Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Katy Howell: Bugger off with your BAU

Katy Howell, CEO of social media agency  Immediate Future, is one of the most innovative and creative leaders in the digital industry and NDA’s new monthly columnist.

I have nothing against the actual term BAU, except that it’s an acronym and I hate acronyms. But I do have a big problem with BAU (Business As Usual) and its use in social media.

It’s creeping into marketing briefs and making its way onto pitch decks. It has become the lazy way of saying that you want to be present on social. Its only purpose is to drive behaviours that result in crappy content and boring social feeds.      

BAU is an operational term. It is tasks on repeat. Factory mass production churning out the same product day in and day out. Brands pump out more and more ‘meh’ content, just so they can be seen to be “always on” (another terms that should be put in the bin).

This is not marketing.  

The problem is that BAU is not a brief. It has no purpose other than an instruction. The results is directionless and unfocused missions; and it leaves no option but to deliver meaningless garbage.

Last year we published a number of reports looking at everything from Food and Travel to B2B Tech. A retrospective look at the results and you can see that aside from those smashing it in social (the top 0.5% of brands), the majority of brands have chosen to do social by ticking a box and picking an avatar.  

For those planning for the year ahead, here’s some advice:  

Change the bloody game 

Or slip into oblivion. There are so many conversations on social (for instance, there are 70m+ posts that mention Travel from UK audiences alone), so many TikTok or Insta messages to distract your audiences that you have no choice but to step-up.

That means setting meaningful goals for social. If you are still pursuing vanity metrics, then shame on you. If impressions are your count for success, then shame on you twice.  

Get back to marketing basics. Set proper targets and objectives. Stop being fearful. Set reach targets, drive web traffic, deliver sales. Play with the data and understand bounce rates, conversion data and customer journeys.   Anything but followers, likes or engagement.  

Do social bigger

With all that social noise you need to be loud, bold and have something to say. No mean feat. Planning is your big challenge. You need to plan big.  

And you need to plan flexible. Not only because social tech is changing all the time, but because your audience behaviours are changing – and usually very unpredictably.

Who knew last year the boyfriend meme would drag on and on. Who could have predicted baby Yoda (which is my personal highlight of the year TBH) would be a thing on social. Bake-off waned on social, TikTok burst into life and Big Ben Bongs trended. You get the picture.

Instead, plan the thread of your story. The story you want to tell to the audiences you want to reach. What is the core of your social purpose? What will be your content tilt? How will you be distinctive, stand out, remarkable.

Sure, you can post every day if you want, but how will you say something worthwhile and not just create more tedious #motivationalmonday or #wisdomwednesday posts (does anyone actually follow these hashtags?).

On point as always, Mark Ritson, speaking at the Festival of Marketing said, “Salience is the biggest part of the job. With the greatest respect to marketers, I don’t think most of them get it.”

And its salience, the quality of being particularly noticeable or important, that you need if you want brand recognition. How many brands could put their hand on their heart and say that every day they push for prominence and distinction.  

Plan to play big with your advertising too. Go for broad reach (not tiny targets). Plan for big campaigns, give yourself and your audiences a chance to get to know you in more than a week. Build up your profile by attracting attention and sequential storytelling with retargeting to drive messages home.  

Be brave with your creative. Safe just makes you one of the many boring voices. Courageous creativity is a must across formats, visuals and copy.   And then plan to test, and retest.  

Your plan should be your direction and your framework. Then your social teams have freedom to follow trends, jump on new formats, trial new platforms. It’s anything but BAU.  

Make social media count

Grabbing attention, going big, being free to experiment and follow the trends requires you to deliver results that have meaning for your business. So better metrics are a must. But that is not enough.  

You need to shout loud. Tell the whole company of the successes. Sell the idea of bold social that actually has a purpose in growing the business.

Explain that social is not free, nor is it to be run by an intern. Tell them the importance of not just nibbling at the edges of social and that if they go all in, you can make a difference that impacts the bottom line.  

Internal comms is your biggest challenge. Your plan needs to include helping other departments, leadership teams, your peers, your staff, everyone in the business; understand the value of social. The value of doing it well.    

Social can and should be an essential part of your marketing mix. It is not the only channel of course, but that’s not the excuse for doing it so badly as to be better off doing nothing at all. It is no excuse to treat social as BAU.