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Aristotle and Plato having a right old go about short term marketing on Tik Tok

When we present our marketing plans for growth, they are true, they are absolute, and they can only be the way they are – correct. But can the truth be two things at the same time? Can it be right and wrong? Are there strategic questions Schrodinger would love to experiment with? Head of Strategy Ben Shaw lays bare the possible paradoxes for 2020…

We are well into Q4 and nearly all brands should have 2020 planning well underway. There are some commonalities over what will inevitably come up. The same old trends, the same old questions, things that have been read on LinkedIn and seen in a deck. But this level of marketing hearsay is often dangerous. Dangerous because there is rarely one version of the truth. Dangerous because one alarmist headline needs something pointy to get you to read it. Dangerous because one chart can never give you all the information. 

In fact, when you start to dig into the alarmist headlines and the standard adland twitter bashing of said topic, neither end up beating the other. Because there’s an element of truth in both seemingly contradictory sides. Traditionalists won’t give credit to anything new. The Digerati won’t back down from the latest shiny new thing. Yet we should embrace these lovely paradoxes. Paradoxes that have elements of truth circulating within them. So as we enter into planning for next year, what paradoxes do we know to be true? We’ve collected a few for you to peruse along with supporting links for you to copy, paste and plagiarise. You can either follow the Aristotle quote “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” or you can pick a side and use it to back up your plans.

Paradoxes we know to be true…

1. Short and Long term

Hopefully, this is a simple one we’ve all heard before but for some reason, it feels like we need it repeated every week, especially given the current climate. Whether it’s the American/Chinese trade war, Brexit or the looming automotive finance default – a recession appears to be on the horizon. This will lead to even more pressure for short term thinking and activation.

Short term work, works. But it works best when in conjunction with longer-term planning and implementation. Long without the short doesn’t work as well.

Both are true, don’t you dare reject either, the perfect paradox. 

2. Purpose wins, Purpose loses

Seemingly if you want to win at Cannes then purpose will be the way to get you there. This year’s Golds and Grand Prixs were littered with Acts, not Ads. However, we know the effectiveness of purpose as a business strategy has previously been debunked. And this lack of effectiveness is the fuel behind the diminishing correlation between creatively awarded work and the most effective work. 

Yet we also know that in the industry we’re in, wouldn’t it be nice if we were adding more to the world than we take from it? And we’ve heard that consumers of tomorrow over-index on ‘belief-driven’ purchases from companies that ‘do good for the world’. And nearly 200 of the world’s leading CEO’s have just pledged to no longer make shareholder value the number one priority, instead of considering customers, the environment, employees, suppliers and the community at large. 

Whether that pledge delivers action, and the Cannes wins are just a trend, there is increased appetite for brands to do, not just say. The tricky bit is making it true to the brand and not just jumping on the bandwagon. Approach purpose with care and don’t feel a need to come up with a silly new name for it.

3. Efficiency and Effectiveness

Everything is data. Everything is measurable. Everything can be optimised. We know from the Tour de France and Formula 1 the benefits of marginal gains. Teams of experts pouring over data to achieve a 0.17% improvement in airflow can unlock a championship. The same is true of media spend, click through rates and purchases. But focusing on the micro can mean we miss the macro. Despite Google just reaching Quantum Supremacy, it still doesn’t mean data is the new oil. We can end up floating away in an Efficiency Bubble.

We need to ensure what can be measured is managed. We must take opportunities to optimise but we mustn’t miss the bigger picture. Brands don’t exist in real life, they’re in people’s heads. Change happens over time not overnight – effectiveness is an investment in long term ambition. If you want to build a legacy you do that by demonstrating change over time, not a one-off bump on a spreadsheet. 

Don’t walk past being more efficient, but make sure you’re walking towards an effectiveness story

4. TV/Digital is dead and alive and kicking

TV isn’t dead. People are watching more TV than ever before, it just isn’t the linear 7 pm national sit down it used to be [with the exception of live sport]. There are more eyeballs spending more time watching more content than ever before. If you want to reach a large audience, give the perception of scale and grow your brand, then TV is the best channel for it. If you want the channel with the best ROI, then use TV and combine it with at least one other.

The renaissance of TV has come hand in hand with a cultural push back on data. As stated in the previous paradox, the espousing of the 1s and 0s as the new oil alongside the promise of ever-improving optimisation made a lot of people wonder if the A.I. jobs revolution was happening quicker than anticipated. However, Cambridge Analytica and the mountain of digital/social work without a hint of craft in it have led to a derision of digital as a creative medium.

Digital isn’t dead. Digital, social and experience channels are fantastic ways to talk to your audience in channels that are cheaper than TV and across more moments in the customer journey. We’re only at the foothills of understanding how to maximise the use of these channels, we’re at the equivalent of TV advertising in the 60s working with technology that changes every 6 months. 

Don’t be channel belligerent. The data informs us that using multiple channels leads to the most effective output. Our guts tell us people watch TV and spend a lot of time elsewhere too. 

5. Influencers are/n’t influential

Influencers don’t work. They make poor product placement adverts. They don’t provide transparent performance data. Any large accounts reach is infested with ghost accounts and bots. It’s embarrassing asking for their help.

Influencers work. They provide cheap reach and an authentic connection with their audience. Companies, brands and agencies haven’t been built on sand – there is a long list of success stories sparked from a share.  

The paradox with influencers has a shit skewer through the middle of it – most of the work produced doesn’t look like work we’re used to, or would be proud of. The channel needs some champions that can help evangelise the creative and effectiveness potential, not another #spon mishap. What shall we do with Influencers isn’t the question. What’s the best way of achieving advocacy and reach are the questions. And how can we help these poor people working day and night to make it seem like they aren’t working day and night.

6. Millennials – the ultimate paradox

Who knew lumping a generation of people together could provoke such a passionate response. A term that can cause such violent reactions, it seems half of Adland must be punching their screens for most of the time. The ultimate paradox. The paradox probably highlights why people hate the catch-all term so much; there is obviously depth and difference across everyone that is considered within this age range. And so, every time you hear a “truth” about this group, it can also be immediately dispelled. 

A huge cohort of people that is both. A generation that values experiences over products, yet spends all their cash at Supreme, on the latest iPhone and limited edition Air Jordans. A generation that cares about the climate and the planet environment but has fuelled the growth of fast fashion. A generation running towards the future but obsessed with nostalgia, whether its Friends or 90s clothes.

Find the connecting truths across the generation or target a tighter group within the paradoxes. If you speak to everyone, you end up speaking to no one. 

7. Depth and Decisions 

Ask a CEO what they wish they had more of and very few of them would disagree with the following 3; 

1. “More focus”

2.“Knowing more about my customers”

3. “Speed”.

The industry has accelerated to a pace that requires us all to work faster than before. Yet there is more to digest and understand than ever before. And we all know that the more time we can spend on a problem, an audience or a brief, the better the answer will inevitably be. 

Colin Powell championed the 40/70 rule – gather 40-70% of the information and then go with your gut. Any less and you’re not informed. Any more and you’ve likely missed the opportunity. We need to find ways to speed up whilst understanding more about the challenges that lay ahead of us in more moments, touchpoints and opportunities. There is no slowing down. There is no pure gut instinct. We need insight and impetus. 

Brands, marketers and agencies will adopt either side of these paradoxes and all of them will be right. There is no strategy to rule them all. There is no one right answer. The dramatic shift in the political landscape of the last few years has hopefully opened our eyes to the dangers of blindly following your own beliefs. Be Aristotle’s “educated mind” and be open to the alternative truth sitting behind your plan.