I moved to the UK 5 years ago and it took me that long to -sort of, figure out what the deal is with the planning/marketing strategy community here. Which, in turn, entitles me, I think, 5 years later to look back on a year and put down some thoughts about some things that occupied my mind in 2018.
- Digital marketing is getting a bad-bad rep.
- The marketing community has internalised the concepts of data and AI in the most ridiculous ways.
- Influencers marketing is at a tipping point.
- Planning is slowly beginning to produce knowledge.
- “Brand is back” (sound-bite-y but you’ll see what I mean)
- Experience should be the word of the year.
So, now for some detail. I’ll cover the first three, which are a bit more ranty, in this post and the last three, the good ones, in a separate post later.
- digital marketing → 2018 has been a rough year for people working in what we soon will have called “digital agencies”. The short of it is we moved a lot of our investment and creative outputs to the biggest platforms (obvious reasons: easier, more cost effective production, less mess when having to account for outcomes) and then some of these platforms started fucking up in a big way. This after 2016 and 2017, when the same platforms had decided to change their operational structures to reduce free flowing content and clearly segregate between paid and unpaid, with an emphasis on, surprise!, paid. The demise of the “social agency” started in 2016. By 2017, we were mostly making paid-only and, in 2018, it turned out clients were, in some cases, not really paying for value-add (overstated impressions, overstated audience data, mis-targeted ads, not-really-working micro-targeting). A slew of data breaches, sensationalist coverage, the most moronic way of interfacing with the authorities and, fundamentally, a disregard for brand safety when it came to advertising standards means now everyone can bash major platforms and feel they have enough arguments. Sadly, digital marketing is wrapped up in that conversation too. The marketing community was and still is pretty slow to stand up for the correct principles, so we wallow in this slow decay.
- If there is one thing that got my blood boiling in 2018 is the ease with which we started saying we’re making AI. In took a fraction of a second for people to start conflating programmatic, some automated post-production tweaks and some rudimentary machine learning with AI. If you could make a chat window search through a data base of responses and provide 3 options to a user, you were making AI. Suddenly people were worried AI was going to replace marketing jobs (oh, the horror) and panels were formed to discuss it. All I have to say about this is: no, we’re not making AI and no AI will not take our jobs in the foreseeable future [insert angry face here]
- Data — now, this is tied into a bigger conversation in the most amusing way. In 2018, transatlantic media outlets revealed the catastrophic news that “stolen” data from Facebook had been used to influence elections (yes, I am trying hard to be ironic). The industry — our industry, felt the need to jump onboard that conversation and start questioning the need for data capture in media and marketing. Who is collecting all that cookie data? What about all those e-mail addresses and the spam? What are their nefarious purposes? Now, beyond the mere annoyance of (bad) micro-targeting and newsletters, we felt we had a higher worry: our data was being collected to mess with democracy. I think we should understand that this will never be a black and white conversation. Data capture is needed for the Internet to work properly and there is a difference between platforms collecting needed data and unnecessary data. The simplest solution is for guidelines to be provided to internet companies by an independent body. Collect what you need for your apps and websites to work well. Add onto that what you minimally need to run a business. Be transparent to all users about what and how you collect. Make it easy for them to understand the implications. Make it easier for them to remove their data when they want to. But to go as far as to kill media targeting and algorithms because we want individual ownership of our Data is basically saying you’re wanting to opt out of the Internet.
- Influencers — I have said time and again that I learnt and learn a lot from content creators/influencers. 2018 was the year when we saw the most overt attacks on the influencer community. The attacks were sadly of the most basic kind: let’s take a truly despicable form of online influence (small, opportunistic individuals who don’t really make anything of value) and expose it for the fraud it is. It worked and now the entire concept of “influencer marketing” is being challenged. I hate the concept myself. I think we’re working with shoddy definitions of something that has been happening for a very long time in different ways. I also think people who operate as “influencers” don’t make it easy for the marketing community to interface with them. There is widespread lack of transparency on objectives and outcomes. And, yes, there are small, opportunistic individuals — both in the influencer community and in the marketing arm that deals with them, who give this phenomenon a bad name. But true, genuine content creators DO have impact. Be it reach, because they muster millions of followers or, sorry but it’s true, influence over the last leg of decision-making when they test and recommend something, they do have an impact. What we need is to formalise a best practice for working with this community. What the community needs is its own set of principles around transparency of analytics, forms of payment and “verifiable” interaction with the product promoted.
Ouf! Stay tuned for Part 2 which is the good one and Part 3 where I put down some things I learnt.