Last night, we attended our second Digital Innovation Meetup, hosted by the Innovation Enterprise at the Google Campus, London.

The evening featured speakers from Hearst and Unilever who discussed key areas of digital strategy within their organisations.

Digital experimentation

First up was Joanna Millington, the Digital Delivery Director at Hearst, giving a taster of her talk ‘What audience, what platforms?’ for the Digital Innovation Summit later this year.

Joanna started by showing the diversity of ages, tastes and behaviours across their brands, from Cosmopolitan to Esquire. “The younger audience aren’t interested in buying magazines any more,” she said, “but they do enjoy the brands in other platforms”.

This is refreshing to hear a publisher say, but it did kick off a debate about the relevancy of brands now and in the future between some members of the audience. Joanna used the example of Cosmo’s recent foray into Snapchat, which has had successful results so far as stories are pushed in about celeb selfies, smokey eyes and more to the young female market. These stories can be easily shared with friends through Snapchat Discover.

Hearst’s content on Snapchat is free, as it is on many of the social channels, but this doesn’t worry Joanna. Ad space is at a premium in these Snapchat articles, but monetisation isn’t the focus for this as it makes sense to invest in getting into that space (and a paywall is definitely not on the cards). “If our brand isn’t there, another brand will be”, she summarised.

Snapchat Discover has noticeably increased referrals to the Cosmopolitan website, and as Hearst are data-driven, the success of this will play out in their future strategies. Joanna pointed out that there is no one rule for brands at Hearst, and that sponsored content, ads and more varies across these brands – what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.

Customers and digital engagement

The next speaker was Megan Neale, the Global Head of Consumer Engagement Centres for Unilever. Like Hearst, Unilever has an incredibly diverse portfolio of brands, and she agreed that it was difficult to get a consistent digital strategy across these brands for dealing with customer engagement.

Unilever’s emphasis on sustainability pulls all their brands together, and their digital strategy is a significant part of this. Megan pointed out that with magazine brands, the printing of the magazine isn’t where the value is, it’s in the content, and a similar mentality feeds into Unilever’s brand relationships.

“A key bit of advice from me is to understand consumer touchpoints and how to use them,” said Megan. Digital has brought huge benefits to consumer relationships, and the work now is to engage the Unilever consumer in the social environment, and not just leave them with a phone number to call. Unilever has also identified that the younger generation are much more concerned with brand ethics and the environment, and the digital space provides the opportunities to get this across.

Megan also discussed the 5 beliefs of Unilever’s digital strategy: being ‘agile, relevant, instant, contextual and empathetic’. The ’empathetic’ side is not necessarily directly having empathy with the customer in the traditional sense, but instead being ‘digitally empathetic’ and providing a variety of solutions for customer interaction.

Of course, the other benefit of digital for brands is the cost effectiveness. Complaints can be dealt with without the need for large call centres, and the savings from this can be put back into solutions to reach a broader pool of people.

So…experiment, listen to consumers and the engagement data, and find what works. Simple, right?

As with all things digital, Megan is the first to admit that it isn’t all plain sailing. “We’ve not figured it out, but at Unilever, we sit alongside integrated teams to bridge the organisational divide.”

The evening ended with drinks and networking, and we had some fascinating discussions with people about the changes in the digital world.

The only disappointment was the lack of people in the room. The event online had 100 confirmed attendees and a large waiting list, yet there were only around 50 people there. Whether it was the wet weather or complacency about a free event, it was unfair to those on the waiting list that a significant proportion of confirmed attendees failed to show up.

Missed this meetup? Join the Digital Innovation Meetup group to be alerted to the next one.

Catch up with the Twitter feed by searching #DigitalLdn.

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