What 2016 in marketing, media and advertising can tell us about 2017

Bill Merrick has more than 20 years experience in international business, gained in marketing, advertising and PR – from packaged goods to infrastructure. He is now, from London, partnering with Darren Woolley to launch TrinityP3 UK – to bring all of their combined experience and insight to clients in Europe.

Marketing predictions 2017

Yes, it’s that time of year again when everyone feels compelled to compile their list of predictions for the coming year.

Thank Heavens that unless you’re a major news provider, current or former world or business leader, Stephen Hawkins or have appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, your predictions won’t get embarrassingly reviewed at the end of next year.

So therefore, from the safety of relative obscurity, but a reasonably well-informed position – here are mine – primarily in the broader world context – and then where and how they seem to fit in the world of marketing.

1. Facts will make a comeback.

We’ve all seen that 2016 was the year when shutting your eyes, clicking your heels and making a wish can partly work. All of the people who tried this got their wish and their dream appeared to come true.  

They then realised that whatever they’d been given by the nice people who said they could have anything they wished, were telling the truth.  There was a catch though – you could have whatever you wanted as a dream – but the coming true bit was a problem.

This happened quite a lot – and now lots of people (but let’s face it, not everyone) are wishing that they hadn’t wished at all. Many people all over the world have learnt that bad news does in fact travel fast – and its impact is measured in facts and not wishes. (An important message for marketers – especially in digital media.)

We are currently seeing a trend in business and politics where many people, but still not all – are waking up, rubbing their eyes and saying, “Why are facts so damaging and make me sad? Why can’t they be like wishes – but the ones that come true?”

The facts are, as we know them now, that people were not clear about what they wanted, how they would get it, how to know if it was even possible and believing things they wanted to believe were true – but weren’t.  

They didn’t like the way they were feeling – they just wanted to believe it was possible to feel better – but without a clear understanding of how to get there and what it would need to look like to do that.

This is yet another message that appears to be valid for marketers and their agencies.

At TrinityP3 we look at the facts and they inform everything.

2. Experts will make a come back.

Experts haven’t done too well lately.  

With all that ridiculous education and training – experience – learning how to collaborate – making informed decisions gained from canny insights across a broad range of issues – what does that matter when our freedom to do as we please is hampered by them?  

Experts are party poopers.  They are more interested in results – whatever they are – than how we feel.   

They let people from far away gate crash our playground – they take away our sweeties – they say that we should let them live next door and share our toys. They also say that we should be able to make our own rules so that we can be like before.  

Very few people have ever really seen that before, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go back there. Some say that if we run wild, we’ll fall over and hurt ourselves, whilst others say we will all be wild, and free and rich. Grown ups are contradictory and therefore no fun.

This led me to think that what’s happening in the world out there, has also happened in the marketing industry. We’ve tossed out the grown-ups.

There was an article in a leading marketing magazine here in the UK recently that was about ageism in the advertising and marketing world. They said it was the next battlefront in diversity.

It was actually saying that there were possibly too many people under 35 in the industry.  

What they could probably have said is that there are very few truly rounded and experienced people left in advertising and marketing. The story even highlighted the fact that many people in jobs in those occupations thought that after 40, it would be impossible to get another one in the business.

(This is a little like the idea that we need more ordinary people in parliament to be truly representative of the people. Maybe I’m not looking at it correctly, but I don’t want to fly with an airline that picks the pilot out of the boarding area so as to be truly representative of the people on the flight to Ibiza.)

All this is against a background where clients are being reported as wanting more and more real insight across the whole spectrum of marketing.

Insight that only a well-grounded exposure to real market research, broad experience of different categories, mediums, messages and context can bring.

Yes, the truth is out!

Marketers want advice based upon experience and expertise across the board – and then in the correct sequence and mix – with the right objectives in mind.  And from people who know what works and doesn’t – and why.  

The day of the “one trick pony” is coming to an end.  

And by the way, experts – the real ones – should have great depth in not only their field, but also where and when it fits – and not always think that theirs is the only solution.

So again, the lessons being learned in the world at large apply to marketers.

I agree that we all need a little craziness in our lives, but oddly the world works best when there is a healthy and overwhelming amount of stability and direction. What’s been happening in the world is the “let’s give this a try it’ll be more fun” approach has taken over – and is not looking too good for the greater good.

So, as time does tend to be a good test of these things and we’re all finding (and will see this for some time) that when people who have a larger and more detailed view of how today’s complexity works together, we will start to feel grateful that the parents are back.  

We shall then return to simplicity, which is increasingly being acknowledged as hard to achieve for simpletons.

We will, in the world at large – and the world of marketing, learn the vital lesson that harm hurts just as much when done to you by another – as it does if you do it to yourself.

At TrinityP3 we only have people who have seen and done it all before – and will continue to do so.

3. We will learn to accept the truth.

In the past, facts were indeed facts. People even went so far as to check them so that we knew they were facts.

One had to face the truth and not deny it.

There was no alternative reality. We lived in a sort of certainty. We were not afraid. We were proud of our values and protected them fiercely.

Now it’s all a bit the opposite.

We don’t cope anymore. We live anxiously in different ways. The complexity is overwhelming. Can anyone see the complete picture any more?

Underlying everything, is the fact that the world is suffering from anxiety and those that either don’t measure that at all, or measure the wrong things (sometimes deliberately) to make it all seem OK, have made an awful mistake.  

Bear with me, this may appear to be contradictory.

The truth that we have to face is that we have been measuring things that matter to some, that don’t matter at all to others.  

And the people that don’t matter at all didn’t get a say in the measurement.  

The truth is that by measuring things that don’t seem to matter – how people felt about that – mattered a great deal. (Brexit, Trump and now the French presidential primaries are all wonderful examples.)

So when we’re facing a complex situation, it’s a very good reminder to everyone to ask – are we all aligned on what we’re trying to do and how we get there?  And the truth is, we all know what happens when we aren’t all aligned on what we’re trying to do and how we’re going to do it.  

It all ends in tears, recriminations, infighting, mistrust and nobody really gets what they want.

It would appear that the world and marketers might be able to agree on at least one thing then.

Leading to my penultimate prediction that again applies to the world and the world of marketers.

At TrinityP3 we find out exactly what the “now” is and help set measurements for how to get to “then.” We have established tested benchmarks.

4. Excellence in research will make a comeback.

What has been really interesting is just how wrong the new experts in research, polling, big data and analytics were.  

The world is currently showing us that a great many people were not as happy as anyone thought – and festered in secrecy until they could – in the privacy of a voting booth – get what they’d really wanted all along – revenge.  

What’s come out of it is that we’ve discovered a mass of people who were being asked how they felt and what they would do – couldn’t own up to it – because they’d be shouted down. We found out after it had all gone wrong. (Or right if you think it did.)

This week has seen the trend set for Brexit and the US election of Mr. Trump continued in France.  This week in their conservative party Presidential primaries, a Catholic with very conservative views led the first round – and now the second round – pushing out the more fashionable media favourites and edgy choices.  

France, which is still a predominantly a Catholic country (88% of the population) showed what the silent majority thinks of many of the recent developments in social justice and immigration.  

It has clearly told everyone that is not going to be silent in the upcoming election and this is very bad news for the left and extreme right.  It is also a very confronting thought for Angela Merkel.

In marketing, especially in the past few years, we’ve moved away from understanding the way that people think – and really make decisions – because we’ve been told, “Data should inform everything.”  

We’ve also started to measure things that don’t matter because they’re easier to measure and don’t make our decisions as accountable.

“Damn, the polls were wrong,” we glibly say and move on.

John Hegarty wrote a wonderful column this week in Campaign on “context” for how people see the world – and what they do as a result.  He ends it with a quote from David Ogilvy – who, as we sometimes forget – was a market researcher above all.

“People don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

In this context, two things matter to a marketer – one has to be pretty sure what you think people will actually do, not what they said they’d do – and one has to be able to measure the commercial impact on your business.   

In the world of politics, when people are polled they often tend to go with whatever they have been “told” to say is right – not embarrassingly admit that they don’t agree at all. The TV series, “Yes Minister” has been an ever-repeatable piece of brilliance in the demonstration of that.

So if you want to make a bet on how well something will work – test the strategy not the execution. Otherwise the execution could be yours.

We’ve all seen what bad research can do. It builds bad arguments one on top of the other. It assumes that some things are better than others – or more meaningful. As a result it skews strategy – which skews everything else even more.

Great research highlights contradictions, discovers real insights, trashes assumptions and defines pinpoint strategy.  

If you don’t have a pinpoint strategy, you can’t by definition have a plan.

At TrinityP3 we have a large knowledge bank of case studies and references that help with the journey of “From and To.”

Which leads me neatly to the last prediction.

5. Defining success upfront will make a comeback.

Remember the good old days of management training when you had a whole area of the curriculum dedicated to how to set properly measurable, impactful and commercial objectives?

Marketers appear to be making the same mistakes as politicians, pollsters and data zealots – measuring for measurement’s sake  – measuring all the easy soft things – but not all of the hard things.  

How many likes did we get? How many mentions did we get?  How many people said nice things about us? How many views did we get? These are not hard measures – they can however be very good indicators when used as a subset in measurement system. When all you’re doing is measuring indicators it’s very seldom a good indicator of what the overall result will be.

If your objective is a two percent increase in market share for your brand – then you need to have subset objectives for each tactic and what that tactic will contribute. If the contribution is not measurable or deemed to make no contribution other than to keep your Social Media Director busy, you may have to think twice about a number of things. (All measurable.)

In the world outside marketing these delusions about apparent measurement have had a massive impact. Even on the way politicians are now actually seeing that a great many people were being suppressed and getting angry.

These “great many people” did feel very strongly about many things (please insert your favourite) that appeared to go against the apparent “consensus.”  

Now that the politicians know there were a lot of them – they are advocating majority rule (otherwise known “as the will of the people”) now be applied.  

Which means that a great many people who disagreed – or didn’t even bother to vote may be rather annoyed.

How we measure and what we measure are inseparable to get a balanced and really well informed view. And sometimes the way we frame the question can skew the result and we end up measuring the wrong thing.

“How did we measure social progress” is not the right question. Did we measure who thought it was progress or regression and why – and did we take into consideration and measure the impact of getting that wrong?

It is hopefully apparent that one can find many parallels between the world of marketing and its current ills and the world outside.

Decisions are informed by the messenger, the content and the context that one has at hand.  

From what we’ve all seen lately, making your mind up is easier – and easier to support and defend, when everyone and everything seems to agree with you – and you with them.  

And when others, from a cosier and smugger perspective, disagree; you’re unlikely to think they’re right.  

Since when has anyone changed their mind because they were told to – or that they were fools or sociopaths for thinking that way?

Yes, it’s exactly the same as the old versus new media argument.  

The saddest thing in all of this, is that there is still, in fact, an argument at all.

At TrinityP3 we can help align all the appropriate resources behind the right objectives and measure each player’s contribution to the whole.

So my predictions are broad and narrow.

  1. Facts will make a comeback.
  2. Experts will make a comeback.
  3. We will learn to accept the truth.
  4. Excellence in research will make a comeback
  5. Defining success upfront will make a comeback.

My broader prediction will be that these things may not happen overnight as there hasn’t yet been enough evidence to support either a good or bad news story for anyone to say “I told you so.”

But get these right and things become significantly more rewarding for everyone much more predictably and quickly.

And if they do, I told you so.

TrinityP3 has developed a suite of products aimed at increasing your marketing performance to achieve improved business outcomes. Find out more here

About Bill Merrick

Bill Merrick has over 35 years experience in international business, gained in marketing, advertising and PR - from packaged goods to infrastructure. His role has been that of a business and communications leader and strategist. Having successfully operated in markets all over the globe, he is now, from London, partnering with Darren Woolley to launch TrinityP3 UK - to bring all of their combined experience and insight to clients in Europe.

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