What will you be looking for when judging The Digitals entries this year?

I’ll be looking for work that features true innovation and an effective X-factor, with emphasis on the word ‘effective’. Digital is a maturing marketing medium, and fortunately the era of wacky Flash animations and pointless digital distractions has passed.

I expect social commerce to play an important role in determining the standouts this year, again with emphasis on the word ‘commerce’. The power of digital to generate impact is amplified with a smart social integration, and smart digital marketers should nail this component.

In keeping with our global theme, are their campaigns that stand out in your mind as best practice from other areas outside the UK?

I’ve been keeping an eye on Brazil, one of the emerging hot spots for growth and innovation in ecommerce.

Magazine Luiza, Brazil’s third largest department store, has a brilliant campaign running called Magazine Vocé. The idea behing Magazine Vocé is to empower their customers to curate their own Magazine Luiza stores via social media.

Participating customers can select a range of products to set up their own stores on Facebook or Orkut, spread the word to their friends and collect a commission on each item sold through their social store.

Magazine Luiza takes care of the fulfilment and acquires the customer – they’re creating an army of network sellers using social media, and it’s working beautifully.

Last I heard, over 40,000 customers were selling Magazine Luiza items online, with conversion rates far higher than on the Magazine Luiza online store.

How do you build digital excellence within your company?

Well, we keep an eye on what’s happening globally, and we do the majority of our work in-house. The digital tools available today means you can combine content, e-commerce, video, blogging, social, mobile, CRM, etc. really easily and affordably, so the sky is the limit when it comes to building digital experiences.

However, that can be a double-edged sword – we’ve seen projects and campaigns go off the rails because the temptation of cyberspace is too great. Digital is this wonderfully infinite blank canvas, and it’s tempting to go absolutely bananas and create the universe’s most incredibly new and innovative experience.

What’s important to understand is that as digital has matured, best practices have emerged that must be the foundation of any digital project. Get those right first, and then you can innovate on top.

Ignoring best practice to try and create something entirely different is highly risky – you need a bulletproof strategy if you’re going to make it work, as the average digital consumer’s attention span is declining exponentially. In Australia, we’ve seen a number of digital start-ups fail to get off the ground because they focused too heavily on differentiation, at the expense of usability.

To summarise, I believe usability is the cornerstone of digital excellence – watch what the best in the world do, start with those foundations and then build out your differentiation.

What types of company and business sectors do you see excelling at digital marketing and ecommerce at the moment?

Retail, media and real estate are setting the benchmarks for the corporate sector. What I’m loving about retail in particular is the rise of ‘storytailing’, where retail and media are converging.

Retailers like Net-A-Porter, John Lewis, ASOS and Macy’s are becoming publishers, producing high quality content to engage customers and develop their own digital audiences independent of traditional media.

Conversely, traditional media companies seeing advertising revenues decimated are moving into e-commerce, partnering with existing retailers or vertically integrating retail to grow a new line of revenue from ecommerce.

Controversially, I think digital marketers can learn a lot from the professional porn industry online. Remove the stigma of the content, and you’ll see countless examples of digital marketing brilliance (and have a good excuse to browse under the guise of ‘professional interest’).

How should companies be defining and measuring digital excellence?

Measure everything – there’s no excuse not to. Even the free Google Analytics can deliver an incredible depth of insight into the intricacies of any digital marketing effort.

As a relatively small business, solid metrics matter most to us – I can’t pay my staff in ‘engagement’ or ‘sentiment’ currency, but I can in the associated returns from increased traffic, transaction volumes, loyalty and other metrics that deliver tangible ROI.

What do you see as being the biggest digital trends of 2013, and do you see examples of companies capitalising on these as part of their digital marketing campaigns and programmes?

Content marketing is the focus of the marketing universe in 2013. Overhyped, yes, but even after you strip away the bullshit, content marketing is undoubtedly the most important focus of digital businesses in 2013.

It should have been for years, but Google’s determination to stamp out the practice of SEG (Search Engine Gaming) has pushed the demand for original, quality content to new levels. 

Also, thanks to the explosive rise in mobile and tablet usage, responsive design and simplification of web functionality will trend throughout 2013. Every year digital consumers become less impressed with digital ‘noise’, so those who want to win need to have missile lock focus on simplicity and usability across all devices.