Marketing Maverick: Riku Vassinen, Head of Digital, JWT #APACLeaders

As Head of Digital in JWT, Riku focuses on digital transformation, utilizing big data to gain actionable insights, eCommerce and performance marketing. Read our interview with Riku for his insights on how being an early adopter of disruptive innovation helps.

With innovative disruption changing the digital economy, customer expectations are on the rise. How have you changed your digital marketing strategies to deal with rising customer expectations?

Customer expectations have always been high. Digital disruption has just accelerated the amount of alternatives consumers can have. It is easier to switch between digital products and services if the experience is not exactly right. The moment-of-truth for brands is nowadays always on. The tolerance of things not working is very low.

You cannot separate digital from your overall marketing strategy. Your audience does not make a conscious decision to go “digital”. They are living their life and expecting seamless experience from brands they encounter no matter where they encounter it. So for me, it is always about the whole consumer experience and their journey: how we can minimize the stress and frustration, maximize enjoyment and what digital opportunities do we have to do that?

How much impact does your social media strategy, and mobile app marketing have on your client´s ROI? What are the online platforms that work well for your clients?

Every client’s channel mix is different because brands are different and their audiences are different.

Therefore, I never have a blanket answer to what channels you should utilize. We always start from the consumer. What is her journey? What are her needs and wants? How does she buy the product? How does she use the product? Does she talk about the product? Then we start crafting the ideal channel mix based on the understanding of the consumer journey and the ROI of each channel in question. For some brands this might  include hundreds of different channels, whereas for some brands they might focus on just a few.

Influencer marketing, AR/VR, chatbots and hyper-personalized marketing are the growing trends of today. As a modern marketer, what is your view on the use of MarTech in your marketing strategy?

It all depends on your audience and your company. If your audience is early adopters, they require more advanced solutions than the mass audience. You cannot call yourself an innovative company, if you do not innovate.

Marketers get easily carried away with new tech trends (AR, VR, voice, facial recognition), but consumers are not necessarily demanding those shiny new toys. What they demand is a seamless experience. If technology innovation is just a flash in the pan, the consumer will not care about it. There is a certain merit to do things first, but if you rush into something like a half-assed gimmick to be in second place it is not worth it.

Even if your audience is mostly technological laggards, I would still suggest doing limited pilots with new technologies. New technologies can be adopted very fast if they prove to be useful. When social media was nascent, I had to do lots of sell-in for clients to test these new channels. Those companies that experimented, even in a small scale, were able to reap the benefits when social media became mainstream. The key with innovation pilots is to define the success metrics, learning agenda and the scale of the project. The pilot  might be a failure, but at least you should learn about it and also limit the losses as you have first experimented with more limited scope. It is easier to expand small successes than to make something big at the first go.

What strategies would you suggest for new organizations to create brand awareness?

Make good and differentiated products or services, communicate distinctively and don’t fear to be provocative. The problem for a majority of brands is not that people talk negatively about them. The problem is that no one talks about them.

In terms of channel mix, it depends on your budget.

For example if you are an up-and-coming app, you should focus on how you build social elements to that app so that your users become your advocates. I used to work in MySpace and one of the key methods in the very beginning was handing out flyers. So for start-ups and small businesses, you really need to roll up your sleeves and make your company known. In some ways, the lack of budget forces you to innovate.

If you have a unique point-of-view, your own content creation can be a good method. Of course you need to have something interesting to say. If not, no one wants to hear about it. Many standard ad solutions (search, app download units, programmatic etc.) are more lower-funnel activities and needed there, but do not build brand as much.

If budget is not a problem, the old methods of TV and OOH (Out-of-Home) are still very effective in bumping up the brand awareness in a majority of markets.

What is of utmost importance is that companies need to understand the difference and interplay of brand building and tactical activities. Both are needed, but great brands have a clear and distinctive approach to both of them. Also you need to be crystal clear about what your brand stands for.

How do you describe a modern marketer of today?

A modern marketer needs to be ambidextrous.

They need to be creative but also understand data.

They need to know the history of marketing but also look to the future.

They need to be a psychologist and a data scientist.

They need to see the big picture, but also get their hands dirty in different channels.

They need to be passionate about their brand but also ensure that tactical activities are in place.

They need to have a strong point-of-view, because at the end-of the day that is the only thing that will separate us humans from algorithms.

It is a hard job and getting complicated every day. The most successful marketers never lose their focus on their consumers and their brand.


Riku Vassinen (M.Sc. Economics) has over 15 years of digital marketing experience of which seven years has been in Asia. As Head of Digital in JWT he focuses on digital transformation, utilizing big data to gain actionable insights, eCommerce and performance marketing. He leads a team of data analysts and digital transformation consultants. Before JWT, he was spearheading digital innovation in R/GA, TBWA, N2 Helsinki and as the head of MySpace Finland. During his career, he has worked with Google, Nike, Uber, Netflix, Nokia, Sony, Audi, Diesel, HSBC and Unilever among other companies.He has written two critically acclaimed books about marketing and won 2 Grand Prix Effies. He is a popular keynote speaker in seminars and is an active blogger.


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