At this year’s Eff Week, Sarah Golding, current chair of the IPA, delved into the challenges of marketing effectiveness; noting that: “As an industry, we are choosing to be less effective than we know we can be”. She believes this is down to a focus on short-term sales results at the expense of long-term brand health, and the growth of direct response activity, particularly digital.

Her remedy? Not less digital marketing, but more and better: amplifying creative brand building with all the new tools available - data, AI, AR and VR. The Magic and the Machines. She went on to introduce a panel of creatives and producers from R/GA, Intelligent Layer, The Mill and Google Arts and Culture, who shared some mouth-watering innovations. We saw a virtual reality beer tasting, the mapping of cultural artefacts with AI and some amazing real-time video rendering that makes creative work respond and change in real time.

This is an exciting agenda, and there’s no doubt that digital has been under-exploited as a brand-building medium despite growing evidence of the effectiveness of online video. It will be great to see AI, VR and AR become mainstream tools for the industry.

Whilst this shift will inevitably take some time, other speakers during the one-day conference highlighted some actions we can take now to improve marketing effectiveness in a digital world.

Broad marketing and narrow marketing

Customer-centricity continued to be a hot topic. Understanding customers through data and insight, and building value for businesses throughout the customer experience as well as communications, was a key theme for many of the clients on stage.

Kenyatte Nelson, who leads marketing for Shop Direct, now the second largest online retailer in the UK, talked through the story of the Very.co.uk brand with his creative agency partner, Neil Henderson from St Luke’s. He described the challenge for marketing: “to deliver shareholder value we had to deliver and communicate customer value”.

Paddy Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at the London Business School, summed this up as the difference between “broad marketing”, which adds value across the whole business, and “narrow marketing”, which aims to maximise the value of the marketing budget.

It’s a useful distinction to make. Marketers can use it to map out their role in business strategies, understand potential gaps, and help them decide where to focus. At Google, we work with businesses across both areas, whether helping develop a fast, user-friendly mobile site experience or delivering cost efficient, high quality reach for a paid video campaign.

A shared language

When it comes to maximising the value of the marketing budget, one clear action was for the industry to create a shared language of marketing effectiveness. This applies both within organisations, between the marketing and finance teams, and then across the industry, so that silos between brand and performance marketing are broken down.

Martin Deboo from global investment bank Jefferies decried the poor communication between marketing and finance, suggesting CEOs and CFOs understand the value of brand building but want marketing activities translated into meaningful business outcomes. How many marketers, he asked, would be comfortable explaining a break-even analysis for their activities?

In a new IPA report: Culture First: How Marketing Effectiveness Works in Practice, Fran Cassidy concluded “If the marketing industry wants to increase the credibility of its brand health and customer metrics among financial teams, it should consider changing its language to reflect the commercial benefit it drives.”

An equally stark language barrier still seems to exist between brand marketers and performance marketers. The mainly brand marketer audience seemed familiar with concepts like building brand salience, price elasticity and margin protection (concepts that you’d rarely hear mentioned at a performance marketing conference). Conversely, the language of attribution modelling, marketing analytics and controlled experiments, were notable by their absence. Yet all these are becoming possible as brand advertising moves online, and could hold the key to answering some of the questions brand marketers are asking.

This language barrier means ideas are not flowing around the industry and opportunities are being missed. It’s up to all of us to get out of our familiar networks, learn new concepts and try and build a shared language for effectiveness.

Building the future

The tweet-worthy comment of the day went to former head of the SAS, Ed Butler, who inspired the audience with his experience of military. “Standing still tends to attract enemy fire,” he said, with a wry grin. If this year’s Eff Week is anything to go by, there’s a big appetite to move forward, learn and collaborate. Standing still isn’t on the agenda.