Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

All I want for Christmas is realistic predictions

By Simon Akers founder of Archmon and a regular NDA columnist

I have always been a little against the annual swathes of trend decks that rear their shiny head this time of year.

To set the record straight before I get maligned as a planner and strategist who should be celebrating this; some of them are awesome and they have some great insights in there. It is not that I don’t like them at all – I really do – it is more the fact that they can get into the wrong hands and with that a skewing of what is indeed important. Clients getting beguiled by murmurings of the metaverse and deferred payment tech when they haven’t even set up their Google Analytics properly.

I do like to read a number of trend decks (I enjoyed Dentsu’s I must say, extremely well thought out and practical) and equally insightful articles;  NDA’s very own columnist Rob Webster delivering the goods once again with his excellent MAD-Tech insight. There are some excellent future-facing advisories, as well as some core ‘safe’ ones to bet on, as well as out-there anomalies to provoke. The latter is less interesting in this instance. 

There are of course a handful of absolutes for the year ahead, regardless of commercial biases/conjecture and more So hopefully I can distil fundamentals that are facts and not conjecture.

Firstly – marketing practice (and writing) should be perennial.

I am for iteration, progress and a dynamic of channel selection, but not at the cost of fundamental values of omnichannel planning. 

With a strategy – it really is OK to temper things with sensibility and classic marketing fundamental truisms and a clear strategy without fear of being viewed as a laggard – albeit utilising some execution tactics that are new, shiny and ‘innovative’. Speaking of perennial, boring can be great when planning. Build the brand, capture the demand. That will not change. 

When planning a campaign – You have to research and orient yourself in your market, position your product and offer accordingly with right pricing, messaging and targeting, and execute a well-measured campaign that you may be able to optimise depending on the channel. This should not change, only the tools with which you do so. 

I recently wrote about this on my own blog the need for marketing literature to deliver certain educational bases and fundamental truths, something I wrote about in Back to Basics book a year ago – which had the MO of not making predictions but delivering pragmatic irrefutable marketing laws, something I am glad to see has not dated.

The continued need to balance brand and performance marketing

Short term performance metrics beguile growth hackers the world over, and bias towards this can indeed be the smart move for startups, but over time you can only go fishing for what you have bred through brand marketing anyway. It is important to plan both longer-term brand-building activity, and shorter-term performance-focussed activations. The seminal paper which has held true for 5 years now is of course Binet and Field’s Long and Short of it where they suggest the 60:40 approach to brand and performance respectively. Although they concede the split for smaller brands should be more 35:65, with a larger focus on the activation/sales-driving side, 1 in 3 financial toes remain in the brand water. Always keep that alive, sharing that voice and creating that mental availability, so that performance investment continually converts.

The continued need to free up your people

I don’t mean from an employment contract. I mean from the physical, technical and mental shackles that have proven themselves over the last few years. Enable a free working world. Unless we have not moved on from cup and string communication, our industry can be anywhere. Encourage it – it brings out the creative excellence in people. Remote and hybrid working. You need in-person experiences, learning and sessions, the sheer alchemy of people in a room, around a table creating something new. This is particularly important for junior talent plying their trade. But you do not need to be codependent 5 days a week. Technically – automation is there – utilise this to the max to enable your execution teams to do more strategic thinking than being in the activation weeds.

On a mental plain, thinking of the pastoral care of your staff and their mental health is key. They have been through it, from fear of redundancy to being stuck in their flat with colleagues on video call their sole daily interaction. It is pretty obvious to me, but if you look after your staff, they will feel happier, more empowered and ultimately do better work. It seems like a human truth that will not change right?

The continued importance and power of creativity

Creative thinking. Creativity in output. Advert creative. Brainstorming good ideas from those empowered people aforementioned, until the great big one appears. A powerful creative output will always be exponentially more powerful than any measurable and tweakable media channel output. Tools change, such as the advent of dynamic creative and you can AB test things to within an inch of their life, but it all comes back to a big kernel, a big idea. That will not change.

The ever-present procurement and margin squeeze challenges

The evergreen battle of justifying marketing and media expense. A lot of it should be seen as an investment in the brand and not a cost. However, the advent of more measurement buttons to press and cannier CFO knowledge of metrics such as ROAS and CPA does not always serve us best, as higher cost activity is often vital for long term growth.

Diversity is a constant, Inclusion remains a Choice

As I always say, you cannot market to everyone if you yourselves are not indeed everyone. Enough said.

Build trust first and foremost to overcome all privacy and data challenges

The one evolving non-perennial issue I will address is the one of the post-cookie world, and post Apple tracking, and the fight for 1st party data that dominates strategic digital marketers’ minds. Obvious – collect more first party data you say? But it is not as simple as that and requires you to be razor-sharp on customer experience and in the process position your brand as the trusted source for their needs. In simple terms, why am I offering up my email address? I have to know you, like you, or at the least like what you have to say/offer. From a discount to a free kit or user guide, what is the incentive (or value exchange) in submitting my personal identifier?

And a friendly reminder that, despite a slight mechanical change, the email address is just an alternative identifier in a post cookie world, not exactly a data point in itself. Look to enrich your data point through ongoing engagement, communication, offers, feedback and participation. Also, think how you can build out custom audiences on the back of email addresses of new greenfield prospects – remembering that the majority of sales and growth will typically come from light/new buyers and not existing anyway!

The continued importance of measurement

As above, there is always technological change e.g conversion APIs being looked at instead of cookies, but the insight has to have the same thing. It comes back to the question –  what matters? Things and access change. Apple passes limited data back to Facebook now. GA will have less available data with cookie deprecation. So what? Regardless of this, it is good to come back to the north star now and then, and decide what actually matters, and which KPI(s). There may be less data points in the short-intermediate term, but the perpetual need to measure marketing efforts, however linear, will continue to grow as we omnichannel planners look to placate the beady-eyed CFO.

…Let’s just keep doing the right thing

To close, on the subject of trust, as an industry advertising and marketing is amongst the most untrusted, and I can bet a lot of it is down to the constant penchant for the latest snake-oil tactic or trend being shared. Flip-flopping to the point of the seemingly slippery. Stay true to key fundamentals, do the right thing(s), and you can bet on a steady and positive 12 months ahead.

I hope this writing is true to its non-reactive promise, and lasts longer than the cheese, crackers and wine we are now cracking open. Wishing you all a superb Christmas and 2022!