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Instability and decentralization: strategists on marketing’s new risks and rewards


By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

June 1, 2022 | 9 min read

Marketing, some would say, is in a transitional period characterized by change and uncertainty. Luckily, the industry has trained a whole discipline of people to navigate uncertainty, grapple with the unexpected and prepare for the future: strategists. At a recent roundtable event with strategy experts from The Drum Network, we couldn’t help but ask: what’s the one change on the horizon that marketers should be planning around?

A man walking on a tightrope

We asked nine leading strategists what’s coming next for the industry – and what risks lie ahead / Loic Leray via Unsplash

Matthias Gray, strategy director, Freedman International: systemic risk and empathy

We’re living in a time with a lot of systemic risks. It forces us to be in a constant crisis mode to a degree, and that forces us to act differently. One thing that’s really important within that is empathy: to be empathetic to business leaders we’re working with; understanding what those challenges mean to them and where they’re coming from. And, on the other hand, what those big challenges mean to people. And then, in the middle, bring this together as a strategy.

David Rogerson, experience design director (strategy and product), Foolproof: instability

For me, it’s about instability. Off the back of global changes, how do we adapt to instability? How do we do strategy in a world where the data and the information and the knowledge that we have about the past might not be predictive or indicative of a future? Learning how to do that better is one of our big challenges.

Niki McMorrough, commercial director, Relevance: decentralization

Especially within luxury, decentralization, which relates to web3, is the next huge thing that’s going to happen. Brands that have been accustomed to shouting their message at large groups of people now need to figure out how to get large groups of people to shout about their brand on their own. New platforms and a new way of doing communication are already happening. It’s gonna be a big one.

Martyn Clarkson, global head of strategy, Jack Morton Worldwide: fluidity

The one big thing that strategists should really be focused on in the coming period is the fluidity of innovation. With the changes that we’ve seen – geopolitical, social, pandemics, sustainability, web3 – so many things are going to cause so much change so quickly.

If we’re to maintain, as an industry, a sense of leadership, we have to be really quick and very decisive with a lot of moving parts. Having an agile, fluid approach to strategy (that allows us to rebalance what we’re doing to get the best opportunities for the people we work with) is going to start to separate those who are successful over the coming period.

Melanie Hyde, strategy director, Adapt Worldwide: artificial intelligence and automation

Concerning artificial intelligence (AI) automation and the automation of understanding the insights that we gather from all the different data points that we have as marketers, I think as strategists we need to think about other ways of bringing that together.

How can we think about innovation, and how can we use that innovation to collaborate between different teams that we have between client and agency? It’s about bringing all the different data points that we have together as a collaborative team.

Rachel Hatton, chief strategy officer, Oliver: sustainability

Sustainability is something that we’re going to need to face very shortly. We all know that we’ve got to race to net zero, and we’ve got to halve our emissions in the next eight years. The other day I heard someone say (I think it might have been Stephen Woodford) that every day that we don’t do something on the sustainability agenda is a day that we have wasted.

Sustainability does raise some existential questions for who we are as a marketing community. But we need to think about how we can perhaps turn our talents to thinking about how to promote a more circular economy, more sustainable behavior and the challenge that besets the planet: keeping within the 1.5 degrees [warming] target. Otherwise, everything else is a bit moot.

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Adrian Langford, director of strategy and planning, Jaywing: back to basics?

We have a better canon of knowledge now about marketing. Technology has been fantastic at helping the sharing, dissemination and understanding of that with new tools and data. Recently we’ve seen a whole body of neuroscience work around communications and branding, and the work of brilliant people including Paul Feldwick.

This work has raised huge questions about whether we need to go right back to the fundamentals from a long, long time ago, from the very dawn of marketing about what drove success. As these ideas become adopted, and they’ve had incredibly positive responses, we might be seeing a bit of a backlash toward that sort of thinking.

Erica Wong, senior brand consultant, Radley Yeldar: popping the filter bubble

For me, the most pressing priority is to make sure we break out of that silo so that we don’t continue being so focused on what’s in front of us that we can’t see what’s coming. That ties in with trying to create more sustainable practices in our work, and more inclusive thinking and marketing that will reach more audiences.

We need to be very conscious about whose voices and whose minds we’re drawing upon and highlighting, otherwise we’ll never be able to reach the most innovative or inclusive kind of work.

Sarah Fritz, senior digital strategist, Momentum Worldwide: talent and diversity

Agencies have to relook at how they approach diversity, equity and inclusion and should really try to further incorporate it into how they create strategies, collaborate with clients, develop frameworks and partner with different talent.

Our ‘6 Cs’ framework helps us to synthesize insights and uncover truth for certain projects. One of our key pillars is ‘conscious inclusion,’ which helps us to holistically approach campaigns and think about how we can reach new audiences that have been ignored. That will become ever-more important. The talent pipeline is a massive issue and if we want to attract talent from diverse backgrounds, and work with clients with higher and higher expectations for agencies, that’ll be non-negotiable soon.

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