Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Rob Webster: the world has changed – now marketing needs to change

Rob Webster is Founder of  Canton Marketing Solutions. He’s worked in the adtech industry since 2001 and is NDA’s monthly adtech columnist.

The Christmas period is often a great time to take stock of the previous year and finesse your plans for the next. Never before has this been more true or more useful than this year as we see light at the end of the tunnel of the global pandemic that has changed the world so much – from where we work, shop, live and of course how we consume advertising.

Over this time I came across the awesome new book by Scott Galloway “Pandemic, from Crisis to Opportunity” which looks at the impacts of the pandemic on society and the world of media and technology particularly. It’s a book I encourage you all to read. It reaffirms my view that the 25-year move from traditional media to digital media has now reached a tipping point some years ahead of schedule.

Most of the major changes of the last year might well have happened anyway but have now done so at a dramatically faster rate. There has been much talk of a decade’s worth of change in a year. So, it is with marketing where all the most important changes would have occurred, but over a much longer period of time. This puts huge pressure on marketing departments to adapt to a new world as to succeed they must follow their consumers’ behaviour.

A new tipping point

Four major shifts that have long been coming have accelerated media measurement, planning and buying beyond a tipping point in the last 12 months.

A shift away from the high street and the supermarket to buying almost all goods online.
A shift away from linear TV to Video on-demand with a data and platform led approach.
Further and accelerated decline in out of home, cinema, and print advertising in favour of online advertising.
Audio advertising moving from traditional radio to streaming, podcasts, and other connected services.

Galloway believes it likely that many traditional media publishers that have been taken off media plans in the downturn will now likely never return. This can best be seen in the huge growth in market share of what he calls the big four, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, over the last twelve months – we truly are living in their world now.

Before the pandemic 60% of all online revenue went to Google and Facebook with Amazon, Microsoft to follow. Their dominance will have only increased with digital taking an ever bigger share of total media budgets. Outside of sectors like e-commerce and travel, many advertisers’ marketing departments are still set up to be (linear) TV first strategy. Since the ‘50s brands have relied on TV to boost their brand and ultimately drive sales.

Predictive modelling done quarterly at most has been the go too measurement technique. This TV first strategy has worked wonders in the last decades but now beyond the tipping point is unlikely to bear fruit. Consumers simply don’t engage with linear TV as much as they once did and increasingly more and more purchase journeys start online. Instead then, such companies must look to transform their marketing efforts and leverage great marketing stories in a new media first model.

TV and connected TV in particular will be part of the mix but no longer with the overpowering dominance of before. As we shall see that has profound impacts on the planning and creative cadence and execution marketing departments need to adapt too.

New research paradigms

This is a journey many brands have been over due starting, knowing that it needs to happen and grasping the nettle are not the same thing. Many will have relied upon what has worked for a generation and was pre the pandemic still (just) effective. Consider that with many purchases happening in store there was less opportunity for products to be researched (particularly FMCGs) and so Brand recall was everything. Now with more purchases happening online and a more savvy and cost conscious consumer even those in the shops will utilise online research before a purchase more and more.

Whilst the move from office to home working was forced to occur almost over night the shift in how media is planned and bought is still very much in transition. 2020 for many companies was very much a case of survival and so only changing what was absolutely necessary took place (home working and point of purchase), leaving for many fundamental marketing changes for a later date. Even advertisers that are more aligned with digital channels and techniques (ecommerce/travel) will need to adapt to the accelerated changes, increased competition, and the fact that digital itself requires the transition to a post cookie privacy-first world.

Brands need to make wholesale changes to thrive in a new media-first world. Whilst the core fundamentals of marketing may be constant the way that they need to best operate has dramatically moved on. For best results there needs to be a much faster pace of creativity, planning and buying, and a more granular focus on data and attribution. Measurement will need a particular upgrade to be able to function in a faster paced and data rich world.

Companies will need far more people comfortable operating in a modern media marketplace and with marketing technology.

Marketing transformation

For all these reasons we will see in the coming years marketing transformation of unprecedented scale. All brands will need to adapt to survive and thrive in the new era. At Canton, we are proud to work with some forward-facing brands who addressed this challenge head-on and early, and while few if any are totally ready, those that have already started or who are able to start sooner will have a big advantage over those who delay. Marketing transformation is likely to be one of the watchwords of the next three years and help make the careers of those that can execute it with aplomb. It will require a big change in expertise as planning and particularly buying multiple online media platforms is a very different skill set to buying traditional media via an IO. This may result in a change in agency vendor as well as a likely shift towards doing more in house.

Modern legislation means it is effectively a legal requirement to have marketing data activities controlled in house and the benefits in terms of speed of execution and coordination of an in house team are also considerable. The creative idea is still the key to great marketing execution but a revolution in planning and buying is needed for that to be effective.

Agency transformation

In agency land, this story has already started to be told with offerings geared to the future dramatically outstripping traditional offerings. Sir Martin Sorrell with S4C and Mighty Hive has long been a voice for a new breed of services model and indeed his new business has continued to grow during the pandemic. Other new breed offerings such as Horizon in the US and Jellyfish closer to home highlight the trend. Every major agency group is trying to adapt with their own versions with the likes of Essence, Merkle, Epsilon, Hearts, and Science leading the way.

Yet this was all happening before the pandemic and the trend will both surely accelerate and indeed usher in yet newer models better suited to the new world. Many of the newer offerings are too focused on Google where they operate as effective resellers and whilst Google is important so are Facebook and Amazon and the world of Apple Apps. Google focused ad tech does not sync well (or barely attempts to) with these other ecosystems, and in a world where the answer is always Google will definitely impact negatively on how well you can operate beyond the reaches of the Google marketing platform.

It is here that I see a huge opportunity for a new model of service businesses to emerge that allows advertisers to work with all strategically important publisher ecosystems and the supporting structures of independent marketing and ad technology. Such a new model will likely be much more about working as the coach rather than the player (solution) supporting brands on their journey to better marketing conversations rather than the old model of looking to “own” media spend for negotiating power.

For all that change is required (and required fast to allow companies to compete); it needs to be carried out with limited resources. CMOs do not have huge sums to invest in marketing transformation, if indeed they have funds at all. Furthermore, most enterprises and the market as a whole has a shortage of talent best placed to deliver the new marketing paradigm.

CMOs must be bold and insist on change whilst encouraging existing talent to retrain. At Canton with our clients, we have seen that such change can pay for itself in a very short space of time and that provided departments have the right attitude so people can adapt and thrive in the new world.

Lastly, I hope a voice of hope for many in the industry who have gone through tough times in the past 12 months. For those individuals and organisations that have the skills and products (or the willingness to learn and build them) that this new era of marketing requires 2021 can be a great year. If we all can knuckle down and prepare as spring turns to summer we can likely usher in happier times in which our skills have never been in more demand.

At that point, I hope to see as many of you as possible to celebrate.

Happy New Year