Nicki Kenyon
Sep 13, 2016

Digital is critical to putting people first

If you don’t understand digital then you shouldn’t be in marketing, writes Visa's Nicki Kenyon.

Nicki Kenyon
Nicki Kenyon

We live in a digital age, one of incredible opportunity, but also a time of transformation as we move from traditional to a more mixed economy led by social and mobile.

To be a marketer at this time and not understand digital, however, feels a little absurd. If you are a marketer in 2016 and you are not digital, you are not a marketer. This is where people are spending their time and marketers need to mirror that.

If I was employing marketers today to do a generalist role, they would have to have digital experience. They would have to understand how digital channels work. It’s just basic hygiene; it’s no longer a nice to have.

Today’s CMO should have a team of digitally aware marketers. They should understand digital reasonably well and have a team of people who are tasked with a particular business objective and with bringing a campaign to life in the way that will be the most impactful, obviously including digital.

My role at Visa is to provide a bridge in an organization that, like many, followed the rules that have been in place for 30 to 40 years. That means helping Visa understand how people behave today and how marketing should adapt.

It’s about bringing thought leadership, knowledge of new ways of doing marketing but doing so on a foundation of sound, traditional marketing principles.

The ultimate role of marketing is to connect with our consumers. We need to do that through meaningful relevant interactions and connect with content that matters to them, while supporting our business objectives.

Central to our approach is that not only are we trying to move our messages to where people are but also that we are trying to do this in a way that benefits our business.

Doing marketing for the sake of marketing is not a good thing. Doing marketing in support of what our business is doing is a good thing.

Social has caused problems for marketers because it allows us to be distracted by instant gratification. But we have to ask if that liking and sharing activity is bringing anything to our business.

For each activity we need to ask what are we looking to achieve. Is it to acquire new customers, improve revenue or build brand preference? Some will have dollar and some will have brand metrics. Metrics are so important and if the output doesn’t mirror back to our metrics then we’ve lost our way.

A major part of the problem is that it’s too easy to think in channels. We shouldn’t be thinking about what channel first; we should be thinking people. As soon as you start with people first, it removes the reliance on thinking channels.

We have checkpoints through our planning to make sure we have the objectives identified, peeling back the onion and asking who we are trying to talk to.

One of our most powerful tools is ‘day in the life’ because it doesn’t require huge tomes of analytics and spreadsheets to go through. It’s a very simple exercise to just observe and go beyond demographics—which I think is long gone as the only useful tool for targeting an audience—and focus on the psychographic.

Alongside the need to make sure our message appears in the right place in the right way, we also need to be relevant. If we are talking about Chinese New Year, the Singapore Grand Prix or the Water Festival in Vietnam, but there’s no role for our business, we are not doing our job properly.

Visa’s message of being “Everywhere you want to be” and “Acceptance” can also go well beyond the simple ability to pay for purchases big and small. Yes, we are removing friction from the purchase process via new technologies, such as PayWave in Singapore and by expanding our network to include small stalls in Cambodia. But we can also embrace the higher purpose of 'acceptance'.

At this year’s Rio Olympics, Visa celebrated the story of Terezinha Guilhermina, the world’s fastest blind female athlete, from Brazil, who has been accepted into the ultimate sporting competition.

It has also announced the addition of Yusra Mardini to Team Visa Rio 2016. A competitive swimmer who grew up in Syria, she fled to Greece on a small inflatable dinghy. When the boat’s engine failed a few miles from the Grecian shore, Mardini and her sister, two of only three swimmers on board, swam for three hours to pull the boat to safety.

We have also taken this message of acceptance further in the US. When gay marriage became legal, we produced ads proclaiming that “Love is accepted everywhere.”

It’s a work in progress but we are moving the idea of acceptance to a higher ground, to reach for consumers’ aspirations and dreams. Being able to enable and empower people is incredibly exciting. It’s not about the plastic card.

Nicki Kenyon is Visa's vice-president of marketing for Asia-Pacific.

WFA Project Reconnect: This article is part of a series by leading marketers on how marketing and brands can be a force for good. The series is contributed by the WFA in the framework of Project Reconnect, an initiative it leads which aims to improve perceptions of the marketing industry. Follow Project Reconnect @WFAReconnect and

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