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Advice from ZGM’s Managing Director Ric Williams on the future of marketing

Ric Williams on balancing art and science to make marketing that moves hearts (and wallets)

June 23, 2020

This interview is part of our new series: Something to write Out-Of-Home About. Every month, we’ll be interviewing innovative marketers and innovators thinkers on their perspectives. Click here to subscribe to a monthly reminder for this series.

Ric Williams has travelled further than most over the course of his career—figuratively and literally. 

After graduating from the University of South Australia with a degree in chemistry, Williams worked on the manufacturing side of the dairy industry for a spell before moving into marketing, where he quickly worked his way to managing the Yoplait brand, first in Australia and then in England. He eventually wound up as a director of marketing at BioWare, the Edmonton-based global game studio. 

Williams is a big advocate of the idea that the best marketing is a blend of data and creativity—a principle he gets to bring to life every day in his current job as a Partner and Managing Director at ZGM, one of the premier marketing agencies in Western Canada.

Here are Williams’ thoughts on how marketing has changed over the course of his career and where he sees the industry going. 

The proof is in the pudding, and by “pudding” we mean ROI

One of the great questions that has plagued marketing and advertising for generations is how to measure the impact of campaigns. The American department store pioneer John Wanamaker is alleged to have said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half,” and he died back in 1922. 

But, according to Williams, the question can be put to bed. 

“All through my career we’ve been trying to measure ROI, even when I was a pup brand manager in Australia,” he says. “But I remember sitting in a house in England on the day Google went public in 2004 and thinking ‘this will change everything for marketing.’

“Now with pixels and online cookies and other, newer tech, you can really measure someone’s behavior after exposure like never before.”

All the new tools at the disposal of marketers to track impact can put more pressure on agencies than ever before, though.

“We’re all looking for ROI now,” Williams says. “Dollars are more important; margins are shrinking.”

You have to grow the tree to pick the fruit

This increased pressure to show return on marketing spend can have a pernicious influence, Williams says, if it incentivizes chasing short-term sales above all else. 

“The drive for short-term results versus building a brand is still this ongoing debate,” he says. “It shouldn’t be. We now have channels that allow us to be led by activation where we should be brand lead.”

“The answer is you need to do both. I think that’s what tech like Vertical Impression can do.”

Williams likens the situation to growing and harvesting fruit from a tree.

“Building the brand is watering the tree; activating the brand is picking the fruit,” he says. “You’ve gotta do both to protect price and grow the brand.”

"brand building should account for half of your marketing budget"

The perfect mix

What’s the best balance between watering and harvesting? Williams says brand building should account for half of your marketing budget—at least, citing the work of advertising research doyens Les Binet and Peter Field.

“The resources you’re spending should be at least 50-50,” he says. “Binet and Field talk about 70-30, 75-25, 60-40. Getting to 50-50 is something younger marketers should be keeping in the back of their minds at all times.”

Data is fundamental

Great marketing, Williams says, is a mix of data and creativity—but they enter the process at different points. 

ZGM’s own five-step process starts with a “learn” phase, he says.

“We begin by simply gathering as much data as we can,” he says. “If there are gaps, we instigate research, whether that’s secondary or primary. We need to understand the category, the industry, and the problem raised by the agency. We use qualitative and quantitative methods.”

It’s only after the data has been collected and key insights presented to the client that it’s time to bust out the finger paint and get creative. 

The next big thing(s)

Williams, as you might expect, sees the future of the industry in digital tools that can provide rich feedback for clients and agencies about whether their campaigns are moving hearts and minds. 

He lists Vertical Impression’s AI-driven digital screens as a prime example of this, along with some others. 

“I think Snapchat is doing some really cool stuff,” he says. “The way their platform is built out, it allows for huge awareness of the user. If the consumer or demographic you’re targeting is on the channel, you’d be crazy not to use it.

“Another great example of getting consumer engagement with brands by driving awareness is Tik Tok. You’re not getting a sale from that, but it is a huge opportunity for brands.”

Every month, we’ll be interviewing innovative marketers and innovators thinkers on their perspectives. Click here to subscribe to a monthly reminder for this series.

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