By Lorenzo Bianchi Sep 14, 2020

When hearing the phrase “digital marketing”, generally our first reaction is to think of the ads we are served when scrolling through our favourite websites, search engines, or social media platforms. This is, however, the most recognisable face of a technological revolution that sits on the backend of the personalised content that appears on our screens.

Before I joined KKR, I spent nearly a decade at Google where I sat at the forefront of the technological innovation that is behind digital marketing. With such powerful tools at its disposal, Google helped companies gain a competitive advantage by leading them through a process to rethink and reengineer the role their marketing departments play in the organisation. By optimising their user experience and digitising their consumer journey, these companies were able to turn their digital marketing departments from cost centres into revenue generators.

I believe providing this knowledge and these resources to KKR’s portfolio companies can unlock significant growth opportunities for them. Since joining the KKR team, I am pleased to say I have been working closely with a range of our portfolio companies to implement these forward-thinking marketing strategies to increase their revenue.

Successfully doing so within any organisation, however, will depend on its ability to apply three principles:

A mobile-first marketing function is just step one
Companies must accept that having a mobile-first mindset is just the first step towards engaging with customers in a more meaningful way, and providing them with the most delightful and useful online experience. This only becomes a powerful tool once you examine consumer behaviour across your digital ecosystem to paint a comprehensive picture of how they are accessing the business and its products, and experiencing the brand.

Apply machine learning to process raw data at scale
Collecting raw data is important, but it can only be processed at scale, and brought to life through an understanding of machine learning, and how to leverage it. Intelligent automation and machine learning are today’s drivers behind increasing online presence and conversions. Both not only play a key role making ad creatives more attractive to consumers but are also essential tools, enabling marketers to map out and optimise the consumer journey. Of course, using machine learning to draw insights about consumers should only be used with strict respect to their rights to privacy. This is not only for the sake of compliance with privacy laws like GDPR but it is also the right thing to do. Embedding machine leaning will help businesses test what works when selling or promoting their products and services, allowing for 1:1 personalization at scale. Constantly optimizing through machine learning will enable brands to build a better digital experience for consumers, and allow for a more efficient allocation of resources towards what increases sales and revenue.

Reimagine your digital marketing team
Finally, companies must reimagine the makeup of their marketing teams and bring in new talent to connect and make sense of an organisation’s digital assets. Teams will still need creatives - machines cannot develop the content by itself and need human touch to iterate on and personalise it. What the marketing department of the future will need are performance marketers, data scientists, and software engineers. Performance marketers - who already are an essential part of the corporate marketing structure - will lead the ongoing examination of prioritizing creative efforts that will yield the most online conversions.

Perhaps the more unfamiliar roles to the traditional marketing department are the software engineer and the data scientist. To pick up the data points of the consumer journey throughout the organisation’s digital ecosystem, the software engineer will implement tech solutions that require coding, such as deep linking or measurement tags onto digital assets, creating a feedback loop, which is crucial to continuously learning about customer behavior, and optimize marketing spend. The data scientist can make sense of this data, providing insight into how to improve product performance online, identifying learnings that can be scaled throughout the entire organization, and feeding the machine with even more data.

When I joined KKR, it was at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Among many ways we’ve witnessed how the pandemic has changed the world, global digitisation has accelerated rapidly, as we’ve seen an irrevocable change in how consumers shop, work and entertain themselves online. Never before have we spent so much time on the Internet, nor have we relied on the Internet so deeply. For example, in the first eight weeks of the global pandemic, from March 1st, 2020, U.S. e-commerce penetration grew more than it had during the previous 10 years, from 16% to 27%!1 We have yet to see to what extent our digital lives are reclaimed by reality. But with so many people online, there has never been a better moment to rethink how we market our products online. And with so much potential for growth, I am excited to be working closely with KKR’s portfolio companies in EMEA to realise this opportunity through applying these three core principles – and others – of using digital marketing as a revenue generator to their businesses.

1. Source: Bank of America, US Dept. of Commerce, ShawSpring Research