We’ve been working in digital advertising for 15 years. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking at The Oxford union about the Advertising Industry.
In my talk I have shared the most important piece of advice I would give to any business looking at the efforts they put into marketing.
Watch my Oxford Talk on “The Future of Advertising and Why Fast Beats Big” below.
I came out of university in the nineties; at the time the holy grail for business graduates at that time was to get a job in marketing or sales in a blue chip FMCG firm.
So I did just that. I worked for Craft Foods, Pepsi and Disney, and it took me the best part of 10 years to work out that I was wrong for that world.
Annual appraisals would see me get promoted to the next level, and I’d be told that I’d been a good boy for driving results or analytical thinking.
But the blot on my copy book was that I lacked “executive maturity”. Now, I never quite worked out what that really meant, and by that, I think in my mind that I wasn’t always able to tow the line.
I didn’t fit the mould that was made. I wasn’t ever interested in playing politics. So for me, getting a “needs improvement” for executive maturity was a badge of honour, and in time it meant that I needed to move on from the corporate world.
The thing that frustrated me was the slow pace of change, the inability for organisations to choose to do the right thing and get ahead fast, even when it was staring them in the face.
I was once told by my boss that I was spending too much time on one small customer and not enough time wining and dining on the big ones.
The big ones happened to be Woolworth’s, WH Smith’s, and HMV, the small company at the time was a little business we now all know as Amazon.
Why fast beat big
I’m gonna tell you why fast beats big, and in particular in the world of advertising. Businesses of all sizes make a decision to advertise usually because they’re looking to grow. It’s a very natural thing for them to do, and they’ve been advertising their products and services for centuries.
But the professionalisation of advertising is really noteworthy in the last centuries. In many ways, there are two very distinct eras of advertising pre-digital and post-digital. In the pre-digital age, the phrase that was bandied around endlessly was:
“Half of my money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half”.
Now, this all changed in the early naughties when Google introduced what many of us know as Adwords or Google advertising in 2004. Gradually, more and more businesses learned that they could in fact see an exact return on investment from their ad spend with Google. And this set about a revolution in the world of marketing.
Now, think about it for a second. The internet impacted on all business functions, production, logistics, finance, and HR, but it was advertising and marketing that was most radically changed more than any other business function.New skills were needed, old skills were made redundant, and many well-schooled marketeers who had grown up in an era of tv, radio, and press advertising were quickly made to feel out of death that digital began to dominate the marketing agenda.
Like any big change, there was resistance, even denial. Now, what I remember most about that era was how predictions were beaten. Even so-called experts underestimated the speed of digital transformation in the naughties.
Some think panels would say that perhaps in X years time, digital advertising would overtake tv, and then it promptly did just that in two years way ahead of schedule.
It’s as if none of us can quite keep pace with the face of change. Perhaps this is because many of us are making predictions that grew up in the nineties when the pace of change with the benefit of hindsight was slow.
As an example, if we take a look at the book called Super Brands. It’s a coffee table book, that you’ll see ad agency receptions and refers to all the brands we know, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, BMWs, Kelloggs, and so on.
But guess what? There’s no mention of Google or Amazon, not even in their brands to watch in section, the future stars; it’s quite staggering. They did have two pages though on Thompson’s Local, and it’s not like the internet was something new.
Then Google itself started life in 1998. Facebook had already kicked off in the USA and launched in the UK. The first iPhone had just been launched. The writing was on the wall, but many businesses either couldn’t see it or didn’t believe what they were seeing. They were either blissfully ignorant or were paralysed in fear.
Just think about the business models of say, Toys R Us or Thomas Cook, the travel agents. If we all took a trip back in time to 2010 and walked into the respective boardrooms and announced, “Hey guys, have you heard of the internet and digital marketing?”. Everyone around the table would have nodded and acknowledged how important it was to them, but they were just not able to respond quickly enough.
Here lies a dilemma, best visualised like this in what is known as Martec’s Law. We know that technology changes at an exponential rate. This is a phenomenon that is known as Moore’s Law, but we also know that human organisations don’t change that quickly.
Changes in behaviour and culture take time; there are only so many changes in people, processes and technology that an organisation can productively absorb at one time, at least without major disruption.
So broadly speaking, organisations change at a logarithmic rate much slower than their exponential technological change. Now, whilst this visually looks like a smooth curve, the reality is that there are some catalysts that come along on a global level that add fuel to the momentum.
We saw this in the financial crisis of 2008, and we saw it again with the pandemic. Once again, experts and businesses alike were caught out while many businesses get left behind, others though, do excel.
So what’s the secret? The secret is you’ve gotta move fast. Sometimes we take this for granted and there’s a lot of noise around the topic of fast. People love buzzwords like agile or pivot. But why is fast important?
Fast is important because when a new marketing tool or channel becomes available, it’s initially inexpensive or low cost to use. As success with the tool, a channel follows, more and more competitors jump on board. So costs go up as demand for the same space increases.
If businesses keep on consistently adding new stuff to their marketing mix, they can keep their aggregate costs down.
Advertising and marketing shifts
So what are the next big shifts in the world of advertising and marketing? I’m highlighting three. Some of them you’ll be well aware of, but might not appreciate how big they are going to be and how quickly they’ll be taking over.
All of them are already with us, but they are expected to explode.
Firstly, automation of ad campaigns is going to be a massive theme in the next few years. Many businesses look at the sheer range of digital channels out there, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft, Amazon, LinkedIn, TikTok to name a few, and they’re unsure where to place their advertising.
Budgets may not be possible to advertise a business on all of these platforms, but you need to test them and allocate budget accordingly, or automation is going to make this more manageable, particularly for small and medium sized businesses.
Second up is video. The pandemic massively shifted behaviour. We’re currently seeing more focus on content that is produced while working from home.
Suddenly we have removed the procrastination on video, as people have grown used to things like podcast interviews via Zoom. They’ve finally become happy to engage with video that is in its in its rawest form, rather than thinking about a more polished professional approach.
We’ll also see more focus on producing content that entertains. Just look at the explosion of TikTok. Just think about what you thought about WhatsApp. Remember when you thought WhatsApp is for kids and the same with Instagram? Well, people are now thinking that about TikTok.
Thirdly, and by no means least extended reality; kids are no longer the only ones excited about extended reality. It’s a category which includes both fully immersive VR or virtual reality, an augmented reality in which imagery is superimposed onto a user’s view of the world around them.
All of the big tech firms are investing billions in this area. The expectation is that the impact on society will be even bigger than the smartphone.
So how is your business ready to make the most of these shifts and get ahead fast?