Opinion

Volatility is the new world order, but now is not the time for marketers to play it safe

For the courageous organisations that are willing to change how they go about doing things, there’s plenty to gain in the new world order. Dan Beaumont looks at how marketers can find a way forward with confidence.

As we rapidly roll into 2019 (where did January go?) and attempt to comprehend the big marketing themes for the coming calendar year, all signs suggest we’re going to experience more ‘hyper-volatility’ before business conditions improve.

Globally, there’s a litany of threats (apologies in advance for over-simplifying some of these, but I think you’ll get the collective point) – the undermining of democracy by the rise of nationalist and socialist attitudes around the world has the potential to reverse the gains of globalisation as borders become less ‘porous’, restricting trade (US v China, Brexit v EU).

Politicians, particularly in Australia, are leading with their egos instead of their heads and hearts, resulting in minimal policy progress, government shutdowns and a disturbing amount of indecision. Volatility in financial markets is significantly impacting on company values (and ultimately people’s retirement nest eggs) and some analysts are predicting a global recession or, at worst, another GFC-scale meltdown.

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Issues with data, privacy and online security are challenging business and government policy and impacting national security.

‘Short-termism’ is directly influencing every decision we make and virtually crippling governments. The fragile state of the environment is impacting general household items like food, energy and water… feel free to add anything else from your news feed here.

Locally, the housing market is contracting significantly, affecting confidence. Pessimistic consumers now outweigh optimistic ones, according to the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index, which fell in December by the biggest monthly fall in more than three years.

A post-banking royal commission world means less trust in our biggest companies, tighter restrictions on loans making it harder for first home buyers and small businesses to access cash – hence the drop in house prices. And finally, if you’re not depressed enough, pending state and federal elections this year mean businesses will hold off making big investment decisions until the dust settles and we know who’s going to be running the country. Will short-termism bring down another sitting prime minister?

It all adds up to a messy cocktail of issues that will heighten Australians’ feelings of anxiety and confusion, not to mention increase the degree of difficulty for us as marketing and communications experts.

However, where there’s darkness, there’s also light. For businesses and brands, this means opportunity. For the courageous organisations that are willing to change how they go about doing things, there’s plenty to gain.

Following are a few tips (in no particular order) to help you weather some of these trade ‘headwinds’ or the entire ‘shitstorm’ itself:

More empathy for the customer

Let’s remind ourselves that our customers are experiencing the same levels of uncertainty as the rest of us. In 2019, all marketers should aim to understand the consumer more, with real emotional depth, and better than anyone else in the organisation. Getting this right will hand marketers the keys to the most important asset of any business – and help marketing be taken more seriously at the exec and board level.

Leverage this knowledge and insight will help the business as a whole become more empathetic towards its customers and find better ways to engage with them. The outcome would enhance their experience with our brands and keep them coming back for more.

Customer loyalty is always important, but even more so when the economy is becoming more tumultuous. If we don’t value customers at a time when it’s difficult to acquire new ones, we risk increasing churn. Empathy and a true understanding of our existing customers will build a stronger bond during turbulent times.

Get better at quantifying creativity

You don’t have to be an economist, accountant, behavioural scientist or mathematician to understand that economics and finance drive more than 100% of decision-making in business. So what would happen if we got three times better at quantifying our creative decisions to prove they’ll impact the line items that matter to business? To do this, clients and agencies need to work more closely and openly. Let’s invest more in understanding the customer, collect and analyse that information more often, and use it to make better decisions. We also need to be very clear about what success looks like before we do anything – marketing without an objective is like playing golf without a hole.

Wage a war against complexity

In a ‘world gone mad’, people will seek tools and advice to re-simplify the way they consume things, interact with one another and live their lives. Marketers can’t afford to be derailed by too much detail. The key is recognising information that matters, from the details that don’t. We should be channelling our efforts into creating fewer, bigger and better experiences for customers in 2019, as the driving force of customer value is simplicity.

Forget short-termism

Let’s think long term and start stimulating future growth for when trading conditions improve and those headwinds turn into tailwinds. The results your business is experiencing now were no doubt directly influenced by decisions you made 12 to 18 months ago, not last Tuesday. I understand the importance of short-term tactics and being agile to adjust for unexpected circumstances, but it’s not a marketer’s job to focus on these alone. Tactics should fit within a longer-term strategy to deliver growth over a number of years (if we can stay in our jobs long enough). Starting to recalibrate our thinking and extending the horizon will improve asset value for stakeholders instead of just income.

Work harder for balance and enjoyment

Work/life balance is more important than ever and people are making big life decisions to achieve it (hence the size of the gig economy). As individuals, we deserve to enjoy what we do and derive satisfaction from it. This is a great industry to work in. Solving problems creatively and connecting businesses with customers is a good challenge. If we play it right, marketers and creative people can be at the forefront of innovation and change, not to mention growth. The challenges we face in 2019 are an opportunity to get smarter, be more effective not just efficient, and focus on the experiences that make the biggest impact in market. In challenging times, when usual marketing methods aren’t as effective, we need to grant ourselves permission to experiment to unlock growth.

Sure, these tips won’t help stabilise the global threats we’re facing, but we have to ignore the noise and distractions and develop a solid long-term strategy to build valuable brands and relationships with customers. And I strongly suggest deploying creativity at every opportunity.

Dan Beaumont is managing partner of The Royals.

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