As part of a Q&A series showcasing speakers at this year’s Content Marketing World Sydney, Mahlab Media sat down with CMO of Deloitte Australia, David Redhill, to discuss the recommendation economy, return on assets and the changing role of the CMO.

Mahlab David, could you tell us a little about your career history.

David Redhill I started off in radio and print journalism and also in public relations. I moved from there into corporate communications where I remained for several years, working in high technology businesses, computer hardware companies and software companies. London was next, where I spent a few years working for Price Waterhouse. From there, I took a right turn and edged over into brand consulting, specialising in the areas of branding, design and advertising. I then travelled over to the US where I worked in San Francisco for five years, firstly as a brand consultant and then I moved back into high technology and software. I also worked in startups during that time.

I initially joined Deloitte Consulting as their global brand director and ten years ago returned to Australia after living abroad for twenty. Today, I lead Deloitte’s Global Creative Council and sit on the Global Brand and Marketing Council, so a lot of the work that I do is playing intermediary between the Australian and global firms. I work with a fantastic marketing team that is responsible for marketing, communications and business development.

M You’ve spent 30 years in the business, working in the areas of branding, journalism, PR, digital and content production, though you say that you’ve re-learned everything you know about marketing in the past five years. What is it that has prompted this re-education and how has your understanding of marketing shifted over the past three decades?

DR Marketing, as I learnt it, was a didactic discipline; it was purely one way. The role of the marketing department was to shape a product, advertise it, promote it, and perfect the formula of price, product, placement etc. Several years ago however, with the dawn of the internet, marketing became more about creating a sense of dialogue between you and your audience. To create personalised content, brands realised that they had to not only engage their audience members in discussion, but also make them feel engaged, relevant and, above all, respected.

Over the past couple of years, particularly as we see this merger of social, mobile, data, cloud, and the increasing fluidity of data in the customer mix, the lines between audience and brand have become increasingly transparent. Audiences are being invited by brands to co-create content – a shift that has a massive implication for the role of the marketer. Marketers are no longer charged with creating or targeting content. They now hold more of a facilitative role: curator of content and participant in that ongoing dialogue with audience.

Of course, some of the old marketing standards still apply: quality of content in a world where there’s a deluge of content, ensuring that the cream has the opportunity to rise to the top and the best content gets heard, and finally, appropriating curation and dissemination strategies to the right platforms and media channels.

M Can you draw any connections between the digital disruption – the current state of perpetual revolution that we are currently navigating through – and the rise of content marketing?

DR Digital has meant a massive shift in the power structure; between centres of content dissemination. There used to be many more intermediary organisations or constructs between content creators and consumers of that content. But today, the consumers of content have an opportunity to be the creators of content. Digital disruption has levelled the playing field and put the consumer at the centre of the entire construct. It has also diminished the role of the website. Websites as a first port of call for content is a concept in decline.

We’ve been talking at Deloitte for some time about entanglement as the right sort of strategy that an organisation needs to get its mind around. Through entanglement, you’re likely to draw people into your brand construct through a vast number of media. It could be real-world events, direct mail, it could be postings on Facebook, tweets, or even photographs on Instagram. It could be blogs and online references to your brand in other content owners’ structures – digital disruption has prompted an irrevocable shift in the way audiences consume content and connect with brands.

From my perspective, this means that content marketing, ultimately, is about creating quality content; delivering real value at every stage of the relationship. By relationship, I mean your brand is there to get someone’s attention – it’s about content that’s actually going to develop a relationship with your target audience and convince them that you’re worth listening to.

M You speak often about social activation and its place in today’s recommendation economy; a space in which customers filter out anything that smells like traditional advertising and instead seek out the recommendations of their peers. Could you tell us a little about social activation, the recommendation economy and the corresponding implications for content marketers.

DR By the recommendation economy, we’re talking about the wisdom of the crowd as opposed to the strength of the marketing budget. It used to be that whoever shouted the loudest was heard first, but now we know that people are far more likely to believe the recommendations of their peers, their friends, their families and their professional colleagues. The recommendation economy hinges on believable content; on authenticity of message and the ability of that message or content to be advocated by audience members.

Customer advocacy is what we’re all looking for because it’s far more convincing if someone advocates for us than if we are promoting our wares under our own name. So, once again, the pinnacle of content marketing is producing content that just begs to be shared and advocated for. Advocated content comes with recommendation and believability already attached, so if we as a business can continue to create content that is relevant to our audience no matter their particular business – content that is immaculately researched, well articulated, authentic, memorable and easy to digest – our audience is going to continue consuming, sharing and recommending our content.

M Deloitte speaks often about Return On Assets (ROA), highlighting that the economy-wide decline in ROA over the past 47 years has been the result of companies’ inability “to find and capture attractive opportunities relative to the assets they have.” If you were to look at this issue from a marketing perspective, do you think that marketers are leveraging what assets their businesses already have as much as they should? And if they aren’t, where should they start?

DR That’s an interesting question. If I consider Deloitte’s assets, they are our people; the brain power that we bring to bear on any problem. To our clients, we are a company of highly specialised problem and opportunity identifiers, so leveraging that means deploying our people; aiming them directly at the problems that our clients bring to us. The challenge for us as a marketing team in content marketing is to convince clients that we are capable of solving those problems; to convince clients that they shouldn’t look past Deloitte before they actually employ someone or engage someone to help them solve those issues.

Another major asset of ours, for example, is our brand position – what we actually do. The first step in leveraging our brand position is to use content to show that we are in the game; that we are worth talking to and considering when looking to solve a problem. In this step, our content marketing efforts are continually reinforcing our credibility in the professional services space, keeping us front of mind and perpetuating a buzz and awareness of Deloitte as an elite player.

Content can’t win a sale, no matter how compelling the website content; no matter how compelling our webinars or blog or whitepapers are. In the end, it’s going to be down to a couple of relationships formed between our partners, our directors and our clients that are actually going to seal the deal. But our content continually reinforces the message that Deloitte should be on the short list for serious consideration; the message that we’re not simply observers or analysts of what’s going on in the marketplace. We are problem solvers, we have strong points of view about how to solve these problems and we can implement them for our clients.

M It is fast becoming clear that passive data collection and the focus on volume metrics – followers, likes, CTRs and mentions – is an ineffective way to measure the success of one’s marketing efforts. We’ve moved towards a social monitoring and listening approach, but measuring and analysing the sentiment of an online interaction and its real, tangible value is a difficult thing to do. What is your advice to marketers looking to gain a deeper and more qualitative understanding of their data? Where do they start and what kinds of metrics should they be looking at?

DR I’m not a data specialist, but what I would say as an old-world-now-new-world marketer is that the basic precept of pipeline – measuring the integrity of the marketing process – can’t be beaten. And by that I mean all the data you need to know about the effectiveness of your marketing can be determined by the rate at which you convert – awareness into consideration into absolute conversion of sale. From cold-call to face-to-face meetings, to requests for tender through to successful sales, each can be parallelled with the way that we look at our data on our website – the number of people who actually click on our website, who then click on a piece of thought leadership, the amount of time that they spend looking at that content right down to the point of clicking for more information or clicking to speak to one of our specialists.

It’s that basic question of how many you’re converting through the pipeline; through a very wide funnel down to a very narrow mouthpiece direct to people – it’s numbers. What’s the ratio? Are you converting one in every 25, one in 100, or one in four? That’s the data you really need to look at. Is it a consistent translation of that ratio right through the pipeline, or is there a hiccup half way through where you’re actually losing a lot of opportunities? This could have a lot to do with the integrity of your message: people suddenly figure out that you’re selling to them instead of telling them what they need to know. Or it could be your pricing or value proposition. It could be the elasticity of the offer. You have to convince your audience that you’re the only one able to solve that problem. There are a lot of dynamics at stake here.

The digital opportunity when looking at something like measurement is that it can help you form a relationship with someone faster and more effectively than if you did it just through traditional channels. It’s about the way that you can actually hone your message to a particular person’s need. Because ultimately, if somebody is in the business of just selling, they’re not going to get very far these days. You have to be in the business of helping somebody achieve their needs, and their needs will all be different depending on where they are in their life cycle, the stage of their business, the stage of their need. And that’s what your data tells you. These are the insights that you can harness to better the lives – be it personally, financially or professionally – of your clients.

M You’ve been quoted as saying: “Marketing-centric thinking is actually client-centric thinking… any business, board or CEO that doesn’t engage the CMO in conversation is wasting a huge opportunity and ignoring a dimension of possibility… and vice versa.” How do you see the changing role of the CMO and what does the future have in store?

DR These days, the CMO has to be the voice of the consumer within the business. I see myself at Deloitte as the client advocate; as the employee keeping our business honest about what we offer our clients and how we engage with them. At this moment in time, we are examining deeply the client experience of Deloitte, and as the project has developed, it has been the role of the CMO to actually help bring together two worlds: that of our clients’ expectations of the Deloitte experience and the kind of experience that our staff want to deliver to clients. I believe the CMO is the perfect role within any business to facilitate the bringing together of these two worlds.

The CMO of the future is going to be a very agile player within the various worlds in which marketing functions – digital, communications, brands, sales, operations. They’ve got to understand the role of data, the role of creativity, and they’ve got to know the processes and the various components and functions of the marketing team. Most importantly, they must understand exactly how all these various facets fit together. They don’t necessarily need to be specialists in any of these areas – of course, it helps if they have the experience – but above all, the CMO of the future has to be a great connector of all capabilities while bearing those dimensions in mind.

M We’re curious to have you elaborate on this: “I came here when we were a $330m business, going south and haemorrhaging money, with our rep in the gutter… Today, we’re a $1bn business. We have wowed the market in terms of our turnaround story and we’re seen as an icon, innovator and a business that is good to it’s people.” How did you do it?

DR I ascribe our success to three things. Number one was a burning platform. The haemorrhaging, the going south, losing clients and our reputation in the gutter, that whole experience was a huge wake-up call for Deloitte as a business. We knew that we had to do something very, very different to turn things around. I like to draw on that wonderful axiom: the definition of idiocy is to keep failing and keep on doing the same things thinking that things will change! We knew we had to change; to dramatically look at the precepts of the new economy – crowdsourcing, collective wisdom, data, innovation, and so forth – and invest in those dimensions which were, for a professional services firm ten years ago, highly unusual.

The second factor is that we have a visionary CEO who was absolutely prepared to take risks – a man who is intellectually curious, loves innovation and is a bit of maverick. He was prepared to be an outlier in the direction that he was taking the business. He also had a remarkable talent for leveraging the capability within our business and focusing on the things that really matter – talent, innovation and authenticity; creating a culture of participation and authenticity. We rebuilt our brand by injecting, through content and thought leadership, a greater degree of market interest into our business and we delivered on what we started promising that market, which was a very different experience of working with Deloitte to what clients had previously been used to. We’ve stayed true to that for the past ten years.

The third factor that I’d ascribe our success to is a never-satisfied ethos. No matter our success – we won our first of a string of innovation awards eight years ago, people began dubbing us the doyen of professional services five years ago, we surpassed $1 billion – we continue to set ourselves extremely high standards and we see ourselves as our main competitor. I think it comes back to my first point: we haven’t forgotten how bad things were. And it doesn’t matter what we’re doing in relation to our competitors, either. It’s a question of are we better, are we more successful, are we more innovative, are we more curious than the Deloitte of the previous year. That is how we measure ourselves. These are what I believe to be the ingredients of our success.

David is a key speaker at this year’s Content Marketing World Sydney. Check out David’s work with Deloitte on Twitter @dredhill, on Facebook or through Deloitte’s website.

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