Brands, influencers and surviving the next decade

How will business academics describe media and marketing in ten years time? Probably not in the terms the industry throws around; ‘the connected age’, ‘the era of the customer’, ‘the digital renaissance’. I think they’ll see a dark age, where the old order collapsed and reason retreated to a faithful few.

People love the statistic that 60% of brands from ten years ago aren’t here. They don’t like asking the logical follow-on questions: will our company still exist in ten years? Should it? Will my job still exist?

Activist investors are attacking brands and media agencies alike. When more than 50% of product searches start on Amazon these days it’s hard not to think ‘why should most brands still be around?’

New challenges are thrown up with increasing frequency. The rise of influencer marketing is just one of them. If your organisation can adapt and move fast when it needs to you’ll at least be in with a chance of outliving the decade.

Fake news and fake views.

In the era of mistrust and complexity in every area of commerce, politics and communications, we need to think critically but not cynically. It is the curious, idea hungry people and cultures that will win – but the credulous will burn out fast – whether that’s in cash or credibility.

Influencer marketing is a complex problem.

There is little credible research on the effectiveness of influencer marketing, and no consensus. With success so haphazard it becomes very hard to reproduce at scale. The usual centralised marketing approaches are problematic and cause relevancy problems to local audiences, destroying the relatability that influencers are known for.

The content that influencers create has to evolve from short single-use snippets to long-term brand ambassador behaviour in order to maintain consumer interest and value for the brand partner. Look beyond one time social media mentions to integrating the influencer within the campaign planning cycle. Influencers are chosen for their creativity and connection with their audience – allow them to bring that knowledge to the table.

To be successful with an influencer campaign you have to respect the medium. Siloes screw it up. PR, sponsorship, social media, customer experience, and a bunch of other people are all stakeholders, and collaborators.

Complex vs complicated

Understanding the difference between complex and complicated systems is becoming important for many aspects of management and policy. They are often thought of as synonyms but they’re far from it. To help explain the difference let’s look at an example – predicting the return of Halley’s Comet is complicated, predicting the share price of WPP or the FTSE Index in three months’ time is complex. In short, complicated problems (like Halley’s Comet) often require coordination or specialised expertise to solve and following one success there can be a relatively high degree of certainty of outcome repetition. By contrast, a complex problem is based on relationships and interconnections. They can’t simply be solved by repetition or planning, expertise can contribute to solving the problem, but it holds no assurance of success.

Organisations, and individuals, today need the ability to deal with a complex challenge. Not just with the uncertainty of an ever changing world but a series of little problems that come along.

From media to capability.

So why isn’t every brand and agency changing? It used to be that the core competency of senior marketers – the CMO or marketing director – was procuring and project managing the best creative and media agencies. Now that mass media isn’t the weapon of mass attention that it once was, those weapons have been rendered obsolete. Media agencies have been reduced to expensive overheads for superpower brands, afraid to give them up, slow to understand the new tools and techniques of the digital age.

There are many different reasons that companies get stuck. CMOs may think that the digital award, or the big consultancy report has solved the problem. The middle managers who don’t believe the vision, or need to protect their status or are just afraid – even the ‘digital’ ones. (We’ve found that as people get more knowledgeable they score themselves, and their organisations, lower on the scale of digital maturity.)

It’s all in your mind(set).

The key to developing capability isn’t hiring an internal agency or even just building a new team. It’s about designing a marketing organisation that can adapt and move fast when it needs to. Capability starts with the mindset of the leaders. Then strategy. Then skills. Then execution.

If you can develop an effective influencer strategy and manage it well, it means you can probably develop strategies for dealing with other complex, emergent, unpredictable challenges. If that’s the case you have half a chance of your brand surviving the next ten years. Congratulations.

This post was adapted from my talk at the recent WAVE 2017 Summit. You can watch the talk in full below.

Get in touch to talk about how to take the next step to being a brand with a future, rather than just managing the decline.