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Marketing in Belgium

During an inspirational talk, 8 marketing experts make a comparison of our home market to foreign marketing landscapes. Considering both the benefits and the pitfalls of this country. Exploring the intriguing twilight zone between their patriotic and cosmopolite feels. Because secretly we all love to self-identify with the underdog.

Digital marketing tools and techniques will be a differentiator in reaching crowds effectively. Still, finding the right balance between automation and a personal approach is crucial. Quality and (cost) effectiveness come into play. However, we believe that Belgian marketeers are excellent at making that trade-off. In a small market with limited marketing budgets, our marketeers are wizards at delivering the biggest bang for the buck; exploiting digital to the max and mixing it with their unique creative spark …

KEY THOUGHTS

#1 SHOESTRING MARKETING BUDGETS
Making the best of it by being creative with pocket money.

Belgian companies are up against stiff competition. Against the backdrop of a slowing global economy, they need to make sure they remain relevant worldwide. That means we must constantly re-evaluate, adapt and innovate. We cannot afford to concentrate on domestic trade only. Both the saturation of the small national market and the need to explore new fields, drive our businesses to expand internationally.

'“The solution to the biggest challenge facing our marketing landscape in a few words? ‘Low-budget, high-impact strategies. Smart marketing tricks that help companies to spend less on marketing… in order to make more money.”'

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‘At first, most companies take a look into neighboring countries when it comes to foreign trade,’ Lien kicks off. ‘Naturally, the Flemish-speaking part tends towards the Netherlands, while the Walloon region targets France – and vice versa. So that growth is limited. To top it all, marketing budgets are directly proportional to the size of a country. Well, we can say we didn’t hit the jackpot here, did we?’

Spot on: Belgian marketeers have to master the art of simplicity and have to be very creative with pocket money. Underdog narratives are part of our national identity. Secretly, we love our humble origins, lack of resources, and determined struggle against the odds. The solution to the biggest challenge facing our marketing landscape in a few words? ‘Low-budget, high-impact strategies,’ Dado answers. Smart marketing tricks that help companies to spend less on marketing… in order to make more money.

All easier said than done. Because as we all know, it’s a true challenge to get consumers’ attention these days. A client’s mind is not a clean slate, but a complex reality. ‘Belgium has no Silicon Valley spirit. It’s hardly okay to be proud and believe in the strengths of your products or services. Customers are more critical, quick-tempered and outspoken than ever. Most of them seem to be affected by the Expert Syndrome,’ Miel concludes. ‘In order to have impact, your message has to be as well-targeted as possible. That’s why I believe that the future of marketing isn’t intrinsically marketing. It’s contextual, highly-personalized and meaningful information. Regardless of the device, time or location it’s being consumed on.’

Highly-personalized asks for big data. Capturing data is easy as pie. Analyzing it and using it to creating value on the other hand is very time-intensive. ‘Not only consumers feel overwhelmed,’ Lien continues. ‘Marketing has become more challenging, despite all the technology solutions available. Big data is a business priority, but it doesn’t always help to see the bigger picture. Marketeers often have too many technology vendors to manage effectively.’ Only a minority succeeds to turn big data into smart data. Many companies with small marketing teams are still in the dark.

‘Some marketeers have no option but to use old-school tools. Mostly because the company invested in an expensive software years ago and refuses to do that again any time soon,’ Yannick explains. ‘Or the fancy new marketing tool doesn’t match with the rest of the corporate systems,’ Eva adds. ‘Bye again, seamless customer experience!’

The key to low-budget marketing is simplicity. The perfect marketing campaign dashboard is not the most extensive one. Reality teaches us it’s a simplified one, custom-made based on the needs of a specific company and the in-house knowledge of a team.

‘But small budgets don’t mean that Good Enough Beats Perfect,’ Miel continues, slightly annoyed. ‘I guess managers need it as an excuse to cut budgets and kill well thought through strategies. A good start is still only half the job. Either your customer’s experience is perfect, or it just will not work.’

We have to find the happy medium to save time or money. One of the solutions for the first problem is a smart data corporation. An independent umbrella organization that collects, buys and structures individual data into detailed customer profiles. This data and profile trade would make it so much easier for companies to make highly-personalized experiences. ‘Social Seeder is a step in that direction. It’s a tool that helps companies identify, recruit and activate their organization’s ambassadors.’

‘Alternative funding means such as crowd funding, could be a great solution to save money. I strongly believe crowdfunding can be used to make marketing campaigns refundable,’ claims Stijn.

#2 FAST IT & CORPORATE TOGETHERNESS
Turning a silo mentality into individual commitment towards shared success.

It’s clear that we have to join forces in order to shape change actively. ‘I believe that success is first and foremost a result of the dedication of the team,’ Eva claims. ‘We have to get rid of our silo thinking. The trendy management term has not disappeared over the years. It’s a shame that this every man for himself mentality still prevails, both between competitors and own company departments. Wake-up call: we’re in this together.’

It raises questions about the ripple effect of silos. How can we build closer relationships with our customers if we fail to do it between the departments of our own companies? Why are many adjunct directors so worried about the department’s performance rather than the overall benefit to the company?

‘Change management decisions are often passed on to the marketing team these days, because they are expected to have the best customer insights,’ Glenn says. At best, IT gets involved in the following stage. That’s a topsy-turvy world. ‘Everyone should be called in from the start,’ Lien adds, ‘from top management to HR. Search for a common goal. Install a hotline for employees. Innovation affects everyone.’

Departmental silos and the lack of cross-departmental communication are seen as growing pains for most organizations of all sizes. It’s a waste of time and money, when so much precious information gets lost in the middle. It is the duty of the executive leaders and management to prepare and equip their teams with the proper mind-set to break down this destructive organizational barrier.

‘It almost sounds too obvious,’ Miel continues, ‘but businesses need a unified vision and a shared voice.’ Identify the elephant in the room and get everyone to work together as a united front towards achieving the same goals. Only then you can turn the “it’s not my job” attitude into a more worthy mentality.

‘The accelerating power of technology creates the need for speed,’ Glenn states. ‘Fast IT intends to deliver quick results using flexible methodologies. A tangible, early prototype is worth a thousand meetings. Test. Adjust. Improve. Win time. Be Awesome.’ Yesterday’s hype is tomorrow’s business foundation. User and company needs often advance much more quickly than traditional IT can handle. They often say no, because their present hardware and software silo has to be written off the next couple of years.

'In that spirit design researchers too should be able to embrace less structure and more openness at the early stages of product design. And in the end digital marketing too can transcend all borders, because it’s flexible by its own nature.'

The ultimate goal should be a cross-channel content planning for relevant, larger editorial projects. A switch from traditional media plans to integrated digital planning. ‘Unfortunately, unknown is still unloved in Belgium,’ Dado says. ‘Corporations stick to LinkedIn and Twitter. They hardly dare to leave the beaten path. But B2B doesn’t have to mean Boring to Boring! You can use B2C strategies in B2B contexts. Yes, even snapchat is an option.’ ‘Although decision makers are not the average snapchatter,’ Yannick disagrees. ‘In the area of providing customer service through social media, however, there is still plenty of room for improvement.’

CONCLUSION
The potential of cross-department and cross-industry innovation is largely untapped in Belgium. Both on macro (regional), meso (organizational) and micro level (individual).
Interdependent partnerships between countries, cities, firms and departments are needed to survive in a dynamic environment. We need to train employees to become more resistant to change, more dedicated to lifelong learning and to be more diversely experienced.

Time is money. Togetherness is strength!


MORE ABOUT THE RATPACK SESSIONS

This evening was part of 11 local intense brainstorm and challenging sessions in the areas of MARKETING, DESIGN and BUSINESS. The Ratpack Enrichment Sessions were set up in February and March, to help The Ratpack Agency to refine their vision. A group of professionals dedicated to making crowdfunding projects successful. They strive to mix the latest trends in digital / social media / marketing strategy with a creative approach. Eager to make products better, brands stronger and cool projects even cooler. As their correspondent, I summarized conclusions and took note of witty one-liners. More info: www.theratpack.agency