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The Changing Face of Marketing Communication

Over the last 30 years I’ve spent working in marketing communications many things have changed. A month or so ago I was invited by the lovely people at CommunicateTV to join their podcast series – Reflections on the Changing Face of Marketing. In this podcast I reflect on the changes I’ve seen and offer some thoughts on the future.

Podcast transcript

DAVE HARRIES, COMMUNICATETV – You’re listening to Reflections on the Changing Face of Communications with me Dave Harries and today joining me in the studio is Teresa Harris. Teresa is a freelance marketing expert, has been doing marketing for a long time but what I really want to ask you about today Teresa is how those challenges have changed over the years as communication has developed. But before we do all that, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into this sort of marketing world.

TERESA HARRIS, SECOND OPINION MARKETING – Well, I have been working in the marketing arena now for, it must be the best part of 30 years. I started out initially in marketing research so I have a background in the facts and figures and always still look to that actually when I am working on any marketing communications project. I started out working for large companies. I worked in the old days for Midlands Electricity Board as they were called then. I worked for a number of different organisations but always in the service sector, not really marketing a product you could see or feel so selling electricity, training or legal services. More recently, for the last best part of sixteen years now, I have had my own marketing consultancy Second Opinion Marketing and I think things have changed obviously over the thirty years but I would say they have changed most dramatically for me over the last 7-10 years certainly since I had my own business. Since I started my own business the role of the internet in marketing has really taken off. I can remember my first job at MEB we had I think one computer for about fifteen of us and now obviously we all carry a computer around in our pocket in the form of our mobile phone which gives us access to all kinds of information and from a business point of view being accessible in that way is absolutely essential.

DAVE HARRIES – When you’re advising, you know, different clients which presumably come from very different backgrounds, different industries, different sectors and so on is it very much about trying to figure out where their market is so that you can apply the right form of digital technology, I suppose is what I’m saying?

TERESA HARRIS – Absolutely Dave, I think the first thing is when I’m working with a client I try to get to know the client as well as I can. I suppose I’m more interested in their clients or their customers. If I can understand who they are trying to reach and what message it is they are trying to communicate, then we can start to overlay on that the vehicles that we might use; whether we use a website, whether we use podcast, video, whether actually traditional media is more appropriate.

One of the interesting things I would say over the last twelve months is I think traditional media is starting to see a little bit of a resurgence because five or ten years ago direct mail was kind of the only way to reach people personally. Nowadays you can reach people personally with a text message, with an advert on Facebook or any other number of other different ways. But people are rebelling against that and technology actually allows you to switch that stuff off a little bit more easily than traditional media. So, it’s interesting there are kind of swings and roundabouts but sorry, to answer your question, it’s about understanding my clients’ customers, where they are likely to be, what they are likely to be interested in and then thinking about the medium that will best reach them.

DAVE HARRIES – Because presumably there is a danger now with all this, you know, these digital riches in front of us, there is a danger that you just throw everything at a problem, you know or almost a one size fits all, you need us to market you? Right well we’ll Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, blah blah blah and I guess that’s not always going to work?

TERESA HARRIS – I think sometimes that’s the mistake that particularly small businesses make because the cost to enter Twitter or have a business Facebook or actually even a website isn’t that great necessarily, or it doesn’t appear to be that great. You can get on to Twitter, you can have a basic website put together, dare I say it, you can even put together a video quite easily, but the question I always ask is what are you trying to achieve with all of that, what are your goals? Who’s the audience and actually will that kind of communication suit the audience? Is it going to reach them, get the messages across in the way they are likely to want to receive? And particularly with things like social media I think you have to have a strategy, I mean you have to have a strategy for any marketing communications. But I think it is so easy to get on to Twitter that you just think “oh I’ll just get on there and start talking or listening or joining in conversations” all of which you need to do, you do need to talk, you do need to listen, you do need to join in the conversation, but you need to do it against a clear strategy. What messages are you trying to get across? Which audience are you trying to reach? What brand message are you trying to convey about your business?Unless you have answered those kind of questions, actually you are probably wasting your time on social media.

DAVE HARRIES – One of the sort of big buzz words that goes around these days in the communications world is content. And obviously we have just talked about the channels and ok that is fairly quantifiable, you can see where they are and what they are and hopefully make decisions about which ones are appropriate, but content is a whole different game really. What on earth do you say once you have got those channels, so how do you solve those problems?

TERESA HARRIS – Well again you go back to thebasics, in my case I go back to my client and I go back to their customers. I have to start with the client because at the end of the day they pay my bills so what are they trying to achieve, what messages are they trying to get across, what products are they trying to sell or what services are they trying to sell?

That’s the starting point, so you’ve got a feeling for the content that they want to talk about. And then you go back to their customers and you think about what their needs are or what stage they might be in the buying process. Are they just searching around for information or are they ready to buy? One of my clients for example is a firm of solicitors. So, they can either go out there with content that’s about how brilliant they are, or they can go out there with content explaining what they do or they can go out there with content talking about particular legal issues.

So, there’s different types of content there and if I look at their potential clients we can decide which content would suit those potential clients at different stages. At some stage they probably do want to know how brilliant they are otherwise they wouldn’t select them over others, but probably the starting point is content that addresses their legal issue. So, if for example they are looking to get a pre-nuptial agreement then the content would be more about what you need to include in a pre-nuptial agreement, why you need a pre-nuptial agreement, whether it would be legally binding. It’s horses for courses, there’s different types of content for different client needs, customer needs and different stages in the buying process.

DAVE HARRIES – And presumably if you do that well, and you give people this useful content telling them how to do their pre-nuptial agreement or whatever it might be, then you are also almost subliminally doing the other stuff anyway. I mean you are saying to people how brilliant you are but you’re kind of doing it by example as it were.

TERESA HARRIS – Absolutely and I think that’s been the major change in things like websites. If you think about the average, well let’s say the average law firm, stick to our example. The average law firm website ten years ago was what I would term a brochure site. It said this is where our office is, these are the people, and it might have had a page this is how brilliant we are. Nowadays the best websites that you’ll look at in any sector but take the legal sector as an example, will have a lot more content about either what they can do for you, or just blogs and articles about topics that demonstrate their expertise. So, you mentioned content, content that demonstrates your expertise, whatever format that’s in, is going to be invaluable in the kind of market we operate in now where we are as much reliant on other people sharing that content as we are on us saying it in the first place.

DAVE HARRIES – And presumably of course people are finding the content, they are not, you know it’s not like the old days where the advertisement was thrust at you via the television or the newspaper or whatever, people are going and finding this stuff so therefore it’s all the more important that it’s not selling to them, it’s got to be doing something rather subtler than that. And of course, we’re smarter aren’t we now? As consumers, we are much smarter so we can tell most of the time I suspect if we are being sold to.

TERESA HARRIS – I think you’re right, I think we can tell when we are being sold to. You’re right, the kind of content that works best in my experience and is more likely to be shared, is more likely to be linked to from other places and all of that’s important in the online digital world, is the kind of content that answers your question in an authoritative way without making you feel small, so without putting you down, and without selling to you. There has to be obviously, you wouldn’t be doing it unless you felt you could get business out of it in some way, but there has to be an element of sharing the knowledge, giving the knowledge away and positioning as an expert.

DAVE HARRIES – Have some agencies perhaps traditional marketing people and agencies failed to keep up with this? Do you think there is a lag in some areas? What’s your view on that?

TERESA HARRIS – I guess you’ll always get an element of that and I think it’s also true to say that the more traditional agencies would be less integrated so they would focus on direct mail, focus on above the line advertising, whereas in my view now everything is so integrated. Everything has to work together and you know the one thing I would say to anybody looking to appoint an agency is if they can’t do the majority of things in house talk to them about how they integrate with other agencies, other service providers. Make sure that they really do understand particularly the online world because that’s just a world you can’t ignore.

DAVE HARRIES – And what about the future, where do you think or where do you see the marketing world going and communications going in perhaps five or ten years’ time? Do you have a view on that?

TERESA HARRIS – I think things have become and will continue to become increasingly personalised. So, as I indicated, you can do a certain amount of personalisation nowadays with things like Facebook advertising or text advertising. I would argue it’s not really personal at the moment and I think the ability to make it truly personal is coming and I think it’s coming primarily through the ability to get other people to do it on your behalf, on your business’s behalf and that’s the social sharing side of things.

It’s tough though, it’s tough getting your head around that and it’s tough being able to deliver it and getting people to deliver it for you but the brand loyalty, and things like that, continue to be really,really important but I don’t think the old version of brand loyalty holds much sway anymore. I think you have to go beyond the “oh well I’m loyal to a brand because they give me freebies or things like that” that’s not enough, there has to be much more to it than that.

DAVE HARRIES – So, again, that probably comes back to demonstrating your expertise, and your competence and those sorts of things.

TERESA HARRIS – Yes, and really delivering genuine value.

DAVE HARRIES – Before we finish, I also just wanted to touch on, you touched on there the personalisation aspect of advertising with social media and that sort of thing. Is there a danger there you think that people will just get fed up with it? They just, and you’ve talked about it, people moving away from that sometimes. Because we are bombarded with so much stuff and almost when it starts getting very personal in the sense that the ad appears on your Facebook page because you happened to look at something on Amazon or whatever, it feels quite intrusive sometimes doesn’t it?

TERESA HARRIS – And I think that’s what has to change. I think at the moment it’s not quite sophisticated enough, we’re not quite sophisticated enough as marketers. I think the technology will change, I think that’s the area where and I’m not 100% up to speed with the latest technological blue sky thinking but I know they are the kind of things that are being worked on at the moment and I think that’s where there will be a difference. The other thing I would say is you and I are of a certain age, younger consumers consume digital media completely differently than the way we do. I’ve got younger nieces and nephews who are never off Snapchat, something I have never even used. So, I think as marketers we need to keep ahead of the technology and be aware of the technology being used by the future consumer because actually they will be the people with the money in their pockets in the longer-term future rather than you or I.

DAVE HARRIES – Thank you very much for joining us here today, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you and hearing your insights into the world of communication.

TERESA HARRIS – No, thank you Dave, thanks for the opportunity.


Location: Stratford upon Avon