Erin Singleton
Dec 12, 2016

Braving today’s disruptive world of marketing

Sometimes, there's no choice but to adapt to a new reality. R3's Erin Singleton offers three pieces of advice for companies at crossroads.


We are living in a world where your telecommunication provider can be your bank, your watch can be your credit card and a stranger’s car might be your ride to work. Welcome to the age of digital disruption, where the competitive subset is constantly evolving.

Several industries, from IT and media to finance, are increasingly feeling the weight of digital disruption squeezing their bottoms lines. A report by Citigroup earlier this year forecasts that retail banking automation could spur a 30 percent decline in banking jobs across the US and Europe over the next decade.

The pressure coming from the rise of financial technology, or fintech, is two-sided. Internal banking systems and processes are being automated and digitised whenever new technological developments become available, and consumers are increasingly banking through their mobile devices and demanding that their banks keep up the pace.

While the US and Europe are at the tipping point, several countries in Asia, particularly China, have already gone over the edge. The combination of high mobile and internet penetration coupled with a huge e-commerce ecosystem and domestic companies that focus solely on mobile payments have led to China’s fintech companies like Alipay and Tencent having just as many, if not more, clients than the world’s major banks.

For those who haven’t adapted to the financial sector’s new reality, DBS Group’s chief executive Piyush Gupta recently warned that poorer returns and compressed margins will become common occurrences unless lenders embrace fintech and transform their businesses. Several global banks are already taking dramatic steps to embrace the change. One such bank is HSBC, which has proven its dedication to digital by forming several fintech partnerships. For example, the bank recently invested in Tradeshift, a startup that helps businesses issue and pay invoices using software, creating somewhat of a “social network” for invoices. Another similar investment is with a cloud-based treasury solution provider, Kyriba, a SaaS company providing cash management solutions to finance professionals while reducing their dependence on legacy institutions.

It is definitely safe to say that it’s not just the finance sector that is feeling the pressure from disruptive digital startups. At the recent Festival of Marketing event in London, Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer with Unilever, revealed that Unilever has its own methods for dealing with the changing landscape. Its strategy involves investing in or acquiring disruptive startups, like the Dollar Shave Club and T2. He also highlighted the need to be bold and experimental, while making sure that everyone in the organisation has the proper tools to succeed in the new normal.

The three essentials that every marketer needs to know:

1. Only the adaptable will survive: This has been proven time and time again. Companies that aren’t willing to change can’t survive. Examples range from video rental shop Blockbuster to bookstores like Border’s. Talent needs to be flexible both in terms of mindset and adopting new working processes and management has to push innovation from the top down. Great examples of being adaptable include Citigroup’s recently founded FinTech division, and Unilever’s increased budget for mandatory digital training, particularly for the “lost generation,” or those that came right before the so-called “digital natives.”

2. No industry is immune to disruption: You never know where the next big thing is going to pop up. Disruption can affect any industry, particularly at the rate of development in tech today. There are countless examples of disruption, Airbnb in the hospitality industry, Uber in transportation, Netflix and other streaming services for cable television, among many others.  

3. No one can do it alone: In the world of disruption, partnerships are incredibly important, and sometimes the best ones aren’t the most obvious. Marketers need to collaborate not only with agencies but also with tech platforms, vendors and even the consumers as seen with crowdsourcing. For example, Samsung and MasterCard recently partnered on the innovative “Groceries by Mastercard” app, allowing consumers to order groceries directly from Samsung’s new smart refrigerator. In this increasingly interconnected world, it is key to either partner up or fall behind.

When it comes marketing today, complacency is your biggest enemy. Constantly evolving your processes, strategy and partners to be disruptive is the only way to fight digital disruption.

Erin Singleton is the Marketing Manager at R3


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