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Chris Lewis

Published on

October 16, 2023


Ch-ch-ch-changes. Life in marketing has always been about Bowie lyrics. And Bowie himself was a good role model for marketing: always on the move, ever changing.

It’s impossible to count the ways in which marketing is changing. Technology, of course. And culture, as a result. Massively larger addressable audiences that demand greater diversity but are massively bored with your content.

Sure, the democratization of creative has allowed many more ways to interact. But in the time it’s taken you to read that last sentence, the content has had its full lifecycle. The demand for content generation is growing as fast as attention spans are shrinking.

Meanwhile, blow-ups happen more often and can come from anywhere. Outside, it can be suppliers, staff, customers, or politicians. Inside, it could be anyone. Unhelpfully this includes investors, shareholders, and more usually senior management.

Imagination, brand management, and The Shining

If you’re the sort of person who can see the bogeyman under your bed, you’re now the perfect brand manager. You need imagination to be able to see what might go wrong. Modern brand management is simply constructive, applied anxiety. Plan for everything to go wrong, all the time, and that way it won’t. And if it does, at least you have the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’.

So much for structural change. What about the cyclical stuff? You see, the recession is payback time for some people. The ones who are not like you. The ones who, if they do their jobs really well, no one notices. Finance people. The folks who come out at night. Whose offices have temperature measured on the Kelvin scale and you can’t hear the birds singing.

But when you work in marketing, everyone notices what you do, because it’s visible.

Have you seen the twins in the corridor outside your room recently? Well, they’re from finance. Don’t worry, they only appear during a recession and they dematerialize when the sun comes up. Not all companies turn into a version of Kubrick’s The Shining in the hard times, but many do. And generally they have marketing budgets in their sights. Who the hell do you think you are, running around with your account-based marketing and demand gen programs?

Is anything getting easier?

As helpful as it is to do letters, it’s helpful to do numbers, too. They come together in the TLA (three-letter abbreviation) known as ROI (return on investment, we know that one). This has always been difficult. Now despite the tools, it’s become harder still.

If you do some CSR (corporate social responsibility) work, what’s the ROI on that? And what budget does that come from? Philanthropy? Employee comms? Marketing? In recessions, costs get orphaned. No one wants them in their budget. So whenever you’re asked for ROI, the implication is: How does it payback next week? Often, the real answer to that is that it doesn’t. Your best bet is to try not to answer until things pick up again.

Look both ways before you cross

The good thing about being in marketing is that we’re in one of the few corporate functions that looks ahead. Like the radar on a ship, you’re actually there to be able to see objects moving towards you. You’re supposed to be joining the dots, looking for threats as well as opportunities. Sometimes this comes in the form of people. As the pace of change quickens, so does the type of people you require as colleagues. There are usually two types: those who suck energy, and those that supply it. The latter are better but can be inconsistent.

Sometimes the big changes that are needed in marketing are from things that are difficult to change. Like attitude, especially toward sales. There’s always been a separation. Often, both sales and marketing look down on each other.

The current recession comes after a long period of relatively good times. After Covid, a whole new generation is having to learn how to hustle all over again. The worst people in marketing are the slowest and the fastest. The slowest for obvious reasons. The fastest, though, want to follow every change and in so doing don’t succeed to in preparing for any of them. In the words of the song, they may be chasing a million dead-end streets, but they’re not too fast to take that test.

Wherever you work in marketing, whatever you do, change is coming.

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