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Dazed and confused

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Recently, many of our clients have come to us with a similar question – what do I need to do now to be ready for a 2020 media environment? Our response was to devise a quant and qual research programme, Media2020, to provide some answers and to offer guidance on how marketing organisations can re-configure their media strategies successfully in a rapidly changing world. This is the first of several essays on the main themes of this research, which I hope you’ll enjoy reading and sharing over the coming weeks.

Although many marketers we spoke to share a common set of goals and face a lot of common challenges, few if any of them are able to envisage clearly their future marketing state. The following quote sums up how many marketers feel right now: “In 1960, you probably knew exactly what your plans would look like in 1965. Today, I don’t think anybody has a firm view of what 2020 will look like….but it’s about embracing change, not standing still”.

There is consensus  that marketing spend must be directed into more targeted, less wasteful activity, and that consumer messages will become more timely, relevant and dynamic. Mobile has moved front and centre of every marketer’s mind, and while TV has its place it has in many instances been consigned to a secondary role in marketing planning. Most companies are preparing to shift funds out of paid media and into earned and owned media resource.

But these are broad brush strokes. For the majority of companies, marketing transformation is lagging well behind business and operational transformation. We were struck by the disparities in “match fitness” between organisations, large and small. Every company is in a different place, at a different stage in their digital transformation. Manufacturers with disintermediated customers tend to be less prepared than those brands which control the customer distribution channel – but this is by no means a rule.

We found that a key driver of an organisation’s media capability is its hiring strategy, which determines the blend of traditional and digital skillsets residing within a marketing organisation. All companies recognised the gaps in technical knowledge between traditional marketers and digital marketers. Companies which have invested in digital hires are confident in their capabilities, but not always confident in their ability to execute as a team. Companies without digital capability find themselves more reliant on their agency partners to maintain their competitive edge.

Changing working practices is hard for any business. All organisations are experiencing pain points in adapting or transforming their business models. Companies are struggling to define their destination and are unclear about how to reach it, and this is causing internal stress. Many interviewees used the same language, some citing “tension” in the marketing model, while others spoke about “blurring” or “overlap” between disciplines or roles.

Everyone we interviewed expressed impatience around development speed, and worried a lot about the agility of their organisation and the mobility of their people. The onus on process automation and the pressure to improve operational efficiency internally and externally are being felt acutely. Large organisations in particular are frustrated at their own lack of speed and the responsiveness of their external partners.

Although change is painful, we noted that those organisations which have made the most progress on the marketing transformation journey appear more confident about their trajectory and have a clearer vision of their future media state. These organisations have taken control, are more self-reliant and look to set the agenda for their agencies. The organisations in their wake will either have to pedal extremely hard or innovate their model to catch up.

We sense that by 2020, it will become quite clear who the winners and losers are. To succeed in 2020, an organization must chart its own route and then commit the necessary resource to delivering its plan. There is no industry template for success on this journey. To quote Alan Kay, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.

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