK market – how does that influence marketing activities?

A. The latest figures I have seen for Sri Lanka indicate 2,503,194 internet users as of December 31st 2011 i.e. 11.8% of the population. This is lower than the penetration for Asia (26.2%) and also lower than global internet penetration (32.7%). At the same time, GDP is growing at over 9% per annum. This indicates a massive opportunity for marketers in Sri Lanka who take steps now to ‘digitise’ their business and especially to gear up for the explosion in mobile internet consumption. In the UK, we now have 84.1% internet penetration (although not your economic growth!) and it’s still growing; we are seeing virtually every market sector being disrupted by consumers and business decision makers’ usage of the web. In particular, researching online (mainly via Google) is routine before any major purchase and even FMCG brands are finding that their offline activity (e.g. TV, print, outdoor) drives online search. As a result, UK brands and their agencies are embedding digital both within their strategic marketing planning and their creative campaigns. I predict Sri Lankan marketers will follow a similar path.

Q. What is the main role of social media in marketing? Can you give examples of successful social media campaigns that have resulted in business success?

A. Social media is still the ‘new kid on the block’ and in the US and Europe, social media ‘gurus’ are attracting crowds whenever they speak. However, the voices questioning return on investment (ROI) are getting louder. The next phase of the expansion of social media will involve more specific KPIs and more sophisticated use of social analytics to measure success and evaluate return on resources committed, both financial and time-based. This will put Social Media Marketing on a more solid basis which is long overdue. We are also seeing a growth in ‘social listening’ in a systematic attempt to monitor sentiment and there is widespread usage of services including Radian6, Sysomos, and of course Google Alerts. Several major organisations (e.g. Cisco, IBM and even the US Air Force) have published their social media/ blogging policies to communicate best practice in a spirit of transparency. The new Facebook business timeline has given brands a great opportunity to create branded spaces on this high traffic platform. I particularly like the Facebook pages of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Starbucks. Disney has also had some success with F-Commerce (online sales straight from Facebook) which is an exciting new opportunity for many brands.

Q. What is your prediction – what will be the main trends and developments in digital marketing in the nearest future?

A. I see three major trends for the coming months and years:

a. Mobile

As outlined in my earlier reply, mobile is exploding both in terms of mobile internet and location-based applications. There is no sign to the end of this growth driven by advances in technology and changes in user behaviour. Android (from Google) is now firmly established as a major competitor to IoS (iPhone, iPad). I predict that Windows Mobile (in partnership with Nokia) will emerge as the third major player in the smartphone market. In hardware, Samsung keeps announcing record results and I might also buy shares in HTC and China’s Huawei.

b. Social

Facebook’s drive towards world domination continues with growth in Africa and Asia compensating for apparent saturation in North America and Europe. Not every country wants a US social network but the local clones are also doing great business. The underlying fundamental behavioural change, driven first by MySpace and now by Facebook and Twitter, shows no signs of diminishing. We are increasingly sharing more and more content with more and more contacts. This requires re-evaluation of the definitions of publisher, reader and author. For brands it requires a willingness to relinquish some control. It also means that both good and bad news travels faster than ever before.

c. Privacy

The CMO’s job has always been to get the right message to the right individual at the right time and media planners have always used whatever tools were available to them. With the web, we have an unprecedented opportunity to observe and learn from user behaviour, interests and preferences and target marketing communications accordingly. The big question is how users will feel about brand owners capturing, storing and exploiting such ‘personal’ data, even in aggregated form. There is an increasing lobby arguing for restrictions on behavioural targeting and re-targeting. The new European Privacy Law aims to restrict usage of cookies; key markets including the UK, France and Germany are awaiting clarification and possibly test cases. When consumers get concerned, politicians frequently feel the need to be seen to be acting. It is up to the digital marketing industry to prove the benefits of responsible use of consumer (and business) data, including more appropriate targeting and less wastage and irritation. This debate will run and run over the years ahead.

Overall, today’s marketers in Sri Lanka, and in many other parts of the world, are operating in a time of unprecedented change and also opportunity. It’s a really exciting time to be in (digital) marketing. I’m looking forward to my trip to Colombo.