1. Rediscovering timeless principles
As John Hegarthy famously said, “practices change, but principles remain”. In the last few years, we’ve seen a mindless adoption of new practices that haven’t been held against timeless principles.
The increase in possibilities and sheer speed of digital-driven change should be a fantastic opportunity for CMOs to create robust business value. But too often we see these opportunities become challenges as marketers start chasing the latest shiny object or hype-driven gimmick, without basic considerations for target groups, buying patterns, positioning or media-neutrality.
It’s time to reclaim the driver’s seat and use new opportunities emerging from changing customer habits and technology in a strategic and constructive manner. CMOs should take off their VR-glasses and step into the engine room, armed with customer insights and commercial opportunities to develop new products, experiences and campaigns. 2018 should be the year we rediscover those principles and hold new practices against them.
2. Reclaiming marketing efficiency
When it comes to media fragmentation and the proliferation of technology, a recurring challenge is the imbalance between working spend (money spent on placing content in front of audiences) versus non-working spend (money spent on administration, analysis, development, technology etc.).
With debate on the opaque media value chain and backlash against the promised wonders of marketing-tech, 2018 should be the year that more companies look into how marketing can be more efficient. We see two major fronts developing:
- Content production:
Too much money is spent on content production and scattered across channels, countries and campaigns, which isn’t backed by enough media spend. And, if there is media spend behind the content, it’s often difficult to see how much money is being used on ad placement as well as fees and commissions. We believe more companies will move towards a more centralised view on content production and distribution – if not for synergies, then for the overview.
- Technology simplicity:
20 years ago, printing material that never saw the light of day used to be the culprit. Today, the culprit might as well be underutilised technology. In our experience, many companies are seduced by the possibilities of tech, yet ultimately fail to use it sufficiently or correctly. This year might be the first year where marketers start to ask themselves whether more tech is actually better; whether simplicity should be favoured instead of a patchwork of different platforms, applications, and systems that need to be maintained.
3. Reviewing your positioning in light of digitalisation
Due to digitalisation, value chains and business models have been reshaped; competition is changing form; and even core products are undergoing fundamental changes through the application of AI, IOT and similar technological breakthroughs. But these trends are also creating tension and confusion for companies, which lead to a range of existential questions:
- Is it time to stand your ground or pivot?
- What is hype and what provides real customer value?
- Where should we invest or divest?
Too often these questions are met with a panicked response, arbitrary change and internal confusion. This is a shame since digitalisation can also be used as a platform for acceleration and momentum. To do this, companies must take a stand and become narrators of their own story. In light of digitalisation, 2018 will be a great time to future-proof your brand story.
4. From big data to core data
The implementation of the new EU regulation for handling personal data, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will be one the topics attracting the most attention in 2018. The task of getting ready for May 25th is multifaceted. Data validation is an enormous job and it’s natural that many companies will have to revisit and review their current data. Most companies have much more data on customers and prospects than they use, let alone need. Now, they will need to identify and evaluate the essential data, to ensure effective sales and marketing, from data that’s just “nice to have”.
We believe this process will contribute to an increased focus on core business. More companies will ask themselves questions like: which customers are most important to our business? What strategy should we follow to keep and grow these customers. What’s important and relevant for them? And how can we use our insights to identify and attract new profitable customers?
It’s a shift from a “quantitative” to a “qualitative” mind-set. From measuring success on the amount of web traffic, to focusing on getting the right traffic. From hunting everyone who randomly visits your website, to focusing on qualified leads and creating meaningful dialogue. From growing your newsletter database to growing subscriptions among your core target group, and so on. Reporting in absolute numbers without a qualitative element or evaluation should become a thing of the past.
5. The branding revival
After a decade of companies believing they could create lasting differentiation simply by being the quickest to adapt to the new digital marketing landscape, we are now in a situation where most companies have a sound digital presence. In other words, the advantages some companies had have now evened out.
It’s seldom that a company’s products would be described as entirely unique, so a new need has arisen. A company must explore other ways to create a clear position that differentiates itself from its competitors — using the company’s brand is an obvious solution.
During the last year or two, the use of branding has slowly returned, but too often in a version that’s been more hot air than substance. Our prediction is that in 2018, using brand positioning and branding management as tools to drive growth and set a clear direction for company will secure a prominent place on management’s agenda.
A company must have a clear description of its brand position and the elements on which it’s founded. It also needs a strategy for how it will communicate its brand story to its core target groups and use the brand as a growth engine.
6. B2B branding: from boring to brilliant
“Boring to boring” is often used to describe B2B sales and marketing. This labelling seems harsh considering the complexity of the decision-making process, the importance of the decision to be taken when choosing a supplier, and the fatal consequences for decision makers, together with the company as a whole, if the wrong supplier is chosen.
“Serious = boring” is usually the argument — and there’s certainly some truth in this. However, the internet has changed the rules. Recent studies reveal that B2B companies consider two to three brands at most when searching for suppliers — and a major part of the initial search and selection process is done online. Strengthening the brand and marketing approach is therefore a must for B2B suppliers who want to act on the global market, where local relations and rational arguments are no longer enough.
Studies reveal that strong B2B brands deliver up to a 20% higher EBIT. In too many B2B companies, marketing and branding are still seen as costs rather than investments. As a result, the strongest are becoming stronger, and the B2B companies that don’t adjust to the new reality risk losing power and business.
We believe this elimination race will accelerate in 2018. Forward-looking companies will make the necessary transformation to move from “boring to boring” to “brilliant to brilliant”. They will discover how to formulate and deliver a clear brand position with a convincing brand story that makes customers want to engage and partner with them.
7. The international B2B challenge
In recent years, most international B2B companies have seen the potential digital and social marketing offers. Many have left it up to local social media organisations to make and implement their digital strategy. The result is that a lot of things have been tried and done — often leaving the target audience with a very diverse and inconsistent picture of the company.
We believe 2018 will be the year where companies want a consistent brand in both the real and digital worlds. But this is a huge challenge for large international organisations with many stakeholders worldwide — each with a local eye on what works best in their market.
We have experienced several examples of companies that have successfully implemented international digital and social activities with a consistent brand story, but one flexible enough to cover different regions. We believe these examples will inspire others to also look at how they perform in the digital world, and this will lead to consistent international digital concepts across countries and regions.
8. Making digital a means to an end — not an end in itself
Many companies have digitalised everything they can — both in terms of what makes sense to digitalise, but also what doesn’t. Digitalisation has been used to optimise processes, and many companies today are much more efficient and transparent than they used to be. Digital appears wherever a company sees an opportunity to do something different, optimise how they do things or outperform their competitors. And this process will continue.
The customer experience is also a top priority for marketers. Very often, though, their focus is on turning the interface between the company and the customers into a digital one. This makes the digitalisation of the customer relationship the end instead of the means. But, in this process of digitalising the customer experience, it’s often forgotten that many impressions and transactions still involve people. People that can have considerable influence on buying decisions.
We see companies who realise that to be successful – even in the digital age – you need to focus on your employees and how they understand and carry the brand. They are the people who can make a difference when everything has been rationalised. They can provide the emotional touch to decision making. More and more companies will realise that optimisation and digitalisation aren’t everything, and will start focusing on helping their people to perform and make a difference.
Happy holidays and our best wishes for the new year
- Kunde & Co