There’s no doubt that LEGO is flavour of the month among marketers, following the launch of their movie and the innovative ad break to promote it. That’s probably why Conny Kalcher was so much in demand at the Brand Republic broadcast on Digital Transformation held on 27th February. The toy brand’s Vice President for Marketing and Consumer Experiences was one of the star turns at the show, which was filmed in front of a live studio audience at the RSA building off The Strand in London.

Remarkably frank about LEGO’s drift away from its core consumer ten years or so ago – and prepared to admit to other brave failures along the way – Kalcher has now seen everything come good. And she had some interesting words of advice to those of us who’d piled into the compact basement auditorium.

LEGO had taken flak for introducing a product aimed specifically at girls. One particular feminist group was pretty vocal in its opposition. But instead of continuing to debate with the critics over the web and social media, Kalcher revealed that the brand had reached out to them and arranged an offline meeting on neutral ground. There was a dialogue and the beginning of an ongoing relationship.

So the first lesson I took away from this discussion of customer engagement in the digital world is that the engagement doesn’t always have to be digital. That said, Kalcher is very firmly focused on the value of social media. But, as is the case in so many large corporations, not everyone was buying in or prepared to acknowledge the significance of these online interactions with customers. Her solution? A realtime media centre that executives can visit to see exactly what’s being said about the brand as it unfolds.

Pardeep Duggal, Head of Digital at utility giant E. ON, cautioned against seeing ‘social media’ strategy as something isolated from the bigger picture. At the end of the day, she advised that any company ultimately has a business strategy and social media is part of that. Martyn Jobber – Director Online and Data Analytics at telecoms group Lebara – extended the argument into the world of agencies, describing the separation of ‘digital’ from other communications work as ‘madness’.

In response to a question from a representative of the NHS about C-suite nervousness over the ‘conversations’ that might take place online, Jobber was just as forthright. These conversations are going to happen anyway and the question was whether you were engaged with that discussion or not.

It’s interesting that even now – in 2014 – there’s continuing debate around ‘buy in’ from senior management in organisations when it comes to digital and social media. Years after the initial online revolution, there are still people thinking that they can ignore the changes that have taken place around them or kid themselves that they are somehow removed from the impact. Duggal was advising the audience to get their board members to read Facebook. As if the billion-strong social networking site is still a curio to many in command of the world’s leading businesses.

Another interesting theme discussed by the panel – which also included Darren Gerry, a Digital Strategy Partner at IBM – was the increasing blur between marketing and customer services. This is a theme after my own heart, as I was discussing it on a CIM webinar just the other day and see it as a major trend. In online interactions, which are much more fluid than traditional telephone scripts, it’s much less easy to compartmentalise the sales pitch from the service performance. The conclusion seemed to be that knowing the customer is the key to any successful conversation, whether it’s fixing a problem or cross-selling a product.

It was good to see the panel stick around for a drinks reception with the studio audience. It turned an intelligent debate into an excellent opportunity for further discussion and networking, with a very varied group of participants. I counted marketing directors of global brands, owner-managers of small businesses, representatives of creative agencies and people from the world of data and analytics, as well as the expected heads of digital. A good initiative from Brand Republic, with the assistance and sponsorship of IBM.