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An Interview with David Alexander

Marketing Manager, Digital at Maple Leaf Foods

David Alexander was hired through the Leadership Track Career Development Program at Maple Leaf Foods, one of Canada’s largest food marketers, following his college graduation. The program is designed to help employees gain cross-functional experience in different areas of the company. His first rotation was as a digital marketing coordinator. Alexander’s background is in marketing and finance, and he enjoys exploring creative platforms and deriving insight from analytics.

What does your role involve?

David Alexander: I am responsible for strategy, execution and results for all online consumer-facing communications for our protein business, which consists of many Canadian brands such as Schneiders, Maple Leaf and Maple Leaf Prime. This includes all digital channels such as branded websites, customer relationship management platforms, social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and so forth), email, influencer outreach and digital couponing. I also constantly evaluate and optimize these channels and find new ones to maintain the right mix in the space.

Since Maple Leaf is a traditional consumer package goods company that’s fairly new to the digital world, another aspect of my role is educating key stakeholders in the company about the space. People are naturally risk-averse with their budgets and are not willing to invest in a channel they do not understand.

What are your three biggest business priorities?

Alexander: All great brands’ relationships with consumers stretch beyond their products.As a digital marketer, it is my job to build that relationship beyond the product by providing value to our consumers. This value can come in many nontraditional forms and have many different purposes. Some examples are providing entertainment through a social video while educating consumers on a product, or providing inspiration on being a better parent through recipe content while providing product usage occasions. My biggest priority is to identify these opportunities to provide value and execute on them in a way that drives business results.

My second priority is taking the company from a primarily campaign-driven model to an always-on model in digital. Previously, brands’ investment in digital was completely dependent on what campaigns were in the market. This created short periods of high activity, followed by periods of very low activity. Through careful planning, a certain percentage of investment from each campaign will be taken and spread over the entire year. The plans are in place; now it is time to execute and optimize.

My third priority is pushing for complete integration across all channels. Working in such a large company makes it difficult for all departments to work in unison to create content with identical positioning to the brands. This means working closely with cross-functional teams to execute on the clearly defined brand positions. Brands are living, breathing things, and only consistency creates truth.

What trends are you keeping your eye on?

Alexander: As both a marketer and a consumer, my favorite evolution in the space is how brands are becoming more like producers, not traditional “advertisers.” As media consumption habits change and more ad formats are skippable, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to create content consumers want to see vs. content they have to see. This purely consumer-centric approach is drastically changing the advertising game. Brands will no longer tag on whatever content people want to consume—brands are the content. Although we are still a ways off from having all advertising optional, it is approaching faster than we think.

A trend that I always keep my eye on is the emergence of real-time marketing as a standard practice. As competition in the digital space increases, it is becoming increasingly difficult to fight through the clutter and be relevant without significant budget. This makes it increasingly difficult to create online conversations. Instead of creating conversations, brands are joining conversations. This is extremely difficult to do because to be successful, you need to provide value to consumers, or you will just be ignored.

In 2013, we saw some amazing executions in real time that drove huge earned results. As more and more brands are taking advantage of those unique moments and becoming involved in the same live conversations, we are going to see brands try to outdo one another.

Another trend I am keeping my eye on is the evolution of privacy online. We are starting to see more usage of private networks that take away from how much content is being shared publically. If this trend continues at its current rate, some major social networks will lose relevance. That will change how brands drive success in digital, and marketers will be forced to explore new creative methods. Hopefully if a much higher level of privacy becomes the norm and most social content is going into closed networks, we will see growth in other digital channels such as wearable technology.

What is the greatest challenge facing your industry?

Alexander: Most of our greatest business challenges on the communications side can be boiled down to one theme: keeping up with the changing consumer. Although technology is the catalyst and the internet is the fuel, this rate of change has a much larger reach into everything from our governments to the food we eat. This creates a challenge for digital marketers to find the balance between a level of planning and a level of flexibility. Overarching long-term strategies still hold, but the days of the detailed long-term plan are dead. This is a challenge for anyone working in a traditional company that relies heavily on detailed plans.

Although plans from many months ago would likely still perform well, they need to be optimized within the first couple months. All of this can be overcome as long as a high level of flexibility is maintained. Yet, I’d argue that too much flexibility is even riskier and can lead to failure. Since the digital space is constantly evolving, it is sometimes difficult not to jump into the hottest trends, which can lead to investment in a platform with zero traffic.

What is most helpful to you on eMarketer?

Alexander: Having an enormous database of relevant and trusted data at my fingertips helps me in many different ways with my role. As a digital champion, it is essential for me to be in the know about everything in the space. But finding trusted information quickly is often difficult. eMarketer is a great destination to peruse content in an area or to find a single statistic. Being the point of contact for the brands means I get all sorts of questions about what is happening in the market. Having eMarketer as a trusted source lets me easily access information so I can offer fact-based responses. It is also great to have someone on the account who emails me relevant articles and news as well as answers difficult questions.

What do you like best about eMarketer?

Alexander: What I like best about eMarketer is that it is so diverse that it can help me in almost every element of my job. During planning, the best resources are the forecasts and the reports. The forecasts help us align our strategy to where the market is moving, and the reports are a great way to challenge my thinking and take deep dives into specific areas. When I am building recommendations for the brands, I always use eMarketer charts as a rationale for the plan. Having hard numbers helps both inform my decisions and sell in the strategies. I rarely make a presentation deck that doesn’t contain a chart from eMarketer. Having all of the raw data really lets me weave the hard numbers into a narrative.

What does the eMarketer brand stand for?

Alexander: Trust, knowledge and customer service.

How is eMarketer different than other digital research sources you use?

Alexander: What makes eMarketer unique to me is the aggregation of so many sources. This lets the volume and quality of the content increase constantly. This also allows me to have multiple perspectives on the same topic.

What keeps you up at night?

Alexander: Wondering if I am keeping up with the rapid pace of innovation in the market.

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David Alexander

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“Having eMarketer as a trusted source lets me easily access information so I can offer fact-based responses.”

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