In uncertain times our advice doesn’t change (but we get to say it a lot more often).
26 July 2016 David Wood, Group CEO
The vote on June 23rd this year unleashed a tide of woe and anger that I haven’t seen in political debate for some time (in fact it wasn’t a debate at all; like the campaign before it, the noise after the Brexit vote was a continuation of the dialogue of the deaf before it).
What I didn’t see coming was the wave of advice and opinion about how to market in uncertain times that came like an aftershock.
Article after article, post after post – some of it as unrelentingly dull as a party manifesto, most of it seemingly unaware of what it’s really like having to ensure that a business has to live within its means.
And that got me thinking that our advice doesn’t change whatever the external forces acting on a business.
I say this as an ex-client as much as an agency person, but the advice always seems rather biased and self-serving to me. The ad industry particularly will always seek to get clients to see recession as an opportunity. “If the competition blink first and cut budgets then now is your time to increase spend and grab disproportionate share” seems to be the general thrust of it. Similarly, the research companies will always argue that when times are tough it makes sense to spend even more money researching how customers perceive value now.
Our advice doesn’t change – whatever the actual or imagined economic outlook.
Some think that uncertain times put additional importance on budget scrutiny. We’d say that external factors shouldn’t really influence how efficiently you run a business. We should all be cutting out waste even in the land of milk and honey.
I also hear people saying that their “advertising must work harder”. I think that’s absolutely true but how many have worked out that as an industry, we already face Marketing Attention Deficiency Syndrome. I was reading some research from the US explaining that whilst ad-spend (total in all channels) is up by 12%, recall for the top 100 advertisers is down in total by around 11%. YouGov Brand Index April 2016 It’s not hard to see why in this multi-channel world we’re creating that people are increasingly distracted and less likely to either see, recognise or welcome commercial messages and why it’s increasingly hard to work out if they have any impact.
I’d have to ask Alanis if this is ironic, but the same thing is happening to clients. The work of media agencies in targeting ever more accurately means fewer and fewer brands even seek the big stage, let alone bother to put on a compelling performance so clients and their boards and workforces and other stakeholders have a vanishingly small chance of seeing their brand actually strut its stuff.
So, our biggest bit of advice to clients at the moment is the advice we always give. Marketing impact is only partly about spend. Of course you need a sharp, frictionless, strong idea at the heart of your brand. You need absolute clarity around the benefits that your brand can give its customers and a means of communicating that’s engaging and attractive. Most of all, you need an idea. An idea that galvanizes the whole thing, helping everyone involved to “get” whatever it is you need them to “get”.
Times of uncertainty are no time to stand-in. Marketing has a responsibility to lead when others are less sure of what to do.
The risky, expensive and inefficient type of marketing is the stuff that follows category conventions, keeps such a close eye on the competition that it starts to imitate it and never considers the benefits of surprise.
Playing it safe by using the category clichés and hiding behind industry accepted wisdom is almost guaranteed to cost more than it returns and to borrow from a recent Deloitte article, it’s like asking customers to look at a brick wall and pick out a brick.
It’s not about differentiation, it’s about distinction.
But then we’d always say that.
(Main Picture Credit – Artwork by Tim Etchells, the idea to use it copied from Mark Earls)