The future of the marketing department – MWLive Round-Up

Emily Shelley at Marketing Week Live

Last week I dropped in on Marketing Week Live at Kensington Olympia, where the overarching theme was the future of the marketing department. But after the inevitable sessions on personalisation and digital transformation, it was the valuable nuggets of advice for content marketers and brand builders that stuck in the memory. As Emily Shelley, Managing Director of Sticky Content, pointed out when stressing the importance of good content: in horror movies, only the attractive people survive.

Are you going to need a bigger boat?

Content marketing has become a marshland, where it’s all too easy to lose sight of your direction and purpose. Emily’s talk was the most energetic and well-delivered session of the day. She clearly demonstrated how engaging content can and should be, through a direct comparison with horror movies. ‘How to survive the content horror show’ broke it down to four clear focus points:

1. Stay true to yourself

2. Get real

3. Regroup and think

4. Stay vigilant

We need to know, and remember, who we are to stay true to ourselves. Our content personas need to reflect our business strategies through the storytelling of our brand. And this needs to be realistic for us to own the decision making confidently. In the words of Martin Brody, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

Emily went on to say that sometimes we should take a leaf out of KitKat’s book. Take a break and reassess the plan, rather than being swept along by relentless activity. And don’t worry about the rise of the machines, with algorithms only able to make logical decisions, the emotional brain still has an advantage over AI.

Technology shouldn’t be forced into the storytelling; it should enhance it. These stories can evolve through personalisation, but we should consider technology as an aid, and not a replacement.

So how are you going to make your content attractive? Think about all the videos you’ve watched on Facebook. They’re either cute, funny, clever, good-looking, or have a personal connection through friends and family. Just remember: it’s the attractive ones that survive.

Like Steve Clarke, Entrepreneur, said in his ‘Eureka Moments’ talk, it’s his dog Trevor that has nearly 60,000 views on his YouTube channel for his reaction to last year’s John Lewis advert, and not him!

Stop closing deals and start opening relationships

According to Steve, opportunity is now here, not no-where. It’s the positive thinkers, and the makers that we need to surround ourselves with. We’re not differentiated by what we do, it’s how we do it and who we do it for. So, how can we help our clients to get to where they want to be? According to Havas, 60% of branded content is ‘clutter’. Brands need to go beyond explaining product benefits, and instead answer the questions of how this can improve their customers’ life.

(There’s a clear link between Steve’s thinking and Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’, which Al has written about before.)

Marketing will always be about knowing your customers. In fact, we need to be obsessed with them. And a brand remembers their customers, whether that’s through digital personalisation, or a shopkeeper remembering you buy your milk on Tuesdays.

Stalker tendencies aside, we have a lot of data to assimilate. Collaboration between the marketing department and the IT department requires that the left brain and the right brain of a business can communicate through a mutual understanding. It’s only then that we can use data to improve experiences and create value for our customers, whether this is content focused or not.

Accept failure or get left behind

Keeping up with the way consumers behave requires risky behaviour sometimes. For example, who could have known, eight years ago, that the Compare the Meerkat campaign would be so successful? With risk-taking comes failure but, since each failure is an opportunity to learn, being receptive of failure becomes a strength. To support that it helps to have a champion at a senior level to allow us to take controlled risks.

The skills in the marketing department (brand, customer, commercial) remain in roughly the same mix as they did years ago. It’s the application of these skills that has changed. If we want to stay in tune with the customer, not leap ahead of them, we need to understand the benefits of technology before shoehorning it into our strategies.

Be a unicorn

Marketers require a multitude of skills, but it’s ok that we are not experts in everything. We need to think about what we enjoy and be curious about furthering our own learning. If we surround ourselves with people that want to make a difference, together we will add value to the company. With the convergence of departments through digital, it has become the job of the whole company to be customer-focused brand ambassadors.


Once again technology is on everyone’s minds as the marketers of today try to imagine the skills that will be required of them tomorrow. But in the final analysis, marketing is still very much a human-centric activity and it’ll be the brands that really understand the motivations and passions of their customers (i.e. the ones that make themselves attractive), and use that understanding to build lasting relationships that will survive and thrive. We should focus on that core of human understanding, building our technology around it and not the other way around.


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