Kim Douglas
Sep 18, 2015

5 uncomfortable truths about digital marketing

Ready to squirm? SapientNitro's Kim Douglas outlines five painful truths that are stifling business.

Kim Douglas
Kim Douglas

I was recently asked by The Marketing Society to discuss the issues that make professionals in our industry squirm. Not only is this a welcome change from evangelising about the newest flashy thing (a technical term by the way), it is important to address some of the real issues we’re all facing. If we can successfully overcome them we’ll start to develop truly innovative work with stakeholders and see great results. So all of us that work in marketing in APAC need to ask ourselves honestly, which of these uncomfortable truths are stifling business.

1. The billions of dollars spent on banner advertising each year is a colossal waste of money.

Banner blindness is nothing new. An average clickthrough rate of less than 0.1 per cent has been the industry status quo for the last three years. In short, fewer than one in a thousand people served a banner click on it. Or to put in another way, the average internet user is shown 1700 banner ads a month, but most of us will struggle to recall a single one. And up to 50 per cent of the mobile ads that are clicked on are accidental. They are not efficient. So why are we still creating and promoting them?

2. Consumers move at the pace of innovation. Companies move at the pace of stakeholders.

Audiences have higher expectations of a brand’s digital capability than ever before. They download, use and share innovation within weeks if not days. Their appetite is so voracious it’s become impossible for brands to keep up.

For instance, it takes 18 weeks to create a new app, but the average active lifespan of an app is less than 23 days. More than 50,000 apps are downloaded each minute, yet only 20,000 apps are uploaded every month.

Companies need to be able to harness and invest in new technology far faster. It speaks volumes that it takes a year (often 18 months) for most RFPs to become live projects. Uber launched in more than 11 countries in that timescale.  Just think of the diary shuffling to convene a meeting of more than four bosses? It’s probably long enough for a startup to execute, fail, learn and execute again. Speed is always underrated.

3. Marketers say they need technology but treat it like a channel.

Brands around the world spent more than $1 trillion on marketing in 2014, of which technology comprised about 1 per cent, and advertising comprised about 50 per cent. We say technology is our future, but the reality is most agencies treat digital like just another media channel. We buy creative assets and pay to distribute them, and then, as an afterthought, hope that our broadcast and outdoor adverts can be reformulated for the web.

4. The relationship between a CMO and a CIO is often not aligned.

Three years ago Gartner predicted that CMOs would spend more on tech than CIOs by 2017. Research by Avanade claims that more than one-third of a company’s total technology purchases are now made by people that don’t report to the CIO. While this doesn’t necessarily substantiate Gartner’s claim, it does suggest that company tech is no longer the CIO’s fiefdom.

In fact, the CIO role has changed, as has the CMO's, and now responsibilities and budgets for tech are far from siloed. In worst cases, there’s a power struggle between CIOs and CMOs for budget, with KPI’d timelines and objectives also in opposition. CIOs often see marketing as a function that is forever changing its mind—flip-flopping on priorities with no understanding of what is required. While CMOs perceive CIOs to be too slow and risk-averse.

5. Marketers fear risk

All of us fear losing our jobs. Sadly that fear can be more motivating than our ambition to innovate, especially in a company culture that penalises failures. According to TechCrunch, TV will account for the single biggest share of ad spend in 2015 with 42 per cent—probably because no one gets fired for putting an advert on TV. Digital will account for just 15 per cent of global ad spend, that’s a spectacular fail when you consider people spend more time online than on a couch in front of the TV. Isn’t it time to try something new? 

We could all benefit from putting customers needs and expectations first. Maybe we should all stop shouting about our brands today and go build something new that just might serve our customers tomorrow.

Have you experienced any of the above? I’d love to hear what you’re doing to overcome them. Perhaps you’re facing different problems. What are your uncomfortable truths? Reach me via @kimjpdouglas on Twitter.

Kim Douglas is MD and VP of SapientNitro Singapore and Hong Kong


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