Nov 12, 2021
Host Will Francis talks with Jason Jercinovic, advertising veteran and VP of Technology at North Highland in New York, about the state of new technology in the world of marketing.
Jason talks about how the Covid pandemic has really "let the genie out of the bottle" in terms of accelerating the need and pace of innovation. Their conversation covers a world of new learning, from the metaverse, the power of AI in understanding the customer journey, how brands can look at TikTok, and the move towards DTC. And his top tip for keeping on top of it all? Give yourself time to play and think and slow down and then you can make decisions.
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Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Jason Jercinovic all about emerging technology in marketing. From machine learning to the metaverse, the world of tech never stands still. And much of that constant flux directly influences what we do in marketing, presents endless opportunities every time something changes for us to reach audiences in new and more meaningful ways. And that's basically what we're gonna talk through today.
Jason is a veteran of advertising and tech with over 25 years of experience, fusing those two things together to create innovations, enhance customer experience, and ultimately transform and grow businesses. Having spent over a decade in total working in senior digital innovation roles at Havas, an agency group who handles some of the world's most loved brands, as well as stints of ad innovation leaders like RGA, Jason is now VP of technology at North Highland in New York, a leading change and transformation consulting firm. Jason, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing?
Jason: I'm fantastic, Will. Thank you very much for the invitation. It's a pleasure to be here.
Will: It's a pleasure to have you on because, yeah, you're someone who's, like I said, got really interesting background having kind of worked at these big agencies and innovation's been part of your...well, it's been in your job title and it's been part of what you've been doing for years. So I'm really interested to kind of get a sense on, you know, where we're at with that stuff, where we're at with innovation in marketing, and like I said, the fusing of tech and advertising. So I suppose just to kind of kick off, you know, give us your perspective, where are we, what is the current state of tech? What are the hot topics that are getting people excited in your world at the moment?
Will: It's truly an exciting time right now, Will, because if anything, you know, the global pandemic has accelerated transformation. It's accelerated the need for innovation, and we see this every day now. That probably transcends marketing. It's, you know, the companies themselves, enterprises need to determine if they're, you know, gonna evolve and turn into the next generation of relevance, or try to maintain and stay the status quo or, you know, recede into irrelevance.
And we've been talking about the pace of acceleration accelerating for years. The proof point really came in, you know, due to COVID. And some people get that, right? And some people are embracing it and have doubled down and are using this as an opportune time to invest in and fast forward, innovation spending, digital spending, others are seeking this "return to the old normal, or the new normal." I think that's just balderdash because, you know, the genie is out. Can't put her back in the bottle and that notion of returning back to it was is a prehistoric concept.
So to answer your question, the nature of innovation is accelerating and I think digital technology has got a shot in the arm. It's got its booster shot itself and enterprises, and companies, and brands that have the wherewithal to double down in that are not only succeeding now, but are poised to grow their market share, to get market dominance, to eat their competitors to grow. So it's an exciting time, very exciting time. I mean, every day I wake up, we're born ready to go because of the opportunity that's there. And the desire and ambition of a lot of the companies that are out there that get it are really pushing the envelope. So it's a good time to be in the biz.
Will: And what are the specific types of technology that people are getting excited about at the moment?
Jason: Well, it depends... Like I guess under the context of marketing, if we wanna talk about marketing as a starting point today, the impact of digital has been tremendous. Companies have seen now due to COVID perhaps the bloated agency environment is not necessarily as necessary as it was. Agencies themselves have managed to keep the business going, keep doing their jobs without necessarily going to work for the most part, physically going to work at the office, I mean. So the notion of what is the overhead that comes with that is drawn into question. You know, lucky for me, I was thinking about this a couple of years back and, you know, that was one of the reasons I decided to sort of leave the holding company big agency game and go out in consulting, is I felt that mature brand marketers, CMOs, tech-enabled, tech-forward leaders would realize the power of digital to increase their own internal capability.
And I felt there was a pendulum shift away from dependence on big agencies to internalizing that capability in their firm, using the best talent to come in when they needed to come in, especially in creative and getting better output at a lower cost at a higher velocity. Of course, they had no idea that COVID was coming in like that, but that accelerated that in a big way. And, you know, I'm not trying to bash big agencies. I, you know, obviously respect them and they deliver tremendous value, but I see now a lot of brand leaders questioning that relationship and bringing technology and to enable them to accelerate their own efforts either by building an internal capability or moving faster.
And so you ask what is the nature of the technology within digital advertising, we obviously have monoliths that control the market and, you know, we can talk about that being good or bad, but the truth is they're sophisticated platforms that enable smart marketers to really precisely target, to have incredible precision and effectiveness on media spend. And so when you internalize that capability and you start realizing the value of that at scale, that's a fundamental shift in the nature of how technology enables brand marketers to hit their targets.
Will: Yeah. I mean, technology has encroached on what agencies do quite a bit, hasn't it? I mean, you think particularly about media agencies, and I remember a time when, you know, people weren't even running their own kind of social media ad campaigns, and a lot of big brands aren't still, obviously, but you know, a couple of tools and a bit of a upskilling, you know, on the main platforms and you can basically be your own media agency. It's maybe not the same with creative because there's a bit more of that sort of secret sauce there. But again, you know, there are technologies that are allowing that, and, of course, there's like, you know, AI-driven copywriting and probably design around the corner. So do you think that, you know, do you think that the agency relationship is gonna change, their place is going to change? How and how are they adapting to this?
Jason: I can't say that I'm an expert now that I'm a few years out of, you know, leading one of those large agencies. But there's always been a desire within the big agencies to figure out the digital thing, right? And I always joke, you know, you can tell an agency's sophistication on where the digital word enters the deck and the pitch. If it's at the very start and it's in the ingredient, then, you know, usually can lean forward a little more. Others push it at the back and, you know, there's a regression back to, "Oh, well, make sure you book in that with the digital ideas." And so that shows, you know, your level of sophistication right there.
But the nature of the relationship has changed because for several years now they haven't been able to go to the fancy lunch and to go down and have the big reveal happen. And that's been done through technology, through Zoom meetings, through Team meetings. And so like, I remember making sure you get the big car to bring the big boards out to show the big idea to the big client and the big song and dance, the reveal, if you will, of the big idea. That in itself has been challenged by the global pandemic. So the nature of the creative has impacted that. You know, obviously, there's the media side of the business and creative side of the business, and sometimes that's an artificial split.
So technology has obviously had tremendous impact on the media side in a bigger way. You see that from the standpoint of automated targeting, automated buying, you know, rolling out your segmentation to the ad networks. So you can have really precise reach and even serve dynamic creative on different people based on, you know, the last touch they had which makes it very relevant, you know, a la Instagram marketing. And so that's very successful. And I'm sure you, me, and many of the listeners have bought that thing that was just in their feed because it was so well targeted and so timely. And so that that's really impactful.
In terms of AI, I mean, there was another question you asked about AI and the power of AI, and I've been fascinated with this forever, and, you know, was lucky enough to have some expertise and role in supporting enterprise technology companies rolling out their AI efforts. And looking back on that now, I felt that the sizzle was being sold a little more than the substance, or I guess as you guys would say, the sausage. And so there was an expectation there that, you know, it's this holy grail, this thing that's gonna come in and just solve all the problems and just get the AI guys on it and it's gonna solve it. And, you know, we've learned now, and there's obviously a lot of lessons in terms of implicit bias, in terms of, you know, training the algorithms to look at diversity and inclusion in terms of images and perspective. And if anything, there might be a bit of a pause or hesitation to go all in on that, you know, because of that.
That being said, very powerful and, you know, my myself, others have had tremendous success in examples of using it to automate many parts, cumbersome part of the process. We often speak of taking the toil out of the effort. And so AI can do a lot of that. And so if you set it up in the right way and make the investment in the algorithms specifically from the standpoint of putting the end-user at the center of that from an ethical standpoint, then that's the first step. Then you could scale and you could scale globally and you could scale to many markets and you could scale through different languages and tailor your creative and your media dynamically through the use of those tools.
Will: Give me a really specific example of how you've utilized AI to kind of add value somewhere in the user experience or the customer experience.
Jason: I've used AI for this understanding the customer journey and dynamically determining where the customer need is based on the signals. And so using it as a listening tool to evaluate the things that the customer or the user's doing to enable the right outcome to be presented to them in the right way. And so you think about a person car shopping and looking around, looking for cars, and obviously, you've got the evidence of what they've been searching, and where they've been going, and all their cookie trails. And obviously, we can talk about the cookie, this feature in the future, but the ability now to use those intent signals to show what they're looking for opens up very different outcomes.
So I'll give an example. We're working with the large automotive manufacturer. I can't say the brand, but they had a presupposition about their target buyer, let's say being a white male, and all their targeting was there, all their segmentation, their user groups were all set up on the white male. What came out of using AI listening tools and dynamic customer journey mapping was the fact that the primary buyer was actually an Asian female. And this was in North America. And so there was doubt amongst the executive leadership team, "What do you mean?" And so we said, "Well, let's dynamically try it with creative that demonstrates different ethnic viewpoints and see what the results indicate." And so by listening to signals that enabled that level of sophistication and dynamically serving creative, that resonated with the newfound target, we saw double-digit increase in car sales.
Will: Wow. God, that's quite the result. That's definitely interesting, how kind of AI can do that, you know, and kind of gain those insights. You know, is that the sort of thing that's just the kind of just available to big agencies and big brands, or is this the sort of thing that kind of small business can do?
Jason: Well, I mean, some of that's inside of the digital platforms that you use every day. So Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc., LinkedIn, you know, they're all using an intelligent AI-driven targeting to empower their platforms. So everybody has access to versions of that by using the big platforms. You know, custom journey mapping software, there's a few really solid, I call them...not startups, but established new companies that are putting that application into the cloud so you could use it as a service and, you know, map that against your customer intent models to generate really sophisticated journey mapping, targeting equations dynamically, but that does require a level of investment, it does require a level of sophistication of the marketer to understand that.
And, you know, many traditional brands when they're thinking global campaign, you know, they may not choose to go down that route. So we're seeing examples of that and definitely seeing a growth in that area. But if you think about the big global giant campaigns, you know, there's usually...you know, they're speaking of the B with the capital...Brand with the capital B and maybe don't wanna have thousands of different permutations of the brand message. So it depends on where they are, really.
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Okay. Well, let's... Just thinking about some other specific technologies, you know, AR and the metaverse been in the news quite a lot lately, obviously, because, you know, Facebook's kind of rebrand as a corporate entity to Meta and all the talk of the metaverse that's been going on there for a while. I mean, there is a level of plausibility about that as being the future. I mean, I think there's a level of metaverseness in a lot of the technology that we're adopting at the moment, whether that's spatial audio in AirPods, or, you know, AR in when you're buying furniture in apps and things like that. But do you see that come into fruition in the way that Facebook or Meta think it will? And do you think marketers will have a place there?
Jason: Well, I have to say... I'm glad you asked this question, first of all, because I have to say I'm short on Meta. And I want to believe and have for a long time felt that this was a critical area of not only experimentation and that, but, you know, to really have a strategy. I was talking to a friend of mine about this and he made a joke and I'm just gonna steal his joke and said, "Well, if a global pandemic can't make me interested in AR, what can? Here I am locked at home by myself, sick of my family, trapped in my house, and I still don't put on the goggles. Well, hmm, what's gonna make me wanna put it on?"
And so, you know, let's take a positive course and let's say that maybe Zuckerberg's tongue in cheek and did read Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" and did see that the metaverse was, you know, engineered to perhaps not intentionally, but mimic the inherent problems in the real world. And by choosing the name, he was doing it tongue in cheek, perhaps. But it did seem to me that even the casual observer of somebody watching "Ready Player One" would not wanna necessarily put themselves in the position of the one trying to own the whole thing. So to me, it seems very hubristic to say that, you know, we're all gonna go to that platform, that one platform especially due to, you know, the knowledge now of everybody about Facebook and their history of sort of putting business before for privacy.
But let's just assume that, you know, there's logic and there's money there that proves that to be the case. Then it reminds me of the time back when people were saying before, you know, the internet was the internet and people were saying, "Well, you got to have an internet strategy, right? As opposed to like a meta-strategy." And so it shows a bit of naivety in that regard to me because can one firm be the place, the only thing that that happens? You know, that's like trying to own the internet, the next version of internet. To me, it's gonna be a multitude of different experiences rather than a single location that we all go to.
Now, maybe I'm totally the old guy here and not getting that right. And, you know, everybody on Facebook is just gonna pop on the goggles and just, you know, move into that experience. So I look for proof points. I look for proof points and the two areas I look for proof points are back to, you know, the common thing. Do I see my kids who are high schoolers buying into it or do I see my parents buying into it? So I look at both ends of the spectrum. And I don't see either of them and I don't have examples that I've seen where people are said, "Oh, my God, I did this and the ROI of this was 100X and it really was amazing."
So I look at it right now as an experimental place to have a bit of fun and mess around and think about what your brand experience can be in that regard. But if you've done any of the Teams meetings where we all are avatars, you know, it is a cartoonish experience. It doesn't... Even the notion when you go into the viewer role in the...not in our boxes, but, you know, in our seats in a room, it is a different experience and we still need to see people's faces, I believe. A 3D representation of a face for me is not the same experience in the business world. So now that being the case, I'm a gamer, I spend a lot of time playing games. I play games with my kids. And so you could say is FIFA Meta? Look at FIFA, or, you know, look at "Call of Duty." Those are metaverse examples.
Will: Or "Roblox?"
Jason: Yeah. Sure. "Minecraft." Right? So these are all examples of what I would say many metas or established brands in their own right to their own universes that we go in and we have experiences in. And so sure as a brand, I could buy media inside "FIFA 2023" and put my brand up in the virtual stadiums and put my logo on t-shirts. That's really resembling the common world that we live in now. I don't think that's evolved yet or perhaps it's incremental, it's replicating the current environment, this notion of a net new metaverse experience and when there's a great brand breakthrough that is fundamentally transformational, I'm keen to see it. Bring it on, I say. But right now I'm a bit short on it and it's a bit of hype.
Will: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a really good point about, you know, looking down and up in terms of looking at your kids and looking at your parents, you know, and looking at both ends of that spectrum. I mean, I think what interests me about things like that is what, you know, from a marketing point of view, like what role can brands play there? If you remember when social media first became interesting for brands, it was kind of...it was an odd fitting shoe to put on for a brand to enter social media. They were entering these kind of person-sized spaces that were meant for people to connect with each other and then before we knew it, we're kind of bantering with like Coca-Cola, and, you know, Tesco, and Walmart and having conversations with them as if they're people in social spaces, and that's always been a bit awkward.
And you think back to Second Life in the noughties where brands tried to have a presence there and it was usually pretty disastrous. So it will be interesting to see that because Facebook is so dependent on brands to keep the lights on. But thinking about that and thinking about, you know, brands and tech, you know, you work with innovation, you kind of work with innovation in lots of different ways, whose job do you think is in a company to kind of drive innovation? Where should that come from within a business, in your opinion?
Jason: That's a very good question, Will. Innovation, like transformation, needs to be both top-down and bottom-up, right? And, you know, we've done a lot of work recently and even defining what the word digital means to people and to brands. And, you know, a lot of C-suite folks are asking, "Well, what do you mean by that? What does that really mean? Can you get clarity on that?" So, you know, we've really tried to define digital and we've come out with a very simplistic way of defining it as a thing, in a way. And by that, I mean, thing being the technology, the use of the applications data and analytics at the core, and in the way being a focus of agility and flexibility, and working in agile ways of working. And those two things together, I think, are the key ingredients of that.
So then you think, "Well, how do we apply that to net new things?" And so for me, innovation is tied to digital because you're gonna be using technology and you're gonna be listening and changing and pivoting based on the signals that you get and using the data that comes out of that experiences to enable either doubling down on that or realizing that's a mistake. So brands should do that in the metaverse and experiment and have a plan and figure it out and they should also do that in all areas and think about how that aligns with where they're going. So that ladders up to, for me, what's your strategy of your future, and there's many vectors, these brands, and these companies can go on. And so to answer that question, I think you need to know what your strategy is for evolution for the business.
And so innovation is a big part of that and so many companies experiment, and, you know an example is often seen as they'll get those guys in the basement to go mess around with that a little bit and see if it validates, get proof of concept out. And, you know, the notion of it elevating from the guys in the basement through that sort of middle part of the company, the frozen middle is the term that's often seen where people are very much like, "I know my job, I'm doing my job very well, and I know how to do that very well, and why should I go about changing it? Because I've been doing it for 15, 20 years, and look, I'm very successful. I've all these words on my wall." There's resistance to change and innovation that frozen middle. So the job of who owns this needs to be the top of the firm that needs to create new mandates to the middle management, to the frozen middle, new KPIs that reward that behavior, and tie it to their compensation. So you can't do that without having the guys at the top buy into it.
Now, back to where I started beginning this conversation, my personal belief is that the global pandemic has separated many firms, both brand leaders and CEOs as getting it in terms of what they need to do to evolve and others that are not. So will that gap continue? We'll see. Time will tell. But what I am seeing is the companies that are doubling down on it right now are grabbing market share, are growing, and are, especially if they do it in the right way, listening to their customers, using data to make those decisions. That's where I would bet. So that means... Sometimes it comes from the chief customer officer, comes from the chief marketing officer. It has to then move through operations and, you know, then people's jobs are different and it moves into workforce and really HR as well. So I think it becomes a centerpiece of the C-suite in terms of the vision of their strategy, their transformation journey, and then it comes manifest through the entire organization.
Will: It's tricky, isn't it? It's the people, the C-suite, and senior management and management in general, are generally the least...I mean, you know, I'm making a sweeping generalization, they're generally the least in touch with emerging trends. They're generally too busy. They're maybe a bit too old to care. And so it's like there's a question somewhere here, but what is the strategy, you know? The new TikTok comes along. How do you dip your toe in? Do we need a strategy? Do we need to get buy-in from senior stakeholders? Is there a way to kind of casually dip a toe in and see if it works? Who does that, does that need a lot of kind of you know, sign-off, or what? You know, how do we kind of do that?
Because in the UK, there's something that's happened recently which I think is really interesting where the staff of big retail stores, some of them have become so popular that their TikTok accounts are much bigger than the brand's TikTok account. And so the brand has gone, "Hang on a minute, Steven in, you know, Manchester, he's got a way bigger following than us. He can now be a brand ambassador, we'll make that part of his job." They didn't plan that or see it coming. And I think that's typical because, of course, Steven was gonna be the first person to get on TikTok and go viral on TikTok because these big brands are terrible at creating TikTok content. So I suppose that's the disconnect. I don't quite get if we can have a strategy for that or should we or... How do we manage that as, as brands?
Jason: You should allocate a portion of the budget for an experimentation zone, you know, whether it's 10%, 20%, 5%, you know, I'm not sure. Depends on the business, and the brand, and the line of business that they're in, but you need to be able to be flexible enough to have many horses in the future race using, back to what I meant about being digital, using technology, and flexibility or agile ways of working to listen to those signals and move quickly and adapt faster than the competition to those market opportunities. So Steven would never have been the brand ambassador if they hadn't let, you know, the employees be out on these platforms.
So there needs to be an openness of culture and a culture of experimentation, and the ability to pivot and move quickly when you see things moving well, double down on it and support it. And, you know, in this instance, Steven is the ambassador, you know, empower him and his crew to take the brand message through to the new platform. That requires a sophisticated CMO to be comfortable enough. And it can't be a command and control type of thing where they're like, "You must only speak the brand promise in this way because those messages are not necessarily authentic in the new medium." So that's... My vote is, you know, enable a portion of the budget to be out there, to test, to learn, and then it moves from the guys in the basement to be in the boardroom.
You know, TikTok's an interesting thing. We talk about TikTok for a second, you know, because there's a lot of questions of how TikTok is so effective and so riveting. And, you know, for me that, you know, as a consumer, as a user, you know, you have to be in there and check it out, and then all of a sudden you look up and it's an hour and you're like, "Where'd that go? So there is a compelling nature to the short-form narrative. And what I'm seeing now is a lot of authentic influencers as opposed to paid influencers or celebrity influencers really punch above their weight. And that's one of the things I like about TikTok is that you have these folks that come out of the woodwork that are really authentic in their voice, not necessarily aligned with the corporate mandate, but yet hysterical or just really cutting through. And that's refreshing. It's really just refreshing to, you know, laugh out loud from a 20-second, you know, little video.
So really interesting space for brands to work in. And it's not the same rules. You can't go in there and say, you know, it must be this color. It must be this thing. So, for me, I think when you're in that, you have to focus on humor and not taking yourself too seriously. And, you know, just, you know, take the piss out of yourself a little bit, and that is sometimes very hard for brands to open up. Social media had that same lesson. We've learned that lesson already. And, you know, the notion of mandating it, it must be this thing and it turns into the, you know, if we use the metaphor of the cocktail party, the brand coming in the room and starting to talk about themself really loudly over everybody else. You know, that's not how cocktail parties work. Wait to be asked, right?
Will: Absolutely. Yeah. I think a lot of brands still don't know what to do with it because the thing is for that high level of authenticity, we give up a lot of control. It's so algorithmically driven, TikTok. It's so random and it is very hard to build audiences in a predictable way. Yes, it's an ad product, but, you know, I think for a lot of brands, actually, might not even make sense for them to use it. I think it's a really hard one to crack. It is pushing us, like you say, in a similar way that social media pushed us all those years ago, it's pushing us further into the kind of more human authentic web.
So, okay. Think thinking about... I'm just coming back to this, you know, I love the idea of this kind of, you know, you fusing advertising and tech over the years. How are agencies, or marketers, or marketing teams leveraging tech? Like are you seeing them building their own products and are they upskilling enough or are, you know, agents...did you think agencies are in danger of sort of falling behind the curve? Where are we at with that from your point of view?
Jason: From my point of view, I...you know, my feet showed my belief several years ago when I chose to move to consulting. And that wasn't that I had any negative thing to say about agencies, you know, they're are fantastic and the work that they do is amazing, so no disrespect there. And the leadership in many of the larger entities...I should say in some of the entities, haven't really embedded this notion of what technology is and does from a functional standpoint. So if you have examples of leaders that get that, and there are many that do, then they can roll out products and services that help them augment their business in a big way. So it is happening. Where I'm seeing it happen in more impactful and more dynamic ways is in smaller agencies who have found a niche, an edge, and have done some really interesting stuff.
Obviously, we talked enough about influencers and we don't need to talk about that anymore because there's a lot there, but SAS companies that are building marketing solutions that enable agencies to use the outcomes and brands themselves to use the outcomes is a really hot space in the MarTech space. That's where the bigger, more successful products that I've been seeing used. There may be some examples that I don't know yet. But the notion of a product culture within a firm is hard to pivot to if you don't have it in there initially because even the notion of building products superimposes that, you know, traditional leadership team would say, "Oh, I know what the customer wants. I'm going to go out and build this thing, the Ford way," when the modern way is really to understand the user and have it grow and, you know, adapt and change the product to it. That doesn't necessarily align with traditional brand message of the, you know, building the spot, right?
So it's a different cultural paradigm in product development. There are great examples of that. And I've worked for firms that have done a really good job in doing that. The peer play private equity firms that are building the solutions now are outpacing, in my view, the value of that capability. And so you see enterprises starting to bypass the agency and going directly to these platforms to enable the outcomes that they want because of the scale they can provide, because of the ability to find those insights at scale. So like we... Example of that is there's SAS company partner of ours named Dakota who we've had great success in processing customer intent models through things like chat, through conversations, through the multitude of signals that you can get from them, but processing it at tremendous scale. We're talking hundreds, or tens of thousands, or hundred thousands of users, and in a very, very fast period of time because they built the platform on top of the cloud that can scale and map that against the customer intent model.
So you look at a platform like that. That's something that was built by a bunch of people who did a really focused effort understanding what the customer need was. Typical agencies won't spend the millions of dollars to do that. They will do a smaller scale thing. Again, I'm generalizing. So there's probably examples of out there and hope that your pod doesn't get blown up by people saying, "Oh, my God, you didn't see my thing because it's amazing." But the narrow focus that comes from a business of people who have focused on a mission of solving that problem is a different business and different process than an agency trying to augment their old model with a new tool. It's evolutionary versus, you know, reactionary, right?
Will: Yeah, no, I get that. I get that. And I mean, you know, a lot of marketers and agencies that are employing a wealth, I think an exploding wealth of automation and no-code tools, right? You know, there seems to be a tool for everything these days, whether it's...yeah, these kind of no-code tools where you can build kind of databases and automation flows just with like, you know, user-friendly interfaces. And it's been a huge shift for the modern marketer in recent years. Yeah. Marketers are being told all the time they need to understand the technical side of things more, but at the same time, more heavy technical, you know, weapons are being put at our disposal through these kind of very simple interfaces. But what I see is these automation tools, no-code tools seem to be best adopted by kind of small agile e-commerce startups. Are the bigger brands and agencies leveraging, for instance, automation in the same way?
Jason: Yes and no. The future is not evenly spread there, Will. Some are. If there's a technology person at the C-suite that's involved in this, there's a greater preponderance or tendency to enable that to happen because there's a culture of understanding the nature of digital technology at the core of the business. If you have, you know, missing that, then... And this is both for agency and for brand or for firm. Then you have a less of an understanding and desire to know what that means and acceptability or preponderance to experiment and test and learn. So I've seen some great examples of huge, giant companies, pharma, financial firms, etc. create their own internal culture around internalizing what would be a traditional outsource marketing function by embracing these types of low no-code tools. Even had a major marketer recently say to me, "Hey, do you think we could put an agile process on media buying? What would that look like?"
You know, to just think about it like changing our media buy like all the time. And so then you're like thinking, "Ding, ding, ding. Okay. So you drank the Kool-Aid. You're on the hook." That would never be heard of before. Even that question wouldn't be asked because you'd be locked in by your agency for a 12-month media buy and you'd be locked in. Now, some things you still have to lock in on, right? Like big must tent pole events, you know, sports events, you know, large television events of which there's maybe a dozen, but a lot of brands can afford to pay to play at that level. So the tools that you speak of and the plethora of outcomes presuppose that you're running an agile business and you're able to, you know, move at the speed of digital and not everybody is.
So I think that's why you're seeing the smaller upstarts, you're seeing these pure-plays grab market share because they're able to move and spin up things and move quickly and capture market opportunities and use these embedded tools to bypass the traditional supply chains and go direct to the consumer. So even if you look at things like coffee, for example, traditionally buy at the grocery store, at the shop, but, you know, subscription-based models of small-batch coffee, people bypassing the traditional distribution mechanism and going direct to consumer, that's a good example of a small business grabbing market share and having, you know, great success by using these tools.
Will: Yes. I mean, and just as an aside, you talk about direct to consumer and that's been a huge shift partly because of the pandemic, hasn't it? Because of, you know, the way we've been living. Are a lot of your clients coming to you with the kind of the DTC problem and how to solve it?
Jason: It's definitely a top of the list of everybody. They're thinking about it. You know, now that I'm in sort of the consultancy side, you know, typically the questions are a bit more than just a marketing question. It's about how to operationalize the new customer insight and the business, marketing is one of the outcomes that happens. But every business that I'm seeing that has embraced the opportunity is experimenting with these traditional...I would say nontraditional distribution channels. How do I get my product to the end-user faster? How do I enable the presupposed high-level functionality we have because of things like Amazon and Facebook and Google that just work at scale.
And this is an example of a pharmaceutical company that we're doing work on and, you know, they were shipping very expensive drugs through very expensive couriers to people that really needed these things and even, you know, things like organ transplants and stuff like that, it would be a helicopter to the hospital type of thing. Yet, there's a guy knocking on the back door of the hospital saying, "I got your delivery here. Like, okay, ready." And you're like, "It's somebody's liver or something." And there was no real-time tracking of these products, yet I could know that I got my toothpaste coming from Amazon and I can see where the truck is, right?
So there's an expectation from the consumer now where I need to know where my thing is. I wanna see it on a map. And if you're not providing that, well, then you're gonna go somewhere else. And so that's where the customer transformation that's happened because of COVID, because of the impact of digital transforms a business that you wouldn't think about that historically as, you know, D2C thing, it was a B2B2C thing. But now people want to know where that is and they wanna pull it up on their phone and actually know where the product is. So that impact is gonna transform all these businesses in a big way.
Even tires, for example, buying tires for your auto, there's an example where you used to go through this horrific experience of like going to the tire store and like, "Am I buying the right tire or am I buying the wrong tire?" I heard 30% of new autos were sold online over the past year from 8% a year ago. So whether that stat is valid or not, that was something I read or heard recently. Those things are not gonna go back. Like all of us would go way out of our way to go out of...to never have to deal with the dealer in that capacity again. So, you know, you go to those facilities that enable you to get what you want and sometimes we even pay more just to avoid that hassle, take the toil away of dealing with that, "I'm gonna talk to my manager, see if I get the best price for you." You're like, "We know the price. Come on." Like that schism or that bifurcation is gonna continue.
Will: Yes. That's interesting, isn't it? That with that kind of shift towards direct to consumer, it feels like brands are concentrating on different parts of the customer journey. Like what you're talking about there is what gets referred to as the last mile, right. So, you know, some brands are really focusing on the kind of the experience of when it's about to arrive, some focus on the unboxing, some focus on post-purchase support, some focus further up the funnel, you know, on the kind of very much the pre-purchase experience of actually buying the thing. Tesla do a pretty good job of that. And they're known for their post-purchase support as well. But where are you seeing most of the challenge? Is it pre-purchase, is it during purchase, or is it post-purchase? Like where are people kind of coming to you with the most problems, do you think, in that journey?
Jason: Very good question. I don't think there's a single answer there. It depends on the level of maturity of the e-commerce infrastructure. You know, Amazon's fortunate or unfortunate dominance has created an expectation that we should be able to buy anything with one click, right? And it'd be at our house in 20 minutes. I'm exaggerating. But so there's a desire to shorten the number of clicks that you have to get the purchase done. That's ubiquitous. Everybody's moving to this notion of minimize that and that's table stakes now. So I think that's why people are focusing on the last mile, is because they need to make sure that the experience is continued.
But, you know, I wouldn't recommend anybody to prioritize the unboxing experience unless they have a modern e-commerce platform working because, you know, you're spending your money at the wrong end of it. Optimize that, use the tools that are out there to enable that to happen at scale, especially for medium and small enterprise, you know, larger-scale companies that are building their own infrastructure in terms of distribution, you know, can use these tools to enable for, you know, notification of shipping, all that sort of stuff. You don't have to build all that yourself, that exists as tools that are very commonly plugged into your customer notification system. So you don't have to build it all. You can utilize the tools that are out there.
Will: I'm fascinated, like what problems people come to you with? You know, you're a change and transformation consultant firm. What is the typical problem that people kind of present to you?
Jason: It depends on where they are on their journey. So, you know, back to this notion of what is digital. Many people, if the CML comes to you, they're all about digitizing the customer experience. If you're talking about someone who's in workforce transformation, they're like, "How do I make my employees in the workforce work at the speed of digital?" If you're talking about operation distribution like what we were just discussing because e-commerce, it's about automation in the supply chain. It's like digitizing your supply chain and using automation tools to enable a diverse network of partners to enable your supply chain to adapt as you need. So it's different things to different people based on where they think digital is.
And so what you have to think about is they're really all connected, right? The modern enterprise enables data to make decisions at scale across all of those touchpoints and there's times we're brought in on all three of those areas. Other times we're brought in because there's been an identified short falling in terms of, say, we've got to sort out this thing, move it to this from on-prem to the cloud and we've got to fix the technology at the core of it. Other times we're brought into enable agility at scale and that can be inside the marketing function, but it could also be in terms of areas like workforce operations.
So we like to think, tell us where you are on your digital journey and then we enable you to get to the outcome of what happens. Marketing's in the middle of that, right? And it's really...because that's ultimately where the customer is and where the revenue comes from. So that's often a critical starting point. When that is mature, then it... When there's a mature marketing function and a mature use of data to enable customer insights at scale, then it becomes about operationalizing that and thus the people need to work in a different way. And we've seen that a lot now, especially because of COVID because people aren't going into the office anymore.
One like pet peeve I've got, just to go on a rant about, that people are, "Oh, it's the back to work thing now." We never stopped working, by the way, it's back to the office that people are talking about, right? So I really... That just bugs me when they say back to work. It's like we never stopped working. But slight aside, the point I'm trying to make is that the digitization of the enterprise is different based on different levels of the business and marketing often drives that because of the changing customer needs.
Will: Yes. Yeah. I get that. I'm aware our time is running short. I've got one last question for you, really, and it's really... What is the question? How would you recommend our listeners can kind of arm themselves for what's coming? Arm themselves for the world of modern marketing and stay abreast of it all?
Jason: Well, obviously they can listen to your podcast, Will. It's a good place to start. In addition to that, I think... This is the same thing I tell everybody. Listen, learn, read, study, keep your eyes and ears open, be open to any and all ideas. And I tell, you know, my team and I tell my kids and myself every day, find time to discover, and listen, and put yourself in the position of not knowing and put yourself in a position of, "Oh, this feels weird. I need to know what this is." So that means follow blogs, that means read, that means read the newspaper, that means follow the marketing blogs, that means continue to live and absorb as much as you possibly can.
There's a tremendous amount of great content out there that speaks to this, from the mainstream publications to the niche digital products. So I would just say find the one that resonates with you and make sure that you make time in your life to listen and think about it. That's often the problem. It's not a shortage of places to learn, but to absorb and then act based on what you have discovered. So give yourself time to play, right? You know, give yourself a little bit... Back to that notion of a little bit of your budget, give yourself a little bit of the time to think and to slow down to say, "I have the perspective of where I need to go." And then you make decisions, right? Then you make decisions and have actions.
Will: Yes. It's true. Yeah. If you just spend all your day just firefighting and responding to other people's emails, you never get to do that for sure. Actually one last question for you, just tell our listeners where they can find you and connect with you online.
Jason: Yeah. Well, northhighland.com is the URL we post all our stuff. We've got blogs, we've got articles, we've got thought leadership. We put a lot of our best thinking out there. And obviously, I appreciate the invitation, Will. Really enjoyed spending time with you today, and look forward to doing this next time.
Will: Thanks, Jason. It's been really insightful actually. Yeah. Lots to learn. I could have talked to you all night about it, but yeah, thanks very much. Really appreciate your time.
Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com. Thanks for listening.
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