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Digital City Festival 2023: Highlights from Scaling for Growth


Marketing leaders came together for Digital City Festival’s Scaling for Growth event, featuring speakers from the likes of Boohoo, AO, Microsoft and more.

Hosted at Bruntwood SciTech’s The Bright Building on Wednesday 29th March, a series of inspiring sessions at the event delved into how to make your brand stand out, tackling bots in fake traffic, driving marketing performance, customer loyalty, innovation and multi-channel advertising.

After a morning welcome and introductions, a panel session sponsored by Just After Midnight kicked off the event on How to make your brand stand out in today’s marketplace.

Chaired by Becky Willis, Just after Midnight’s New Business Director, the panellists joining to offer their valuable insights included: Arafa Heneghan, Director of Brand at AO; Amy Woods, Podcaster, Author and Founder of Content 10x; Ellie England, Commercial Director at Microsoft and Anthony Diver, Chief Creative Officer at Mosquito (part of CTI Group). 

“Budgets are getting tighter, we need to try and understand how to make the best of marketing spend and cut through the digital noise,” said Becky.

Although there have been debates about using influencers in campaigns, if they are relevant to your brand and target audience, influencers are still “an important part of the marketing mix,” said Arafa. “We try to influence the influencer,” added Anthony. “A brand can tell you how great it is but it’s about courage and conviction.” He explained how Sophie Hinchliffe, a well-known influencer known as Mrs Hinch, was showcasing one of Mosquito’s brands to her followers through choice, not a paid partnership.

As Gen Z make up approximately 25% of the workforce, we “really need to understand them,” emphasised Ellie and AI will become increasingly important. More staff need to be able to use these tools going forward to innovate. Marketers often start new projects but knowing when to give up or stick with something is key as the data doesn’t always reflect success at first. At AO, Facebook live videos started out with only 600 viewers but the team stuck with it and the live videos now have a reach of over 500k views. The panel agreed it’s “easy to get bogged down in the data” but “commitment and consistency is the key”.

“The funnel is broken, not enough time is spent in the middle,” said Ellie. Brand loyalty is diminishing with abundances of choice and price in light of the cost of living crisis. Key takeaways to help your brand stand out included leveraging the story about your brand, consider “purposeful marketing” and think about creating “genuine, authentic and inclusive experiences with customers”. 

Rosa Mitchell, Business Director at Leeds-based digital marketing agency Connective3, was up next. She delivered a really thought-provoking session on How to produce creative organic strategies that drive performance and lead to sales. 

“Digital PR is only going to get more important thanks to online growth,” she explained, diving into how to deliver creative campaigns that are on brand that can improve overall digital performance.

She also addressed how marketers can utilise digital PR campaigns that deliver links and support SEO, how to understand your target market and discover what your target audience wants to see and how that can drive business growth and sales. As “a lot of digital experts don’t know how to measure impact effectively,” she pointed to how the more backlinks a page has, the more traffic it receives from Google but consistency and authentic links are vital.

Using the example of work with a sex lifestyle brand’s strategic creative plan, she outlined numerous valuable tools that can either help with SEO, researching trending topics for newsjacking or reactive content, revenue tools to see where product gifting or survey-led content has landed, and where to find your audience. 

After a networking break, festival headline sponsor MiQ addressed how to Cut through the clutter: reach your audience with Connected TV. Jack Sullivan, Business Development Lead at MiQ was joined by Joe Wood, Regional Sales Director at Samba TV, to explore Connected TV and how it can open up huge opportunities for marketers to reach audiences. 

Samba TV figures discovered 90% of linear impressions reached the same 55% of households, there are “massive opportunities away from that”.

With AVOD (ad supported video on demand) / FAST (Free Ad-supported Television) there are three persistent challenges: poor targeting, lack of measurement and zero transparency.

But with Samba TV, Joe said the company gathers viewership data via its proprietary Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology which gives “complete visibility on viewership globally” on any app, channel or platform which can be used for insight, planning, activation and measurement. 

Explaining about MiQ’s Connected TV offering, Jack said it’s “not just about viewing habits, but who the audience are”. You can now “target and measure connected TV campaigns in new and innovative ways” such as boosting “incremental reach” over TV only campaigns. 

Simon Bollon, founder of Leeds agency BOUTIQUE, followed with a fascinating session on Scaling for growth – The DISCO model that drives marketing performance.

Before Simon talked through the agency’s DISCO model, it starts off with three key things: who you’re targeting, what you want to stand for and how it will be achieved. “As a business, balance short-term attributable, data-driven RPO with sustainable long-term business objectives. More and more marketers have been focused on the long-term, we have a responsibility to balance the two.”

An insightful conversation followed delving into bots: the real-world experience of fake traffic in marketing campaigns with Jon Davies, Partner at Chatter Communications and Stewart Boutcher, CTO of Veracity Trust Network.

Using an example where lots of traffic landed on a client website, Jon said he initially didn’t consider traffic wouldn’t be human, or unwanted traffic that was malicious. When buying media campaigns for clients through various channels when they were seeking to tap into different audiences, he discovered the traffic didn’t appear to convert. Further drilling into the data, around 96% of traffic was coming from a strange source – adult colouring book websites. 

Stewart said it proves the importance of understanding data. Marketers rely on metrics for success but if the traffic isn’t genuine or originates from bots, the decisions marketers are making are not well-informed. As marketers, “we are all very busy people and look at headline numbers,” said Jon. “Often you need to look at the bigger picture and knit different metrics together.”

Emily Maddox, Digital Growth Consultant and retention expert at Insider, addressed the customer loyalty landscape during her talk on The 2023 Blueprint for Customer Loyalty

Customers are now starting to reconsider spending on non essentials in light of the cost of living crisis so it’s “important to focus on loyal customers and not lose them along the way”. The focus is now shifting on customer retention. This can be done in a number of ways: offering a more personalised or tailored experience online, gamify data collection by asking customers what they love as the more relevant the experience, the more effortless the shopping experience becomes. 

Looking at a range of segmentation points from historical (such as purchase history) to behavioural (such as visit history or product category), they can all be used to figure out at what point the customer is starting to churn, then you can work on retaining them. Explore different channels too – emails are becoming very saturated and “it’s difficult to stand out”. One of the fastest-growing channels is WhatsApp and is the “most engaged channel in the marketing mix” which can be a tool for brands to engage more rapidly with customers.

Following a lunch break at Bruntwood SciTech’s new innovation hub BASE, Will Clayton, Head of Innovation at Boohoo, hosted a special keynote session on Getting your foundation right to open the door to innovation.

He said there are three words to describe Boohoo – speed, scale and growth. “Innovation can mean a lot of things, innovation can be clever, complex but simple and elegant”. Coming to Boohoo five years ago from the aerospace industry, in terms of scale the group is an almost £2bn revenue business. It all started with one brand but has since expanded to 13. 

Boohoo’s ordering system with suppliers was initially through paper orders but in 2020, the group embraced innovation fuelled by the pandemic and kick-started a product called Order App to improve its ordering process. Key takeaways about innovation included having a purpose, a capable team able to think differently, an environment that enables action, a solid bedrock of technology platforms and data, and processes in place to be able to execute innovative ideas. On innovation, you “can’t get to the sexy without doing the basics”. 

“Where you’re trying to focus in on is where you’ll find the innovation you need to look at,” he explained. Knowing when to innovate is knowing when to stop “doing stupid things”. 

StackAdapt were up next, with a talk on Multi-channel advertising: how to successfully advertise in turbulent times. In this session, StackAdapt’s Senior Sales Director James Hutchinson explored trends and insights and discussed the benefits of using a multi-channel approach.

An audience “doesn’t solely live on one channel, to reach consumers today your brand needs to reach your audience” and by being on more channels, you have more eyeballs on your campaigns and greater chances of converting to customers. On positive effects of a multi-channel approach, he pointed to research carried out by StackAdapt which found that 81% of those surveyed believe running on more than one channel had a positive impact on conversion rate. Customers are more likely to convert with different channels, such as splitting ads and impressions across channels. 

The last talk to wrap up the day was on Doing More With Less: How to Get Maximum ROI From Your Content, delivered by Amy Woods, Podcaster, Author and Founder of Content 10x.

She provided valuable insights about embracing a “doing more with less” approach to content and how to implement an effective content repurposing strategy.

“We as marketers are not always great at making small things go so much bigger,” she explained. “Short-form content is there to attract new audiences, long-form content satisfies an existing audience. Some people come in at different stages.” 

“Content repurposing does save the day, it’s not just about breaking a larger piece down to your audience in bites.” An example included repurposing content from a webinar into a long-form blog post then that can be further repurposed into short-form content through a Twitter thread. “Maximise what you already have,” she emphasised.

It’s already been a fantastic week at Digital City Festival so far, there are still a number of partner events taking place across Manchester and to top it off we have an epic wrap up party tonight to celebrate! Find out more here and make sure you join us!

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