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Thoughtworks head: ‘Employees will have 10x as many connections’

Andrew Soane, Head of Marketing at Thoughtworks UK, a leading global technology consultancy, joined us for a quick chat as part of our Marketing Maestro interview series in partnership with Press Gazette.

What’s been your proudest achievement in your current role?

Coming into my role at Thoughtworks, I was determined to change our perception of being recognised purely as a software development company to being recognised as a technology consulting partner that’s helping enterprises navigate and execute their digital transformation through strategy, design and engineering.

And one year in, I’m incredibly proud of the strides we’ve made. For example, in 2023 year-to-date, we’ve won 50% more new clients than we won in the whole of 2022.

Part of this success comes from fostering a culture where the concept of failure doesn’t feel so scary. By having permission to fail, we’re bold and experimental. We help our clients experiment, and we apply the same principles in our own marketing and demand generation activity, in order to compete with the biggest names in tech consulting. We keep a laser focus on digital transformation trends to ensure this experimental approach is grounded in relevance. 

Which media channels do you see as most important and best value when it comes to marketing spend and activity?

While it’s not a new channel, pound-for-pound paid search continues to deliver. It’s easy to implement, it’s highly measurable and it provides a direct route to your audience. Of course, search doesn’t work on its own, so it needs to be paired with great landing pages that serve great content: Blogs, articles, case studies, white papers and research, videos and infographics. 

Content is the vehicle to demonstrate and share your knowledge with customers, and in consulting, your knowledge is what differentiates you.

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What is your advice for mastering social media?

Rip off the band aid, get out there and embrace it! On a practical level, your employees will have 10x as many connections as your company will have followers on its official social channels, according to LinkedIn research. What’s more, content shared by your employees can generate 8x as many engagements and could be shared as much as 25x more often than anything shared on the corporate channels.

There was a time when social media was a ‘nice-to-have’ but today it’s fundamental for business success as prospective employees and customers scout social channels for information. The C-Suite should set an example, but often business leaders don’t think that social media falls within their remit. Setting the tone for consistent social media use should come from the top to inspire others to be vocal, passionate and informative online.

In your opinion, what is the main difference between B2C and B2B marketing?

When I started my career in marketing, the gap between B2C and B2B was huge. There were exceptions of course, but generally speaking B2B was grey. It was boring, predictable, and impersonal, partly because budgets were much smaller. B2C, on the other hand, was where it was at. It was creative. Exciting. Colourful. Budgets were bigger. 

Today, I am very glad to say, the gap is closing. And that’s because we’ve remembered that in both cases we’re selling to people. Whether they’re consumers or business buyers, they have the same expectations and are looking for similar ways to engage. Which means creativity, innovation, authenticity and personalisation are critical – regardless of whether you’re talking about B2C or B2B. 

It also means that purpose and values are important for B2B marketing – again once upon a time the preservation of B2C. According to Carol Cone’s 2020 report The B2B Purpose Paradox, 88% of B2B buyers think it’s important for brands to articulate a clear vision or purpose, and 61% would pay a premium to buy from a purpose-driven brand.

If you want any evidence of this coming together of B2B and B2C marketing, take a look at the number of B2B campaigns now competing against B2C in some of the most prestigious marketing awards around the world. Ten years ago, B2B wouldn’t get a look in. 

What is the key to producing engaging marketing content?

This isn’t rocket science! If marketing content is going to be engaging it needs to be relevant. And the definition of relevance is ‘the state of being closely connected’. Which means being connected to what clients want to know or care about.

So there are two golden rules to ensure your marketing content is engaging and relevant. 

Question yourself internally. Is the content you’re creating directly aligned with your strategic focus and business priorities? If not, rip it up and start again. Anything outside of this remit just won’t deliver the value you need.

Then question your clients and audience, directly or indirectly. Use customer feedback, customer surveys, A/B testing, or other research to understand what your customer wants to know or cares about. 

Of course, you should also be using the data and analytics to tell you about the preferred content format, channel, tone of voice and language, and a host of other criteria. But if you hit the sweet spot between these two, that area between the two overlapping circles in a Venn diagram, you won’t go far wrong.

How important is technology in modern marketing?

Of course, working for a technology consulting firm, you would expect me to say this, but technology is absolutely crucial to marketing, for three important reasons. 

Technology drives both planning and marketing performance analytics, which in turn translates into insights that enable us to develop meaningful, targeted, and effective campaigns.

Technology also drives marketing execution and delivery. Whether you’re using programmatic to buy and place your digital advertising, ChatGPT to research your briefs or write copy, Midjourney to create visual assets, social media platforms to analyse brand sentiment, you’re using technology.

And lastly, technology drives the way most people consume marketing content. Circulation for national and regional newspapers has fallen by over 80% since I started my career. Instead people are reading digital newspapers and magazines, scrolling through their social feeds, streaming music and video, live streaming, attending webinars and webcasts, taking part in online discussions on Reddit or Quora, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, conversing with chatbots, gaming or taking part in AR/VR experiences. It’s all driven by technology.

Which future marketing trends will become mainstream before too long?

Hyper-realistic personalised experiences have bled from B2C marketing into B2B as marketers continue to prioritise people centricity. B2B organisations learnt from companies like Spotify, Amazon and Netflix who have long used personas and segmentation to improve customer experience. Today, automation is delivering personalised experiences for B2B brands who are using this technology to build user profiles based on behavioural history. 

Now, the technology of 2023 is taking this one step further. It’s not just allowing us to create personalised experiences, but personalised content at scale. Generative AI will also be used to drive decision making in marketing departments, fuelled by data and analytics which is used to unpack the success of varying personalised content. 

And finally, if you could ask your peers for one piece of advice or help, what would it be? 

I’d like to see real-life examples of how my peers have transformed the marketing function in their business and beyond. How are they using technology to reach and engage their audiences? How are they repositioning their business and their brand to take advantage of new opportunities or address the realities of the ‘new normal’? This is fascinating to me and I believe marketing plays a crucial role here.

It’s really important that marketing minds come together to share transformation success stories; this is how we will continue to drive impact.