Over the last couple of months, I’ve been chatting with various business leaders and innovators. When I began this exercise, my plan was to have a list of questions that I would get them to answer and consolidate their responses and come up with some findings – you know, an interview. But when I started chatting, either over the phone or over a coffee, it became very apparent that many had more to say than my limited questions would allow and so, due in no small part to the conversations heading off on a random tangent due to my being distracted and not ‘controlling’ the interview, responses got far more interesting.

My original questions were around the future of digital in Brisbane and how the digital revolution has impacted the local market. I asked Matt Granfield for his comments. Matt, the Executive Director of Digital for the Mantra Hotel Group, spoke of the importance of positioning Brisbane in the global market.

“Brisbane has a real chance to become the tourism commerce capital of Asia Pacific. Some of Australia’s biggest tourism companies are in the region, including Flight Centre, Virgin and Mantra. If the Government made a concerted effort to establish the city as the tourism commerce capital and worked with the universities to develop innovation and world class training in this area it could be a great point of difference for the city. If Silicon Valley is the global tech hub, Brisbane could be a global tourism business hub.”

A point echoed by Russ Vine, a Brisbane advertising veteran and Managing Director of Ogilvy’s, one of the world’s iconic agencies.

“Brisbane is in some ways a victim of it’s own success. We’re quite innovative for a small city and for our size, achieve great things, however the issue is that the responsibility for digital lies predominantly, and I qualify it with that word, at too junior a level. The head of digital should have a seat at the table and be able to talk about the science of marketing in relation to new innovations without someone saying, ‘I can do that, and cheaper.’  for example, just because you can use YouTube doesn’t mean you understand the mechanics of it. We create great campaigns and strategies, but now everyone in the business has some form of insight or skill that has not matured as yet. We need better and more highly qualified people or we’re going to be left behind as a city and a state.”

Creating a culture of innovation was top of mind for almost all the interviewees and while this was in no small part due to the want to contribute to the ‘greater good,’ there was also an underlying element. In order for Brisbane to move forward, digital needs lead the charge.

As conversations got down to the realities and challenges of business, many spoke of harnessing the power of data that digital presented. Nathan Bush, Head of Digital for Super Retail Group discussed the challenges of creating a digital culture and utilising information in a retail based business.

“We have an enormous amount of data that goes back many years and our goal is to create a methodology whereby we can assist our customers in making purchases because they want to, not just because they’re being sold to. Service is key in everything we do, like if you go into a BCF or a Rebel Sport, you’re going to speak to someone who’s motivated and wants to be there. Our digital platform should act in the same way.”

I asked about the transition from retail to online.

“We’re retail and we always will be, think about if you need a part for your bike – do you go online and wait a few days, or even a day? No, you head down to the closest store, which is hopefully one of ours, and pick up the part right now. We’re about convenience and digital isn’t about taking over our retail business but revolutionising it. You might jump online and have the part put aside for you so that you don’t need to hunt for it when you arrive.’

Interestingly, all these leaders saw their role in a very similar way – contributing to the business in a collegial sense, not making rapid or unnecessary changes. In speaking to the Queensland Rugby League’s Digital Marketing Manager Mitch Wilson, it became apparent that he sees digital as a custodian of something far bigger than just the occasional tweet or effective web presence.

“There are so many exciting opportunities for us to engage with our fans, like from a digital and social media standpoint there’s live video, drone footage and heaps of other amazing stuff that we’re looking at, but it has to bring the game closer to the fans in an effective way. We’re an important institution to so many people and the fans deserve more than something clever, they deserve something great. We also have an obligation to the businesses that invest in making the team great. We need to honour them and keep them as sponsors without cheapening their names through intrusive behaviour. Without these sponsors we wouldn’t be who we are so there’s a sense of obligation to make sure it’s a great experience for them and their customers. We stay on the cutting edge, speaking to international sports teams and attending global conferences. We’re always looking for ways to improve and not just to change for the fun of it.”

Gavin Thiesfield, who heads up Product Design at For The Record Ltd, also spoke of the pace of change but not getting swept up in it.

“There is so much going on but you need to pick your battles. It’s impossible to be all things to all people and trying to be great at everything is a foolish strategy. I like that roles in digital are being broken down, like in terms of UX and UI which didn’t even exist that long ago. Change isn’t going to slow down but we’re creating an environment that can allow smart people to find their place and be good in it.”

And smart people are not in short supply as Louisa Dahl, a digital marketing veteran and founder of Interactive Minds pointed out.

“When I started off in digital we were still learning what it was and Brisbane has adapted to be a real leader nationally in spite of our limitations. However there are a bunch of challenges for digital marketers, like focus  – what new technologies and platforms to jump on and what to leave. Then there’s ROI which is now so easy to measure, but hard to achieve. In digital marketing now it’s important to justify expenditure and often we see fragmented channels or the wrong approach being used and as a result, poor results are received. As marketers we need to be helping each other, there is some great expertise out there and we want to be a part of bringing that together.”

Organisations like Louisa’s are doing a great job of creating opportunities for networking and knowledge sharing with the local community, and if there’s one thing I learnt from this series of interviews it’s that the talent is here, we need to expand on it and work with institutions to make it ‘our way’ of doing things. To get involved with Interactive Minds visit www.interactiveminds.com.au

Thank you to all participants for their time and openness.