Senior Vice President, Global Brand and Marketing Transformation
Shiv Singh’s role at Visa is twofold: to manage global brand strategy and positioning, but also to evolve the way Visa does marketing. Singh spoke with eMarketer’s Debra Aho Williamson about Visa’s attitude toward real-time marketing and how the company plans to measure the performance of real-time initiatives.
eMarketer: Real-time marketing may be one of the biggest disruptors that brands face right now. The idea that you need to be agile and responsive and move quickly and use data and respond rapidly is something many companies are confronting. How do you approach it at Visa?
Shiv Singh: Real-time marketing is a phrase that has, I think, 100 definitions. Unfortunately, a lot of brands are losing sight of what the heart and soul and DNA of their brand is. They’re letting the real-time marketing craze just drive everything and anything they do.
“We want to find that intersection between what’s happening in real-time culture—what our consumer interests and desires are—and what our brand purpose and meaning is.”
From our perspective at Visa, we have very strong brand positioning, very strong brand strategy. Anything and everything we do needs to build our brand and drive our geography marketing and business objectives. And if it doesn’t, we don’t feel the need to do real-time marketing for the sake of real-time marketing.
eMarketer: In what types of scenarios does real-time marketing make sense for Visa?
Singh: When we think about real-time marketing, we think of a few things. One is much sharper, much tighter insights about our consumers. We want to find that intersection between what’s happening in real-time culture—what our consumer interests and desires are—and what our brand purpose and meaning is.
One of the things that we’re pushing is connecting social insights with pop culture and with content, not just in social, but across all channels and mediums. We also want to connect social insights with media planning and buying, not just in social but [again] across all channels and mediums, and not just for premium buying, but programmatic buying as well. And then we want to close that loop with measurements that tie in with actual business results.
For a lot of people, real-time marketing is using Twitter with an ad buy and being cute. For us, it’s much deeper insights—it’s influencing much larger-scale programmatic buys and then having the measurement infrastructure in place to support it.
eMarketer: How do you measure your real-time marketing?
Singh: We ran a really awesome program called #GoInSix over the past six months, where we took real-time insights and developed five or six creative options. [Editor’s Note: The multiplatform social media effort used 6-second Vine videos, six-word tweets and other short-form content to encourage consumers to do something they love to do—shop and travel, among other activities.] Through automated testing on Facebook, we saw which worked best, and then we scaled it with ad spend. We did this several times a week. We tracked the shared impressions, earned impressions, the total impressions and the average cost per impression.
“Real-time marketing is still in its infancy, in its early, early days, because you can’t track as effectively the scale and the predictability and the repeatability of it.”
What we are going to do more of in 2014 is tying all of this much more tightly to the brand, such as by doing brand Nielsen studies and working with partners to show the measurable impact on payment volume where we can.
Now, this all sounds fancy and impressive. But the huge caveat and the huge reality, which I don’t think anyone has figured out, is getting scale in real-time marketing—and not just scale, but predictable, repeatable scale. Brands are in the business of predictability and repeatability. We have quarterly earnings and need to be able to track marketing’s contribution to the business. Real-time marketing is still in its infancy, in its early, early days, because you can’t track as effectively the scale and the predictability and the repeatability of it. And I think that’s what we’re going to crack this year.
Partners like Datalogix and Acxiom help us understand the offline impact of [online] brand actions. The more challenging piece is that we don’t have any benchmarks [for real-time marketing]. With our TV spend, we know what it does for our business because we have a 20-, 30-, 40-year history, and we know what certain numbers mean. Here, we have to see in any given week how much scale we are getting, with what level of investment and what level of payment volume impact is happening. And therefore, what are the right benchmarks to have?
eMarketer: Can you compare the results of what you’re doing in real-time with marketing that’s more traditional or more evergreen?
Singh: It’s a little frustrating for me because I don’t think as an industry we’ve moved forward enough on the analytics front. On the finance side of our organization, everything can still go into a profit-and-loss statement on a balance sheet. It’s a single currency for conversation and for understanding the business. With real-time marketing, you have to normalize it against other marketing strategies or tactics. It shouldn’t be thought of as a privileged child.
You have to focus on reach with large brands like ours. You have to focus on the resonance or the level of engagement, the quality of engagement. You have to focus on what impact does it have on the brand, and do you have a way to measure that impact that’s normalized with the way you measure the impact from other marketing activities, and then what impact it has on the bottom line.
eMarketer: In the early days of social, a lot of brands had a gut feeling that they needed to be there. Is the same true of real-time marketing—that right now maybe it’s more of a gut feeling—and they’re hoping over time to be able to prove it through metrics and measurement?
Singh: I think it’s at a confusing stage where there isn’t clarity around what real-time marketing is, because it’s all so buzz-driven. I don’t think necessarily that every brand needs to play significantly in it. I think what every brand needs to do is to recognize that for them to succeed they have to be participants and contributors and curators in culture vs. being interrupters and distractors. And that may happen in more of a real-time fashion or it may not.
I think a brand can get it so wrong so quickly by just saying, “Oh, we need to do something here. Let’s just go and try.” I would say that they need to know what their brand stands for—and know really well. And knowing that, then it’s easy to know how to play in real-time marketing. And it will probably come naturally in many ways.