Resisting the urge to make predictions for the year ahead, Gareth Kay offers up three wishes that he hopes will happen this year, in order to move towards creating a more robust and vital marketing industry.
The temptation when writing the first column of the year is to make some predictions about what is going to happen in the coming 12 months. As much as this is a tempting thing to do, I think we've all realised that prediction is a fool's errand. You need only look at all the tech videos that paint a picture of the world in ten years' time which look remarkably similar to what they said today would look like ten years ago, aka Minority Report, to see the danger. Instead, I thought I'd make three wishes for what I hope may happen this year to create a more robust and vital marketing industry. If some of you agree with these wishes, perhaps we can turn some of them into reality.
My first wish for 2018 is to find the common ground. The past 12 months have seen a world that is more divided than it has been for decades. Increasingly polarised political and cultural discourse has been amplified by our media bubbles to make it feel increasingly hard to know where we might find the common ground to move forward. This polarisation has also been increasingly felt in marketing. 'Brand' vs. 'product', 'long term' vs. 'short term', 'advertising' vs. 'innovation'. The silos that have formed inside the marketing function have created an increasingly fragmented and disconnected world; one that is increasingly seeing fights break out among the factions when it comes to commanding claims for influence or budget.
Now there's no shortage of data that can help inform and, in many cases settle, the argument. But the problem is that we are hardwired to reject the facts that run counter to our beliefs. As John Lubbock brilliantly put it 150 years ago: "What we see depends mainly on what we look for." So, I think we need a new map and new common language to help build common ground. A map that reflects the different experiences, frames of reference and world views. A map that changes how people feel before changing what they necessarily believe. This 'grand theory' can give us an end-to-end map of how marketing works to map the end-to-end experiences we need to build today. More importantly, it can perhaps help us find the common ground to break down the ridiculous silos that currently exist and help us find a common ground that allows us to move forward and get things done.
My second wish for 2018 similarly looks to unify two strangely competing worldviews. I'm a huge fan of how companies like IDEO have built real empathy into the boardroom and have helped many companies become truly human-centric again. But this rise of customer-centricity is increasingly making brands feel less distinctive as they rush to do the same things to better serve people. What's needed, I believe, is to find the intersection between the empathy and expansiveness brought by human-centred design and the power of a strong brand point of view, more often than not developed by ad agencies. When you combine these two worlds, you're creating an experience that is more valuable for the user but doing it in a way that flows authentically from the brand's point of view on the world. You deliver things differently. You choose to do some things, but not others. You prioritise differently. But in so doing, you are creating the best of both worlds, a more soulful experience. Soulful brand experiences allow us to make experiences that are more valuable to customers but do it in a way that reinforces the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the brand. Again, the common ground creates a place where positive change can happen.
My third and final wish is to embrace small. There's a well-known story about how Amazon runs its business around 'two-pizza teams' – project teams small enough to be fed by no more than two pizzas (think around eight people as the maximum team size). This runs counter to how we value far too many initiatives – big initiatives require big teams built across functions. This default far too often leads to inertia and nothing changing as time is sucked away by keeping everyone informed and watering down ideas into nothingness as we try to appease every member's own agenda. Time and time again you see small, diverse teams – aligned around a common purpose and pointed towards a simple outcome – achieve remarkable things at a rapid pace. Build lots of these teams and create an environment that empowers them, and massive change can happen (think about the range of products and services Amazon has been able to build). Big results don't need big teams. Maybe this is the year we can remember that.