Ritson deconstructed - he's right about strategy, but wrong about social media

Departing SCA CDO, Vijay Solanki
By Departing SCA CDO, Vijay Solanki | 6 June 2016
Vijay Solanki

Professor Mark Ritson’s presentation at the AANA last week was part entertainment, part insight and at times offensive to the modern marketer. This self-styled “gobby” Northerner got a fast riposte from fellow self-styled Northerner, Danny Bass. Danny was clearly pretty riled by Ritson.

So as a another fellow Northerner, albeit one that’s a little reserved by comparison I thought I’d try and produce a more considered review.

I feel qualified to comment having played senior marketing and (yes) digital roles at both traditional companies like Unilever, BP & Philips as well as in (again, yes) digital pure-play companies like Shazam and lastminute.com.

I’ve carefully re-watched Ritson’s speech and provide the following critique:

1. The core principles of marketing do remain unchanged. Ritson is absolutely right about starting with strategy. Your business goals, your consumer segmentation/needs, your brand, marcomms plan etc.

2. However the marketing toolkit has changed radically over the last 20 years. You simply can’t operationalize marketing the classical way. It’s inefficient and will fail modern consumer expectations because they want real-time engagement that’s personalized and often via digital platforms.

3. Traditional channels still have considerable value. Ritson and Goodwin are spot on in the sense that all traditional channels have digital platforms – newspapers on iPads, radio on mobile, YouTube on TV.

But this is exactly why we need digital teams and digital experts. Take the newspaper industry. Look at Fairfax, Newscorp and Bauer, for example. They all needed to hire digital experts to set up and accelerate the digital parts of their business. The journalists and publishers running the newspaper historically lacked the skills to get the digital content, UX, technology to make the ipad version of the paper work. Now in time, traditional media companies will have strong players with strong skills in both analogue and digital but in the meantime, you need to build the digital capability.

The same is true with marketing. Too many traditional marketers, particularly the senior ones haven’t taken the time to retrain themselves in all things digital. That’s why they need to own the strategy but still have a combination of marketing skills in their teams. There are few traditional marketers who understand search or social media or mobile or marketing
technology. That’s why you need the digital marketers.

Ah yes, social media, one of Ritson’s favourite topics. Let me start by defining social media. It's simply about community and conversation. Ritson is right in that most consumers aren’t interested in friending brands on Facebook unless, of course, the brand provides utility or entertainment.

We built a strong Facebook fan base at BlackBerry in 2010 and we didn’t obsess over the number of fans but the levels of weekly engagement. We did the same at SCA. Social media is about building and mobilizing a community to drive your messages and engagement. What reach do your posts achieve and how many people engage with your content? And yes, nobody likes a post with three likes but it’s what you learn from that post that matters.

Ritson mentioned the band 5SOS which has the biggest Twitter following in Australia. Big hand to Vegemite. They got the boys to play drums on jars of Vegemite yesterday – 15k retweets and 27k likes. Bet you a dollar that a few millennials are spreading it on their toast this morning!

The point is that most brands are still navigating the social media world. They are far from fulfilling their social media potential. As most marketers are aware, brands are about personification. So the best brands often partner those individuals that have the huge following. What beer or fashion brand will Hugh Jackman or David Warner tweet about?

Or you have chosen to use Twitter as a customer service channel. Take airlines where brands like Qantas have almost 400k followers. It’s how consumers get a fast and personal response.

So in Australia, L’Oreal has 30k followers on Twitter. Less than Ritson. However, Aussie YouTube makeup star, Lauren Curtis, has 189k followers and 3.5m subscribers on YouTube. So perhaps, L’Oreal team up with Lauren and start to engage with millennials (sorry). Lauren has been testing L’Oreal and other brands for years. So the point is that social media success on Twitter or Youtube or Facebook might not be about your fans/followers, per se, but about leveraging

Put another way, Ritson scoots over social media in a superficial way rather than get into the mechanics of how it works. This is exactly the depth that senior marketers need to get to if they are to truly extract value from social.

Ritson does raise some good questions about digital measurement and I agree, work is to be done on topics like Viewability. However, one of the reasons so many marketers choose digital is that it is easier to measure than traditional media. We can measure search, see youtube views, measure steams based on real data rather than diary or panel research.

I was amused with the Gone the Wind trick. On the one hand it makes a strong point on digital metrics but it fails to recognize that long form content doesn’t get watched on a mobile, particularly a film. In true old school fashion, most consumers prefer to watch a film on TV.

He misses the point that good marketing is about identifying target audiences with a need that mobile might solve. You might want to watch some of Euro 2016 soccer championship next week and that might just be easier on mobile as the match times are pretty unsociable.

Look in summary, Ritson is right about strategy but wrong about digital, social media and the group of consumers born after the year 2000. He’s right that consumers aged under 20 are not all the same but they are much heavier users of digital platforms than older audiences. Yes, we should segment millennials more meaningfully but also accept that they are an eye into our marketing future.

The ideal marketing world is one without divide. Marketing for a digital world as many people have stated. The harsh reality is that it means learning significant new skill sets that include technology, data, marketing automation, growth marketing to name but a few. In people terms, you need several types of marketers – brand, data, digital, comms. For success, you need a two way road, yes digital folk need to understand the bigger picture but analogue marketers need to study digital too. So perhaps we all need to spend more time with professors. You decide which.

By digital marketer and departing SCA CDO, Vijay Solanki

Did you miss Ritson's video? Check it out below and see here for Danny Bass' follow-up: 'Who the F are you to call our industry idiots, liars and thieves?'

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