Digital Digest with Geri Ellis – Digital Marketing Industry

By: Jessica and Gemma 7 Dec, 2017

This month’s Digital Digest is with the fabulous Geri Ellis. She is now the Chief Data and Technology Officer for NZ Post. She has a impressive range of work experience from being the General Manager of Digital for Vodafone to later progressing to their Global Head of Digital! Previous to this she has worked in Data, Insights and Marketing for various other big name companies such as AMP, BNZ, Microsoft among many others. She is killing it! In this blog piece, she explores Digital Marketing as a whole as well as her experiences. Happy reading 🙂


You’ve been in the digital sector for awhile! How has digital marketing developed through the years in your experience? Considering the fact that you are now also more data focused.

I started dabbling in ‘new media’ back in 1993 for VNU Business Publications, producing one of their first online publications.  Since then the digital world has evolved exponentially from simply adding very very long URLs to collateral with brochureware sites, SMS campaigns, banner campaigns to programmatic advertising and now marketing automation. In terms of commercial outcome, the focus In the 90’s was really about digitising collateral.   Marketing automation is now closer akin to direct marketing and with the ubiquity of online content and social media, the capabilities have evolved significantly, albeit quite slowly. Tools such as Adobe Marketing Cloud, Salesforce and Google 360 leverage 1st and 3rd party data to support delivering ‘personalised’ experiences that are contextually relevant in owned and third party digital channels.   Investment, lack of data, platforms and people skills have all been a challenge for most companies.  Native digital companies, not dragged down by legacy systems have been able to leverage their data to build frictionless experiences and deliver personalised / individualised interactions.  The ability to be able to map data gathered from ‘owned’ digital channels and enhance with 3rd party data from media companies finally enables us to target and improve conversion.  Big Data and DMPs are the latest trend in marketing technology, although I would caution that whilst these platforms are relatively easy to implement, they are hard to operationalise.  Companies need to reinvent the way they engage with their agencies, who owns the data and how they use it (especially managing privacy).  The skills and resource costs to effectively manage segments and campaigns using a DMP can be prohibitive, relative to the commercial gains especially in countries that have a small population.  Initially, benefits are mainly achieved with better media buying utilisation. However, if you are not spending that much on digital media, a 10% cost saving may be much less than the cost of running a DMP in-house.   It’s a very exciting time to finally deliver on the vision around personalised and contextual experiences, but the skills do operate this are scarce.  Companies need to invest in their people as marketers need to learn about analytics and basic ability to code.  Marketers need to embrace and learn about data and how to use it effectively, by cross-skilling for analytic competencies.

You’ve recently taken a new role with NZ Post. What is it like moving from a heavily digital focused telco company such as Vodafone to one which is more traditional and ‘old school’ like a postal service?

I think it’s a misnomer that Telcos are any more advanced in digital marketing than other industries – they have the same legacy platforms, bloated processes and lack of digital skills.  In my first 6 weeks at NZ Post I’ve seen a lot of innovation especially around automation. More importantly I’ve not only seen a huge appetite for change but a commitment and a very high degree of collaboration globally.  Postal services are undergoing huge disruption with competitive intensity increasing constantly.  Culturally it is hard to adapt from traditionally being a monopoly, but there is nothing like a crisis to get people, communities and government galvanised – especially Kiwis.  I believe NZ Post has an amazing opportunity to reinvent itself and be a global leader because it is relatively easier to drive industry change in a small economy (that always punches above its weight).  We have a lot of great people, great attitude, great vendors and that is half the battle – technology alone does not drive change or commercial outcome.

 No doubt you have amazing things planned for NZ Post. Can you let us in on what we can expect?

Data, data, data is going to be key.  Too early to share plans in any detail but I am confident that we will shift the dial very soon.

 What are your thoughts on the notion that younger marketers are more suited to digital roles?

I disagree with that notion.  In fact as mentioned earlier the traditional skills required for 121 / direct marketing are more relevant than ever, so I would equally hire a seasoned direct marketing professional who understands the principles around segmentation, multi-variant testing and data and has an appetite to learn.  The difference with younger marketers is that they have been more exposed to programmatic advertising and social media – it doesn’t mean they are any better technically.  That said, I’m also a huge supporter of balancing fresh thinking and better alignment to the way we want to engage with our customers in a digital world.  As we embark in the 4th industrial revolution of ‘intelligence’ (Klaus Schwab – World Economic Forum) it is critical that we ensure that we upskill and cross-skill all people – many careers and jobs that exist today won’t exist anymore in 5-10 years time and our education system has not prepared our future generations for this.  Many people’s livelihoods  will be affected by artificial intelligence and automation – both white and blue collar workers.  All governments and businesses have an obligation to ensure that people have a purpose and can make a contribution regardless of age or gender.

 How would you say you create effective customer journeys in a digital world? What are key differentiators to make yours stand out?

Customer journeys start on and offline and jump between the two, so simply building digital experiences within a channel is doomed to fail.  It’s important to understand the psychology (motivation) and established behaviour patterns rather than personas which have been used traditionally.  Lining up interactions across digital, human and physical are key – in isolation they create frictions.  A key differentiator is to leverage your data and continuously learn (AI) – any person who interacts with a company needs to experience a better / more ‘known’ personal interaction each time they connect with that same company – as with human relationships, its insulting to ignore and not acknowledge what you have learnt about each other in the past, including knowing when not to connect or get too personal by understanding their preferred levels of privacy.

 With a helm of digital experience under your belt, what is your biggest experience to date?

I could not point to a single experience as all my experiences make up who I am – every day I learn something new, every day my life gets richer with the people I meet and the mistakes I make.  My biggest learning is to focus every day on what I’ve achieved and let go of what I’ve not. 

 What advice can you offer aspiring digital leaders who want to take the next step in their career?

Learn to code 🙂 at least learn about technology because marketing isn’t just about creative – tech is cool! 

 Favorite beverage?

During the week Lime & Soda – on the weekend only big buttery Chardonnays!


Check out our previous Digital Digest with Julie Rowe.