Only Connect Podcast: How to win in the attention economy • Ep 5
by Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) The number of channels that marketers are using to target consumers has grown and, with it, the messaging has changed, from a ‘broadcast’ model to a more intimate, personalised model. Big data is a tool that gives brands insights into their customers, and an opportunity to build a relationship that relies on trust. At the same time, there has never been more need for creativity in marketing. We speak to advertising veteran, Danni Dixon (@dannidixon), who now heads up marketing at Investec South Africa.
Full podcast transcript
Bradley Elliott: Welcome to Only Connect, a MarkLives.com podcast. I’m your host, Bradley Elliott, founder of Platinum Seed and Continuon. I can’t believe it but we’re in Episode Five, we might be becoming, a real podcast, finally. I have the pleasure of interviewing Danny Dixon today, who is the head of marketing at Investec South Africa and we’re touching on the attention economy, how advertisers are vying for people’s attention. Attention is still a very finite resource, if you want to call it that, and the access to information or amount of information we are served every day is vying for that attention. How do we actually create marketing campaigns or cut through? So, strap in and let’s get started. We’ve partnered with MarkLives to create a podcast called Only Connect. Basically, what we’re trying to explore is what [the pain points of] CMOs, CEOs, heads of marketing are, what are their sort of views on the landscape of marketing as a whole, and, importantly, how do their partner agencies better serve them? Can those agencies better serve them?
Danni Dixon: Great, great purpose, I love it!
BE: There’s a lot going on in the market, obviously, and in the world and, with that rapid change, I just don’t think we are all keeping up. So, maybe you can just tell me a bit about your journey so far, and how you got to where you are now, as head of marketing at Investec.
DD: Well, I started my career in advertising — I started at Hunt Lascaris — at the turn of the century, when they were one of the biggest and the best. It was just an amazing starting ground to really understand the power of creativity. I then went on my own journey of having my own agencies. I had two fairly big agencies, one called Red Shoes agency, and one called Hello World agency. Red Shoes became a brand experience agency, and Hello World was more a through-the-line agency. It was always about the power of the idea and that the power of the idea can break through the attention economy in whatever channel and medium that could be. But I found [with] having [an] experience agency, you’re always competing with the above-the-line agency ideas. So, I then started Hello World to (…) on the idea. I then got a call from John Hunt to come back to lead Hunt Lascaris, which I then did for a few years and a great team at Hunt Lascaris helped to get Hunt Lascaris back into the no. 1 creative space in [South Africa]. By then, I’d done 20 years, well, of advertising, and felt like I needed a change and the idea was take time out, which, of course, never happens. Within a day I was at FCB, helping them on their Absa pitch. While I was at FCB, I got a call from… Investec and the only reason why I came was Reg Lascaris had actually recommended me. I walked in the building and, the moment I walked in, I just loved the energy and the culture, and I felt this is a place for me. I’ve been here for almost three years. I spent the first year and a half in a business unit in property, and got to understand the business side. Then, the last year and a half, I have been head of marketing for the whole of Investec SA, and it’s been an amazing journey.
BE: What specifically about the culture of Investec, when you walked in, what particular nuances of that culture did you enjoy so much? What was so striking about the culture that got you in there?
DD: To [pace] of advertising and the challenges that advertising is facing, it’s just so massive. Being part of a global network was really hard. Margins had decreased and the ability to reward your staff just got even harder — to do great work for clients was really hard. I felt, in the end, quite frustrated and suffocated. The difference when I walked in here was that kind of entrepreneurial spirit, and, if you can show that your ideas are strategic, and it’s going to push the business forward, there’s a lot of support. Then, obviously. to have the resources, the people, the money, the right agencies to actually execute on those ideas — it was just amazing. I mean, we are in tough times but this is a great opportunity to do good things.
BE: That’s a really nice mantra. Not an easy space to be in, that’s for sure. So, today, we’re talking about the attention economy. Obviously, with the influx and the wealth of information that’s come about in recent times, we really are struggling for the attention of customers and consumers. The wealth of information has increased, but our mental processing power stayed the same, the number of seconds in a day stay the same. So, it’s about how do we spend that attention? First off, I’d just like to understand how have you seen this sort of transformation of marketing over the last 10–12 years, with the influx of channels and platforms, especially in the digital space, and the vying of those for consumers attention when it comes to marketing?
DD: I think it’s changed fundamentally. I think it began in the early 2000s, with the introduction of digital. So, it’s not even the last 10 years, I mean, we’re getting close to 20 years. As the amount of the channels increase and, as we talk about the attention economy, it’s just got bigger and bigger and I think that people can only consume so much, but the game of marketing does actually remain the same. It’s how we’re going to play it. From my side, and I thought about what you said about the attention age and have we moved away from it, I think we’re always going to compete and, the more that we compete, that’s the sign of any economy, whether you’re looking at pricing, whether you’re looking at — that competition exists. As marketers, we can pay to be imaginative and to create the right strategies that are going to inform consumers about our brand. I have as my mantra, [what] David Aaker said, is that we have to earn the right to have a conversation with our audiences. How do you add value to their lives or inspire them or give them something that is of value to them? When you get that strategy right and you understand who you’re talking to, that’s when you can get into that sort of hyper-targeted messages. So, the days of putting a message out there for everyone is definitely over. But how you focus on your audiences and use a combination of data and real-life experiences is often the balance we have to find as marketers. I absolutely agree with you that attention is definitely a challenge, but how we do our job is how we have to solve getting their attention.
BE: I love so many points that you touched on there, because I’m a strong believer in using data and let’s call it the behavioural sciences, or behavioural economics, to actually get the attention of people, especially in an overtraded and commoditised sort of environment. So, as you mentioned, we can’t just be broadcast. As marketers in the past, we were very broadcast — let’s just broadcast our message. But actually using that data and I know Investec had a big data campaign, I think, a year and a bit ago if I’m not mistaken.
DD: At the time, it was Aqua and that data campaign was what I really wanted to tell you: as a brand, you have to know what you stand for, and how you create that impact in your market. So, that was the beginning of the brand journey that we’ve been on, which is about: we see you, we are more than the sum of data. That was the campaign that was launched about three years ago. Then, in the beginning of the year, we did our next evolution around that, which is all about human cognition. I think all brands talk about human storytelling but, for me, being human is absolutely critical, and understanding and being a human brand is very different than sort of this mass broadcasting space.
BE: So, how do you feel Investec does that, then?
DD: We’ve got a long way to go but we’re certainly on the journey of figuring this out. If you look at our current campaign — and remember I said to you we always try and create work that is hopefully of value to our audiences, and our clients are facing huge challenges, not only in the world of politics and economy but also in terms of their wealth? So, it was a content-led campaign; we get about 25 pieces of content, and we learnt a lot from that campaign. I think, as we go on this journey, it will probably get more personalised — we could probably have done 100 pieces of content to different audiences. As technology catches up in the personalisation area, I think there will be more and more of that. But it was a good test of understanding what’s keeping our clients awake at night, and giving a point of view on how to add value.
BE: In terms of that value exchange, and the conversation that you’ve brought up quite a few times now, you’re adding value through your content but how do you actually get that content to break through to get people’s attention? And what does that value look like to you?
DD: For us, the value looks like the human side. So, yes. it would be nice to be able to find these kind of answers — in fact, the campaign had a (…) in it. When you ask that question, you would get a million, you know, it could be 55m URLs around the answer. But, through a simple human conversation, we could help you, and just the value that the human relationship plays in the life of your decision-making. Because that’s what the campaign was mainly about, how you got people’s attention to watch the content. Very good question. We can try a number of them. We have what we call the ‘smackables’, the trainers for the content pieces. The way that we created the website, we did a lot of testing; we actually had two different websites. We tested what worked, which content people were watching if we change the content and, as the campaign evolved, we kept changing, we learnt so, so, so much. What we thought was going to be didn’t actually come out that way. In hindsight, we would have done things differently. Interestingly enough, on the website, the less-creative website did better. It did brilliantly, so we’re learning things as we go and, actually, we could do better. But we’re very happy with the results. For example, our (…) online had 2m completed views. That’s wonderful. But we live in a world that you can track that. You can understand the brand (…) that comes from that.
BE: What you touched on right at the end there, around the views and completed views, that was almost going to lead into my next question. So [do] you believe, fundamentally, marketing hasn’t changed, and that we—it’s always been our job to get someone’s attention? What I would like to understand from your side, and it’s a tough question, maybe/maybe not, is how do we actually measure the quality of attention? Completed views is a metric that people look at, and reach, and engagement. But how do we actually measure how impactful our messaging is? How [do] we measure the quality of that attention in your mind?
DD: I guess it goes back to that, adding value. And that’s what you’re saying about quality? Once you’ve got the attention, it comes down to persuasion. Persuasion, education, inspiration, you can call it, whatever your objective is, and ours was very much around inspiring partnership with Investec. One of the biggest measurements for us was brand lift and brand awareness, but it was leads into the business; it had a commercial side to it. So, what is the consumer journey that consumers went on/our potential clients went on to get to us? How quickly could we influence that? So, we would get into that persuasion space. Again, we learnt so much on the media that we chose, on the amount of times they would have to click on a banner before they watched the content, how many times they searched for us, until they finally filled out the lead. We’re learning; we’ve still got so much to learn, and it comes down to strategy. Strategy has never had a more-important role. I always call that your Swiss Army knife; there are so many tools on that Swiss Army knife, and every single one of them are important. Which one do you use, when? I wish marketing was a science. It’s not; it’s a journey. So, as we measure, we don’t have a single view on measurement. But we do try and get to a commercial number at the end of the day.
BE: The role of marketing is becoming more commercially driven, and more cross-functional across the business. So, [with] that in mind, what does the future of marketing look like to you?
DD: It will definitely remain being in the human space, being an authentic brand, but we are going to focus on that seamless integration of the online-offline world; we want to understand personalisation a lot more. We’re going to look to create new ways to reach our clients in a highly targeted way. We are very client-focused and client-segment-focused. But, at the end of the day, as we get more channels, and fight for more attention, it will come back to goals remaining — trading worth of value(?) and connecting those dots to create something magical for our clients. That’s why I say, marketing, from that point of view, hasn’t changed. It’s just in the method you use.
BE: 100% — I agree with that. It’s about understanding our customers’ leads to more personalised messaging, which leads to a build of trust, right? Once you’ve built up trust, that inevitably lands up adding more value to both relationships.
DD: Yeah. And you’re absolutely right about our consumers and understanding them. Data doesn’t always do that. Data is helping (…) tell a better story. But for us to understand our clients and what inspires them and what is it that they are connecting to [so] that we can be a part of their lives, we have to be meaningful in their live.?
BE: On a final note, we ask everyone this question: [are there] any great books or resources that you vouch or stand by, that you just love — it can be in marketing, business, anything that keeps you inspired? Any great resources that you’d like to recommend?
DD: So, my inspiration is David Aaker. The work that they do — in fact, the strategy that they have, the storytelling ability, that definitely inspires me. I am a big fan of creative work that works. You should be inspired every day to do better and keep living the magic of creativity.
BE: Well, Danni, I’ve really enjoyed chatting to you, and thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate [it] , and I’ve really enjoyed chatting to you.
DD: Thanks, Brad, so will I meet you at the leadership day?
BE: CMO Summit — I’ll be there. I’m chatting, I think, on the first day… I’m chatting on 3 [September]. We’ll connect and it’ll be nice to grab a coffee and meet face to face. Yeah, have an awesome weekend and thanks again. This has been Only Connect, a MarkLives.com podcast… Until next time, keep connecting!
Transcribed using otter.ai and then edited lightly.
The founder of Continuon and Platinum Seed, Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) has created a number of businesses in the digital and technology sectors. He believes that marketing needs to be reinvented so that it becomes more useful to humans and brands. He’s also a collector of fine whisky. Bradley contributes “Only Connect”, exclusively to MarkLives.com. In this podcast, he chats to custodians of the world’s top brands about what matters most to them.