“What excites me is when creativity and innovation collide to create some genuinely exciting, interesting, useful and attention-grabbing output” – Talking Digital with James Russell-Watson, Digital Transformation Lead at Kimberly-Clark plc

What is the biggest challenge facing the digital industry and why?


I’m sure many other marketers will talk about the impending loss of third-party cookies here, so just to change things up a little, I’d say that brands need to be able to really understand, in a more tangible and measurable way, the benefit of delivering relevant, contextual, interesting/emotive and non-direct response-related content and experiences for consumers, and then be able to link this back to a far wider and longer-term view of both brand equity and transactional growth.

Because marketers have become obsessed with real-time data, we have also inherently become obsessed with real-time results, which I believe has led to increased short-termism as well as a lack of creative excellence and/or motivation, as many brands (certainly not all) have got themselves stuck in a bit of rut of just pumping out functional, repetitive and somewhat dull messages at people – often heavily reliant on discount/offer messaging in the hopes of seeing immediate short-term uplift. This approach is not only at the detriment of sustainable brand advocacy, but it also fosters a culture of non-loyal customers that will just chase the deals without any real brand affinity.

If we as marketers could really connect the dots between the ‘magic’ and the ‘money’, and across a much wider lens, then we’d all be laughing…and we’d also do more great work.


What excites you? What do you think will be the next ‘gamechanger’ in digital marketing?


What excites me in marketing generally is when creativity and innovation collide to create some genuinely exciting, interesting, useful and attention-grabbing output. The gamechanger in digital marketing will be when the prefix ‘digital’ is dropped in reference to any form of marketing strategy and instead it all just becomes a fully integrated and non-siloed component within a broader marketing strategy and plan.


What’s the most interesting digital campaign you’ve seen recently?


There’s lots of brands doing great stuff, so I could probably go on for hours here. So maybe I’ll just give you three quick examples instead….

1) Burger King handing over its social media channels to smaller independent burger restaurants during the pandemic to help support them (and in doing so making themselves appear a lot more human and a bit less greedy giant corp). Actually, Burger King in general are just doing great stuff period at the moment.

2) US bike brand, Redline collaborating with music artist A$AP Ferg to produce a really credible, authentic and relevant music track/video (‘Floor Seats’) as a piece of branded digital content that its audience can actually relate to (rather than ‘meh’ content that people just don’t care about) that was followed up with a stream of interrelated videos with the artist (and an actual A$AP Ferg bike sold via retail) that gained millions upon millions of engaged/shared digital views (versus the hundreds it would‘ve probably got if it just did a bog standard product demo video).

3) Not a campaign as such and rather a piece of tech, but the Liantronics Naked Eye 3D LED ‘wall’ in Chengdu as a digital out of home billboard that has seen lions, geometric hands and spaceships burst out of its screen.


What was your experience of working through the pandemic?


Good and bad, much like most people I guess. Productivity was good, with far less in the way of unplanned interruptions, but quality face-to-face contact, and in particular the inability to have face-to-face creative/ideation sessions, was more challenging. Zoom is great (as are other online tools), but just staring at faces on a laptop screen isn’t really best medium for more creative thinking and it can be quite draining/sapping at times. In a non-work context, I most loved the all-too-brief period of time when all the roads were devoid of vehicles and nature really turned the volume up.


What burning question would you like to ask other industry experts?


With all the vast amounts of data flying around, in your heart of hearts how confident are you that we're collectively all measuring the right things in the right ways yet?

Is there a chance that we're all a tad guilty of obsessing over the trivial a bit (as in click-through rates or last click attribution) and casually just brushing the big picture under the carpet (as in 'what impact did the entire interconnected marketing plan have on the business over the long term and why?') because we still don't really know what the full story is yet, or how to get there? Is Parkinson's Law of Triviality, from 1957, still at play in the digital age I wonder?


Digital marketers often talk about the value exchange. Do you think consumers appreciate the concept?


In a more one-dimensional sense of ‘what’s in it for me?’ when it comes to giving up their data, absolutely. In terms of really understanding why brands are so eager and willing to dangle carrots at consumers in exchange for their data and how it will then be used to speak and market to them in future, or even to create lookalike audiences based on their profiles, then no. With ever-increasing noise and competition from other brands trying to capture the same data, consumers will naturally become far more savvy and wise to it too – we’ve already educated them not to jump at 20 per cent off when they know it will be 30 per cent next week, so the same will no doubt happen with giving up any data (at all the various stages of collection). In this sense, brands would be wise to move away solely from short-lived sugar-hits (discounts/offers) and think about delivering more sustainable value through high quality and actually worthwhile content, information, tools or credible purpose-led initiatives.


What do you wish you’d known 10 years ago?


The 66-1 winner of the 2013 Grand National.


How do you manage work/life balance? How do you unwind?


Cycling for hours and hours, basically just to find good coffee and cake, and then cycling back again.


Do you have any hidden talents? Party trick?


Horse whisperer.


What else should we know about you?


All of the great debate and prophesising around consumer behaviour, marketing excellence, trends, innovation and data analysis will all count for a big fat zero if we as both brands and individuals don’t really start thinking about (and taking direct action on) our impact on the planet…so I wish we all spent as much time doing that, and with some urgency now, as we did nattering on about what are ultimately second or third tier priorities in the greater scheme of things. Ahem, now I’m off to hug a tree…

With special thanks to:

James Russell-Watson
Digital Transformation Lead

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