The dinosaurs didn’t see it coming – and shipping CEOs are just as blind

Every single day – every day of the week – your clients, employees, and stakeholders look away from their PCs and laptops and use their mobile devices to access news, go shopping, order a cab, Skype or FaceTime their friends and family, do their banking, look for new jobs, and check the sports scores…they might even take a moment to look up and yell at their kids ‘get off your devices’.

Analytics teams look at how long we all spend online, what we have been reading, and what sites we visit. Marketing teams are doing their best to appreciate what information we have taken away from every one of our online actions and, of increasing importance, what we will share with our friends and colleagues.

This information has profoundly changed the world of corporate marketing. We know, for example, if you have a bad online ‘customer experience’ then you will leave with negative views of a company’s overall technical competence…even if the two aspects are completely unrelated. Think about this…if you apply online for an onshore job with a shipping company and the form doesn’t load properly – the applicant will believe this is directly related to your ability to safely ship X cargo to Y port.

As business owners and managers, we cannot afford to be left behind in the digital revolution. We have a commercial obligation to meet and talk to our customers (and employees) where they reside – and increasingly this is online. This new digital/social media ecosystem is where people share news, form views of people and companies, and are influenced by the actions of others.

What should CEOs do to avoid being dinosaurs?

From all the clients and accounts I have worked with, I have learned the single biggest precursor to success is the support and buy-in of senior managers. But the very people who need to strategically drive the success don’t understand what needs to be done and what success looks like. The trouble is, it is very hard to get good advice in this space. Internal maritime marketing teams are generally inexperienced when it comes to social media and digital marketing, and are fearful that external advisers will make them appear redundant.

Most maritime PR agencies will claim to be able to provide social media expertise. Though it seems few actually, when pressed, would be able to describe what success looks like beyond twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts. ‘Digital marketing’ takes the form of sporadically linking self-congratulatory website content to these platforms – old school applications just being pushed through new technology.

So where do you start if you don’t know what you’re looking for?

1. First accept that digital/social marketing is, to a large degree, a completely new form or marketing and communications. An afternoon’s reading on the subject will probably leave you as up-to-date on the subject as your marketing and PR teams (or drop me an email).

2. Understand the implications of developing a digital strategy. This will impact your staff, some suppliers, and your own time commitment. Be prepared to shake things up and provide leadership.

3. Incorporate sales…because little else matters. The disconnect between marketing/PR and sales is evident in most sectors…but if you are starting from scratch you have a great opportunity to move from a ‘press release culture’ to a more client focused approach.

4. Start slow…but be prepared to push boundaries. Social media gets bad press in shipping. Insurers regularly publish (online) about the perils of rogue posts and uncontrollable coverage – but still want you to visit their websites and pay their premiums. So…consider how far you can go to get a commercial advantage.

5. Understand what you are going to measure. This is the really tricky part (and is the part which is commercially sensitive). Metrics are an easy sell/scare tactic: “Maersk has 155,840 followers” sounds impressive – but a sensible question is ‘so what?’

Don’t compare yourself to the competition. I think around 99% of companies are getting this wrong – the chances are you are too (sorry). From what I can see and measure, the bigger the company the more likely this is. Simply replicating someone else’s efforts because of a brand name doesn’t equate to success. But the fantastic thing is that, in this brave new world, if you can get this right you have the opportunity to dominate this space.

What are the implications?

If you still doubt the future is digital and social, you only have to look at what is going on in sectors such as law, accountancy, medicine, trading, banking, publishing, and even transport with the advent of Uber. We are already starting to see the application of AI (artificial intelligence) to ‘professional’ human jobs. Big data can now be used to do these roles better and faster…and we have only just started.

Successful companies should always be asking themselves how they can improve the customer experience – how do you increase the touch points and give clients the information they want. In tough times you should be looking for any small advantage.

It’s not the marketing teams and consultants who have to recognise the end of an era. It’s the industry leaders.

Graeme Somerville-Ryan

Graeme Somerville-Ryan is the Marketing and Business Development Director (Asia) for the international law firm Wikborg Rein. He also consults to businesses in the shipping, insurance, oil and gas, and financial services sectors on marketing strategy, communications, social media, and profile development in Asia.


  1. Inchcape Shipping is way ahead in this area. Our management saw it coming many years back and our company has released YourISS web portals which are state of art and are better than SAP and Oracle.

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