It’s been a very organic process. Identity’s events division launched some 30 years ago, and exhibition-stand design and build remain the core focus of the Group. Identity Signage & Printing was initially created to support the events team before being launched as a standalone entity, which has been very successful. In 2015, Identity launched its digital division, which strengthened both the events and signage departments, allowing us to offer bespoke marketing services to our existing clients and to engage new business. Digital has proven to be very popular with our clients on the events side, as we can now offer a fully integrated marketing solution before, during and after a conference, both within the show as a whole or on a per-exhibitor basis.
Will digital replace print and physical marketing products – or do they need to work together?
They absolutely need to work together. One concept we talk about at Identity is phygital – that is, how businesses of all sizes can optimise strategy and outcomes by blending physical (traditional) marketing with digital (modern) marketing. This can be as simple as ensuring that the livery on your company fleet includes your social media profiles (and that it’s always kept up-to-date!). More innovative examples would include in-store digital signage or a 3D-printed, digitally-branded company logo or product miniature to give away at exhibitions.
What does your role entail?
In my role as Head of Digital Marketing at Identity I oversee all aspects of the Group’s digital marketing services, which include social media marketing, email marketing, content marketing, pay-per-click (PPC), lead generation, website auditing and user experience (UX). We work on a local, national and international level, focusing on strategy and deliverables. We’re big believers in the value of education at Identity, and a lot of my time involves client training and workshops on these topics. I speak about digital at events on a regular basis and find that tremendously rewarding. I really enjoy the “lightbulb moment” – that is, when someone suddenly sees the possibilities after you have delivered a presentation. Especially if they were skeptical before!
You have two books published about Twitter and you chaired an international conference. How did you become an expert in that field?
My background is actually in the City. My first career was as a technical analyst for a small research firm – the nature of the work meant that I was soon tasked with other responsibilities, which involved teaching myself web development to maintain the company website (this was back when everything was hand-coded), and also learning the ins and outs of small-business marketing. We would write and send out daily reports via fax and email, and part of my remit was experimenting with delivery times to optimise opening rates. I began working as a proprietary trader around the turn of the millennium, which, while exciting, is a job that affords a lot of downtime. I’m a voracious reader, and that’s how I filled the gaps.
It was around then that Facebook and Twitter launched, and, notably with the latter, I found that almost nobody was writing about these platforms from a business perspective. So that’s what I did. I launched my own platform and wrote thousands of articles – which, pre Identity, neatly segued me into a senior digital role for a boutique marketing agency – and published two books. As the digital marketing space has grown, so have I, both in terms of knowledge and practical expertise, and it’s been a very rewarding journey.
How important is social media to a business in 2016?
It’s as simple as this: every business needs a social media strategy. There are no exceptions, no industries that ‘don’t fit’ or can’t make it work. In little more than a decade, social media has established itself as the most efficient and inexpensive way to reach large groups of people to raise awareness of a brand’s products and services. Social media is fantastic for building trust and loyalty, delivering first-class customer service and creating a sense of community. Moreover, from a purely marketing perspective, the social graph on a platform such as Facebook is now so detailed that it offers targeting opportunities that simply were not possible even a few years ago. Yes, you absolutely need a strategy, and you have to do the work, or outsource the expertise, but the tools are freely available for everyone to use. Your customers and clients are using social media. Your suppliers are using social media. And, perhaps most importantly, your competitors are using social media. By choosing to opt out, you are placing your head very much in the sand.
How is the events sector evolving with the changes in digital technology?
The single most important technological advancement over the past decade has been the mass availability of the smartphone, specifically the launch of the iPhone in2007. The importance of the latter cannot be overstated. These devices are not just ‘phones.’ They are computers in your pocket that travel with you everywhere that you go, granting access to all of the world’s information in just a couple of clicks. It’s an incredible privilege.
Every business professional in the UK owns a smartphone, and this has allowed event visitors to become truly immersed and engaged in a conference. Platforms such as Twitter connect event attendees in a way that was simply not possible a decade ago. Moreover, they allow people who were unable to attend a conference to get involved and receive information by following event hashtags and updates. This has had a tremendously powerful impact on exhibition marketing, significantly boosting overall reach and awareness for shows of all sizes, irrespective of where they are in the world.
What changes do you predict in the future?
I think that mobile will continue to be the most important part of every digital marketing campaign for at least another decade. As a business owner, that’s where your focus needs to be in terms of capturing attention and building community. Always ask yourself: how does my brand look on a five- or six-inch screen? What will change here is that, as new functionality and features appear on mobile devices, and as the handsets become more powerful, marketers (and brands) will need to adapt and grow accordingly. Think back to how archaic mobile phones were pre-iPhone and project 10 years forward from now. Moore’s Law might have slowed a whisker, but the possibilities are still very exciting.
Digital video is also on a huge uptrend, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change. Study after study shows that most people prefer to consume information visually and, of course, the brain processes images much faster than it does text. YouTube, of course, was the pioneer, and remains a force, but marketers would do well to keep a very close eye on Snapchat; it’s the fastest-growing social network in history, and already boasts more than 8 billion video views per day. That’s more than Facebook, and more than YouTube. That sort of trend doesn’t happen by accident, and Snapchat is on the verge of positioning itself as a major player.
Where the future gets very interesting is in the field of virtual reality. Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR system is shipping now, and while the technology isn’t quite there at the moment, we are probably just five to ten years away from a truly immersive experience. This offers tremendous opportunities in the digital space, particularly in the events industry. And in marketing, too: I’ve long said that we’ll know when virtual reality has truly arrived when the blur between “real life” and VR becomes so indistinguishable that one day you’ll find yourself inside an advert… and won’t even know it. Just imagine the ROI!