Thousands of marketers descended upon London’s coolest (and my new favourite) conference venue this week, for the annual Festival of Marketing at Tobacco Dock.

Amongst the labyrinth of tunnels, passageways and nooks and crannies of this rather unique industrial venue, some serious conversations were shaping the future of the digital – if not the entire – marketing industry as we know it. There was even talk of the term ‘digital’ disappearing from our marketing vocab altogether, as it becomes so entrenched in everything we as marketers, and more importantly, consumers, do.  

Salesforce Marketing Cloud set up home in the Salesforce Club Lounge, with massage chairs, a popular bar and plenty of live demos to help marketers deliver the promise of the Customer Journey.  But it wasn’t ourselves that dominated the agenda (though our very own Jeremy Waite did wow the audience with his talk on Connected Customers). No, it was the number of Salesforce customers showing off their digital transformations and marketing innovations, that really caught my eye. (Barclays, O2, JustEat, Aston Martin, Philips, Sony Playstation, Unilever… to name but a few.)

Customer-Centricity Was At The Centre Of Everything

Whilst on the surface it’s nothing new, it was encouraging and inspiring to hear industry leaders reiterate the importance of customer centricity. With the real innovation lying in how companies can become (or remain) customer centric, when the digital revolution is creating so many new channels and transforming every single touch point along the way.

Nina Bibby, Marketing & Consumer Director, O2, believes that smartphones are the real force driving the digital transformation. With mind-blowing stats like 50m smartphone users in the UK, checking their phones on average 150 times per day – or approximately every six minutes – it’s little wonder. When combined with the recent news that there are now 8bn (yes, billion!) Facebook video views per day, it’s clear the industry has never needed to be more focused on tapping in to those micro-moments, or micro-bites, as Nina put it.

But does the obsession with grabbing the attention for those five second micro-bites really deepen engagement with customers? Is it really customer-centric? Simply put, no. Marketers need to figure out how to get their audience thinking about their brand much more deeply. To achieve that, the touch has to be meaningful and valuable, it has to create a reason for a customer to spend more than five seconds engaging with your brand.

At O2 they have a guiding principle about playing a more valuable role in their customer’s lives, enabling them to do more in the digital world, or as they put it Be More Dog. So initiatives like O2 Guru, Priority and a partnership with NSPCC, are not about selling more stuff, but about improving the customer experience. And the ROI? Being more involved in customer’s digital lives = improved loyalty + record low churn + higher customer satisfaction ratings. Compelling stuff.

The 'New Marketing' Should Be Win-Win

Continuing on the theme of customer centricity, one quote that caught my ear was from Atom Banks’ CEO, Anthony Thomson, who is busily and brightly disrupting the banking industry. Thomson claimed that traditionally marketing was only deemed a success when the company wins (sells more stuff), whilst the customer loses (buys more stuff). Whereas he believes it should be first and foremost about giving customers value, earning brand loyalty with great service, and only then worrying about making money. He went on to say that many people asked him why set up a new bank? The simple answer was “because nobody likes banks” – which creates a great opportunity for disruption.

Of course, convincing the board to fund marketing that doesn’t sell products, is a hard sale. Especially if Sir Alan Sugar, who in the opening keynote criticised the much loved John Lewis Christmas ad for not selling products, is on that board. Sugar also went on to inadvertently create the #hashtag of the day when he referred to the collective industry as ‘marketing tossers’ – perhaps he missed the title of the event, or perhaps audience insights isn’t his thing.

Data, data, everywhere... and now it’s getting personal

Data was probably the most used word over the entire festival – from big data, to predictive analytics to data security and everything in between. Marketers are clearly spending more time than ever thinking about how they can utilise this stream of digital insights to help shape their strategies and meet customers at the right points, with the right message.

Using this data to deliver personalisation was also a hot topic, with many brands understanding the value, but struggling to really get a grasp of how to do this effectively, and to scale. And I’m not talking about just putting a [firstname] on an email template, I’m talking deeply personalised, one-to-one customer engagement across any (all!) channels.

Aston Martin’s Director of Marketing & Communications, Simon Sproule, shared how their business is driven by personalising the customer experience; from production, to customer service, to personalised perks & treats. Or, not so simply put – Omotenashi – a term the Japanese use which encompasses their unique approach to hospitality and looking after their guests (customers). He also announced that Aston Martin had just partnered with Salesforce to deliver the systems behind developing their 1-1 long term customer journeys. (Shameless plug over).

From fast cars to fast food, another fascinating tale of a company mining big data to deliver more personalised marketing, was from JustEat’s Global CMO, Barnaby Dawe. The takeaway industry disruptors are using the insights from their user data to identify exactly when and where customers are thinking about what kind of food to order – they can then use this insight to deliver targeted communications to restaurants in the area, in order to sign them up to the platform.  Now that is fast food.

Let’s Go Back To The Old-Skool

With all this talk of customer-centricity, loyalty, deeper engagement and relationships, I couldn’t help but think back to the earliest marketing and business principle I learnt at college, almost 20 years ago (ouch). That it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.  This single guiding principle seems to be the one constant amongst all the digital disruption and technology advances we’re seeing. We should all be going back to basics and putting the customer experience at the heart of it all.

The headline act to bring the festival to a close, was legendary British advertising executive, Sir John Hegarty, who in a call to arms for the online advertising industry, berated the lack of quality creative, and rallied the room to go back to it’s roots of allowing technology to enable the opportunity, but understanding that creativity creates the value.

Or as he more succinctly proclaimed: “Principles don’t change. Practices do.”

To find out more about the current state of marketing, with insights from over 5,000 marketers around the world, grab yourself a copy of our State of Marketing 2015 report.