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Navigating cultures and markets: Marcela Panhota on tailoring digital marketing strategies to different environments and audiences

Tina Nielsen

Key takeaways:

  • Social media activity beats search in reaching consumers
  • Capturing consumers in their micro moments is key for marketers
  • How to serve customers in different cultures and countries 
  • Marketers are still learning how to use data
  • Why influencers will always be a part of the picture

Tina Nielsen: Where is your attention focused when building digital strategies?

Marcela Panhota: The majority is on social media, no question. About 38% of people’s time online is spent on social media, so it is by far the biggest activity we do on digital – consumers are on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok; the platform doesn’t really matter. The behaviour is the same. As consumers, we’re all connecting with people, brands and influencers.

Of course, the difficult thing is that we never know what is going to remain successful in five years, it is impossible to predict. But what it comes down to is that, whether it is through Tik Tok or Instagram, we are connecting. Social media content is easy to consume – why is Tik Tok so popular? A five-second video is simple and unpolished, it is just a very simple way to navigate interactive content.

TN: How does that behavioural change impact how you reach consumers?

MP: We all experience many micro moments, on social media, every day. We wake up and connect, when we travel to work, we connect again. We have lunch, we check in, and so on all day. Social media is about micro moments. The consensus says that on average, we connect between one minute to five minutes per platform. Nobody sits on Instagram for two hours so, the time you spend is short and the attention span is brief – for consumers life is busy: there’s work, crying kids, so many things happening and it is difficult to hold their attention. Therefore, it's important to focus on how consumers are using social media instead of what they are looking for.

As advertisers we have this huge challenge of how to be relevant, in each specific moment during a consumer’s day. But that is how it is; it is just how we consume media. 

TN: What importance does search have in the work of a digital marketers?

MP: In the past we used to talk about search a lot more than we do today. People would go to Google looking for information or answers. That has changed and consumers look for answers on Instagram, they go on Tik Tok. Gen Z prefer to search on social media rather than go on Google or other search engines. 

In 2010 search was a huge priority for me in reaching consumers, that is not the case today.

TN: How useful is data as a tool in digital marketing?

MP: In my view, as a sector we still haven’t worked out how to use data properly. We are all collecting all this data – there is data coming from everywhere – but with the exception of large companies such as Amazon, we are not really leveraging that data to convert into actions that in turn convert into sales. The way I see it, we are in the middle of this process; it is not new, we also had data 10 years ago. What we do it with it is what needs to change.

Another point is that things change all the time. Right now, my data makes it easy to discover that I am a mother, I have two kids, I work in digital, and I am Brazilian. So, you can build this profile that advertisers can reach.

But it is going to change – paid subscriptions to platforms will make it harder. Meta is charging customers in Europe who don’t want to see ads and combined with the end of cookies, that makes it challenging. That will change the process from a digital advertising perspective.

TN: You mention the end of cookies. From your point of view what will the cookieless future mean for advertising and digital marketing as a sector?

MP: It means a whole new world of media and content strategies to meet advertisers’ objectives – in turn leading to a brand-new digital marketing era.

As an immediate impact, advertisers will lose or have limited ability to track user behavior across sites. This is something that is particularly explored by ecommerce brands (the most common example is where you search for a new TV online and seconds later your internet is full of TV offers). Regardless of the category, from FMCG to pharma, all advertisers will have less targeting options to plan strategic media campaigns, something that has been an incredible advantage of online media compared to traditional media, where you target one message to all. For that reason, a less personalized data and tailor-made messages scenario can become a reality. The advertising market could see a potential decline in performance after losing the ability to design dedicated messages to specific targets.  

TN: What challenges will this change pose to marketeers, specifically on data – and how can they be overcome?

MP: Companies will need to move to a tough and uncomfortable place that is called “first-party data”, essentially data that they collect through interactions with clients and customers themselves. Today, many companies do have first-party data, but it is challenging – and requires investment – to design and run programs dedicated to that. Social media companies, such as Meta, made this process “easier”, enabling advertiser to reach narrow targets. The future will require the industry to face up to that, to gather data, to analyze data, and to build tailor-made programs and strategies with that aim in mind. This represents a more complex scenario, but definitely more promising in the longer term. Consumers continue to pose challenges related to creativity and tailored messages, so there is no way back. Another opportunity is to bet on channels and partners where artificial intelligence can potentially support advertisers to find its target base.

TN: You have worked in different cultures and countries; how do you tailor digital strategies to resonate with different audiences and markets?

MP: I have worked in Brazil, France, Spain and now Portugal. I believe that Brazil and the US are more advanced markets in terms of communication, but great things are happening in the European markets too. 

The process and objective don’t change regardless of the market; what is different is the culture. It’s quite simple: How you approach something in Brazil is different from how you approach it in Portugal, because of the people.

In each market I need to understand that I am in a different culture – they are not there to adapt to me, I need to adapt to them. I can’t go to France expecting to drink caipirinha. How do you do this? You live their life, you listen more than you speak, you observe the way people work and you start to understand how they work.

TN: So, what are the watch words in digital advertising for the short to mid future?

MP: I see two firm directions for the next 10 years. First, regardless of the media, digital advertising is going to be more customer centric and more niche – it needs to be more precise, narrow and more meaningful. This is a massive shift from how it used to be when TV was the main touchpoint.

Second, and as a consequence of this, partnerships with influencers will continue. Customers expect brands to be real; it is no longer about saying, “hello, this is my product, buy now”. That is where influencers come in.

Even if Instagram dies today, there is no. way back. You can change the channel but the need to partner with real people will persist. Consumers want to hear from other people like them that a product is good. My hunch is that eventually Artificial Intelligence is likely to help create that content in a smarter way that is more niche and targeted.

Marcela Panhota is integrated communications manager, south Europe for Bel Group and is based in Lisbon, Portugal. In a 17-year career spanning four countries, she has experience on both agency and client side, working on strategic digital management and advertising strategies.

Before joining Bel Group, Marcela was Integrated communications manager with Publicis Groupe and has also worked with digital transformation agency The Keenfolks as senior account director.

In France between 2017 and 2018 she served as international account director with Zenith after spending over five years working for Reckitt in her home country, first as Brazil digital media manager and then LATAM Digital marketing manager.

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