We are currently working with McKinsey & Company on a Marketing & Sales Leaders Forum centred on the theme of 'Fast Forward on Growth'. To share a glimpse into the topics that will be discussed at the event we conducted a series of interviews that we will share here over the coming weeks, along with some guest blog posts.

First up, we spoke with McKinsey's Roberto Longo to find out what's going on today in digital marketing. Roberto is a Senior Manager at McKinsey and focuses on supporting consumer-facing clients on delivering growth through digital marketing. Roberto has also spent a year at Souq.com, the biggest eCommerce player in the Middle East, where he was in charge of the general merchandising business. His wealth of experience with major brands gives him a fantastic view on the day-to-day challenges of digital marketing, marketing strategy and the future of digital experiences. Read on for the McKinsey view on the state of play today.

1. What is your view on the state of play today in digital marketing? What transformations are you seeing?

Many companies are leading the way in their respective industries, by embracing innovation and digital marketing and putting it at the core of the work they do. These companies don’t talk about “digital marketing” anymore, they just call it “marketing”. These organisations are embracing the most innovative tools in terms of analytics, predictive models and automation. They design solutions to develop better answers for what their customers want.

Yet most companies are still on a journey. For some, digital marketing is still something new, often within separate ‘digital’ or ‘eCommerce’ teams. Others are in the process of transforming themselves, as part of a 1-3 year journey to embrace the opportunities from new types of insights and ways to reach customers – and the complexity that will bring. Being ready to tackle this change will be crucial – a study by Washington University forecasted that 40% of the Fortune 500 companies will not be there in 10 years from now as a result of digital disruptions.

2. Can you give us some examples of leading brands that are harnessing digital marketing to significantly transform the customer experience?

One brand that I admire as a customer is Nike. They are really leading the way in their industry, by continuously enhancing their capabilities and leveraging technology across all the different touch points with their customers. If you are just buying a standard product for the first time, the initial experience can feel quite standard. However, this changes very quickly if you become part of the Nike+ Run Club via their app, or if you register for Nike ID. As soon as they learn something about you, what you are looking for, your behaviour and your preferences, the depth and richness of the digital interactions with the brand becomes unparalleled.

3. Have Marketers really grasped the concept of mobile marketing today?

Mobile is now the leading channel to interact with customers in many sectors, such as travel, music, gaming. And this is quickly spreading to a lot of other industries. When you think about eCommerce in the UK, more than 50% of their transactions are on mobile. When you think about sports betting, 70% of their traffic is on mobile. There are companies like Myntra in India who went to the extent of shutting down their desktop platform, because it’s irrelevant to their audience. 

At the same time there are some weak links in the chain. For example, there are some industries that depend on a long-tail of affiliates for 30% to 50% of their customer acquisition. Some of the affiliates have never really embraced the changes required to work well on mobile. If advertisers, e.g. eCommerce platforms, can’t rely on them to acquire new customers, they have no choice but to invest their marketing budget elsewhere. 

Another weak link is the reliance on mobile apps. There are a lot of brands who think that all customers want a mobile app though most customers don't want to have many apps on their phone – as our recent McKinsey mobile report showed. They will keep a couple of eCommerce apps, a couple of taxi apps, a banking app, etc. but they will remove the apps they don’t use frequently. For that reason the mobile web experience is very important, and focusing on developing and optimising the m-web solution can be the better and more affordable path. 

4. When it comes to the mobile adoption, do you see any major differences how this pans out across the different industries?

What I have seen is very similar across industries. The reason is that in the Western World 80% of internet users own a smartphone and in some emerging countries this percentage is even higher because they have never even owned a desktop. For instance, in the Middle East and in China many people went from an old GSM straight to an Android phone. It’s just a matter of time until most industries catch up with travel, e-commerce, gaming.

5. What do you see as the biggest trends that will impact marketing growth in the coming 5 years?

This year the major trends are AI and machine learning, last year it was IoT, but every trend has its limitations. Let’s take machine learning as an example. Some companies really know what they are looking for and they have enough internal capabilities to make this a core part of how they run their business. Other companies are doing side projects in machine learning because they feel it is something must do – though without a clear goal, it can remain a cost rather than a growth driver. 

In an era where consumers are bombarded with generic messages through all possible channels, machine learning can massively improve decision making at scale in areas like customer retention and loyalty. This is one of the biggest trends I see.

6. What are the three pieces of advice you give to Marketers today looking ahead to 2017?

  1. Move from talking about ‘digital’ marketing to marketing. Digital is at the heart of research, engagement and purchase in most of the industries and should be embraced as part of one coherent marketing strategy.
  2. My second piece of advice is to measure the effect of everything you do – having the right numbers through analytical insights will drive better quality decisions, and better outcomes.
  3. Finally, try to automate decisions where data and tools are widely available. Leading companies stay ahead by setting the right strategy and rules, then letting tools take care of execution –allowing them to optimise to micro-changes on an ongoing basis. Those who don’t adapt to this new pace and mindset could fall behind.

More on the State of Marketing

Thank you Roberto for sharing these great insights with us. If you would like to read more about top marketing trends of the year, you can download a copy of the 2016 State of Marketing research report, with insights from nearly 4,000 marketing leaders worldwide.