Will McInnes is CMO of digital consumer intelligence company Brandwatch. His passion is online data and how it can shape industries, policies, research and innovation. He’s also a board member of the Big Boulder Initiative, whose mission is to establish the foundation for the long-term success of the social data industry.
He authored Culture Shock, a 21st-century handbook for business with an average review of 4.5 stars on Amazon and was a TEDx speaker in 2011.
We spoke to Will about the benefits of social listening technology, current trends in martech, and how marketers can best leverage their martech investments.
I initially joined the telemarketing team at a small start-up, doing a hundred outbound cold calls a day. From that position, I migrated to marketing and attended night school, becoming a Chartered Institute of Marketing trained marketer responsible for a mobile product portfolio.
This role gave me a taste for entrepreneurialism and growth. The company was a relatively small, privately owned business in an early area of technological evolution. From there, I co-founded the first social media consultancy in Europe. We did ground-breaking work for Coca Cola, the British government, and Barclays Bank. After running this business for about 10 years, Giles Palmer, the CEO of Brandwatch, approached me about becoming their global CMO based in New York.
I moved to Brandwatch in 2013 and it’s been a wonderful adventure. I was attracted by the quality of the technology, the team, and the international ambition. Since I started at Brandwatch, we’ve grown tremendously. We work with 39% of the Fortune 100, merged with our biggest competitor, made multiple acquisitions, and raised multiple rounds of VC funding.
The top challenges were ambiguity and possibility, though these may be two sides of the same coin. When you’re a company of 150 people with clients around the world and a technology that has momentum, there’s no playbook. You must be comfortable operating in that ambiguity. What I find so fascinating about the world we’re operating in is that it’s completely uncharted. Every individual and organization must find its own path.
I’m a great fan of marketing, business growth, sport, and life. I’m also a great fan of momentum and of picking a direction, then committing to it. Brandwatch has created fantastic momentum as an industry leader. We’ve stayed close to our clients, but I worry when the level of energy starts to drop, or there’s a sense that it’s been a while since we’ve done something really exciting. So, my approach would be to either create your own flywheel of momentum or harness other sources.
Brandwatch is a social listening tool that helps marketers understand what people are saying about products and brands, enabling organizations to be as “consumer fit” as possible. A consumer fit organization is one that is in tune with its rapidly changing customers and market.
A consequence of digital transformation and globalization is a high rate of change. The potential addressable market is vast, as is the size of your potential competition. Our products and services help brands and agencies stay in tune with what consumers are saying online in real-time. That helps our customers make better decisions based on what people are complaining about, missed opportunities, key themes, or the response to their latest advertising campaigns.
To stand out, we invest for the long term, which not many of our competitors are doing and not many small tech start-ups can do. We’ve always gone for the harder road and for the path that we think makes the most sense. That has meant that sometimes our competition launches things more quickly, but over time we’ve built up a client base of connoisseurs who know that they’re getting the best quality product.
There are billions of conversations happening constantly online. And for us, social is a broad opportunity. It’s not just Facebook and Instagram, but niche forums about products like washing machines and vacuum cleaners. It’s reviews on e-commerce websites. It’s a huge petri dish of consumer opinion. Our flagship product, Brandwatch Consumer Research, can help companies begin to understand what people are saying about them.
Brandwatch helps inform decision making. The companies that are using our products best, don’t make quick tactical marketing decisions with the information. They make deep and important long-term product decisions.
There are a couple of common themes with our clients who get the most value from our products. One is investing in learning how to get value out of the platform. Brandwatch Consumer Research is a power tool. The higher you self-assess your expertise in the platform, the higher your satisfaction. Thus, the first step would be investing in really learning it.
Secondly, we have a fantastic API. For more mature organizations who are bringing the different pieces of their marketing stack together, Brandwatch can speak to other parts of the stack. That’s a brilliant advantage.
Buyers want the highest quality solutions with the fewest possible vendor relationships. These two things are at odds with each other. I find it hard to imagine a world where fewer vendors will be able to service large parts of what the marketing technology stack requires.
For me, the idea of a more open ecosystem makes sense because innovation is so rapid. The best way to stay at the cutting edge of evolving technology is to plug and play rather than look to consolidated single platforms.
In the early days, social media was an edgy and subversive technology. It was very ad hoc, under resourced, unstructured and misunderstood. As it started maturing, businesses and organizations realized that this was a fantastically intimate, lower cost customer care conduit. We also saw that, for a while, it was a low cost, high reach marketing channel.
Now social has become a core competency for smart professionals in every organization because the modern consumer expects to get a decent response when they reach out to a brand on social media. This is social starting to fulfill its promise. It presents a huge opportunity for organizations to better understand what’s really happening by providing a rich tapestry of digital intelligence that is extremely valuable.
We’ve seen clients use digital consumer intelligence to understand the whole customer lifecycle. For example, one of the biggest auto companies in the world is using social to understand the different phases of the customer journey. What do people care about and talk about? What are the themes and topics that they consider when they’re pre-purchase? What are the common experiences that they have in the purchasing process when they go to a dealership? How are they treated? What are the common snags? What are the friction points, post purchase, in the servicing process? What is the brand like from a customer experience point of view?
Brandwatch is charting a course into digital consumer intelligence, which is a broader opportunity to modernize market research. Social is just one part of the toolkit. Last year we acquired an exciting mobile survey company called Qriously, which successfully predicted the recent UK election results. Their ability to harness an audience of up to 2 billion people through mobile devices means that some of the brands that work with us can instantly reach people and ask them questions.
When we start to think about social intelligence not in isolation, but by adding mobile surveys, review data and potentially customer call center data, we can begin to achieve a varied and rich 360 degree perspective on what matters to the customers that we want to help.
There are no easy answers to the question of privacy. Transparency is key for any brand now and as we move forward, it’s important to tell people what and why. My experience as a consumer is that I’m happy to provide my data when I feel there’s a good value exchange. Am I getting value from providing my data as well as the brand or whoever else is involved?
Trust is fundamental to that. We all know what it feels like when a brand crosses the line. Avoiding creepiness is fundamental to how we work at Brandwatch. We have a data privacy architecture and working group to make sure that we stay on the right side of that line.
I think we’re going to see more of the same two forces that we’ve seen so far—consolidation in more mature sectors of the martech tech space overall and the continued explosion of new platforms and categories.
Specifically, much more is going to happen in video which is the de facto standard now for consumers, whether it’s B2B or B2C. As humans, we’re hardwired to take information through our eyes, so video is still an untapped opportunity.
Integrated technologies are still very immature and my sense is that the western developed markets are naive about their place in the global innovation race. When you look at some of the innovation coming out of China we would do well to observe and learn from that market.
Brandwatch is at an exciting phase in its development. We’ve recently defined a whole new market category in digital consumer intelligence, and have reached $107m in revenue. In the next two to three years, we’re aiming to reach a $1B valuation, which sets us up to be Brighton’s first unicorn.
We’re now beginning to innovate and disrupt in market research, which is 20 times bigger than the market that we came from. It’s like bursting through the clouds when you’re on a flight. There’s a whole new skyscape for us. I’m very excited about this new level of scale as we look to innovate further.
Keeping staff up to date on how to maximize the value they get from technology is a job that will never go away. We’ve recently hired an experienced VP of Operations and her ambition is to provide a rolling program of enablement and education for people internally to keep on top of how to get the best value out of their technology.
A good question to ask is, what percentage of effort or money should we be spending on getting value out of the investments that we’ve already made? Buying technology is easy but implementing it and extracting value from it is where the magic happens.
Our team gets the most from our technology by appointing a champion who acts as the sponsor of that technology. When a new technology is proposed, we appoint the champion as the person to educate whoever needs to know about it. It’s relatively informal, but we expect them to run workshops and training sessions and to stay up to date themselves. We’ve found lunch and learn sessions to be incredibly useful. People get excited because they see the benefit and they can put the work in context.
One of our clients makes one of the most popular ice cream brands in the world. They had a popular belief that people bought the ice cream when the weather was good and in order to sell ice cream at those times, what they had to do was put it in front of people. They gave bigger discounts to their supermarket partners to get the ice cream on the end of aisles so the product would be in front of consumers at those times.
Social intelligence, weather data, and sales information told quite a different story. The client saw no correlation between the weather and sales. In fact, bad weather was often a driver of sales. They saw, through social, that consumers were saying, “I’m having a terrible week. The weather’s crap. I can’t wait to get on the sofa this weekend, binge, watch Netflix, and destroy a tub of ice cream.”
That insight saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars and enabled them to understand what was really going on for their consumers. We have examples of our airline clients understanding when a baggage carousel was broken more quickly through social than through their own internal processes. There are many other examples, but I love the ice cream one because it’s about turning logic on its head and understanding what was going on for real people.
We can’t do our jobs in the Brandwatch marketing team without Marketo and Salesforce.com. They might not be the most exciting vendors, but our business depends on them.Reblogged 6 months ago from www.clickz.com