This is what we’re thinking about this year. Some are trends, some are things we’re looking forward to. They apply to most in general, but don’t apply to everybody (interpret as you will). Take it with a grain of salt (please).
The Digital Pull Back
Time To Unplug
We’re about to hit the plateau of digital connection - the point where too much is too much. If you haven’t already noticed, there’s been a growth of meditation apps, screen time reminders and wi-fi on planes. It’s all because we are TOO connected - and it’s a terrible thing. As more and more moments are missed while we second-screen, we’re about to hit the point where people will realise that there’s a whole world away from the digital that they’re missing out on. It’s reached the point where all the digital gadgets are probably doing more harm than good. And we’re going to start making a conscious effort to pull turn our devices off (or at least face them down more).
The good brands will start to emphasise more on experiences away from digital. More memories away from the computer please.
Social Is Not The Answer
When social media started to become popular, it was the answer to everything - it had huge audiences, huge reach/impressions and huge conversions. But as the market became increasingly saturated, all the platforms have had to find ways (algorithms) to scale back content (so you' don’t feel overly spammed). For a time everything you threw on social worked, and you couldn’t get away without doing something on social. But that time is now over.
Nowadays we don’t even recommend our clients to spend energy on social. They don’t have enough resources to run it properly (either people to manage daily, or the money to get an agency to run it) and they’re not going to get any business/revenue from it.
Social still works when you’re able to put resources into it, but when you can’t (and especially if you’re a brand new company), it’s going to do very little. Don’t bother with it, spend the time and money somewhere else.
Social is still important (I’m not saying it doesn’t have it’s value), but the emphasis to post daily is going to go away (along with it being the starting point of all marketing plans).
Creepy Ad Buys And Gamification Are Both Bad (duh.)
Social ads worked great for a while since they were cheap and there were hardly any brands on them. That ship has also sailed (see above).
What most consumers don’t realise though, is that social ad buys is only a small part of what marketers call ‘a Funnel’. For years marketers have been pushing consumers down a path and playing a numbers game. It works great, but too many companies are doing the same thing now, and consumers are treated like dummies (never a good thing).
If you’ve ever entered your email, and then gotten a discount code 48 hours later, or visited a website, and started seeing ads pop up - that’s all the gamification that brands are doing. Unfortunately, they were so good at it that it became a little creepy (is Facebook listening in on our conversations?). (Gamification is just a newer/fancier term to make it all more distant and impersonal).
The good brands are going to treat customers like customers. They’ll understand that they need to build rabid fans or tribes and that will lear to longer term success (instead of playing psychological tricks).
An Audience Engaged
1,000 Fans Is A Lot
The smarter brands and marketers already realise that follower numbers is just that - a follower number. It doesn’t mean anything except that a specific number of people have pressed ‘follow’. A high follower number might mean you make more money, but it doesn’t guarantee it (causation and correlation are not the same).
1,000 people is a lot more than you think it is (think about the biggest wedding you’ve been to, likely there were less than 1,000 people). If you have 1,000 people who truly care about your brand and would buy something you produce - congratulations, you have a business! Even 500 people is a lot - it’s hard to find a room that can fit that many people, and all that are willing to listen to you.
Smaller audiences, but more engaged audiences - that is the key. Big numbers are important if you have a subpar product and you’re playing a game of percentages. If you have a solid products worth buying, a small audience is all you need.
(Obviously, it’s not the end of the world if you have millions of followers. The point here is that you don’t need as many as you think you do to be in business. Don’t fret over the number, care about the engagement and community.)
Small And Proud
Companies often brag about being small and nimble (“we’re very entrepreneurial”). But for some reason, they like to pretend to be a big corporation in front of customers (“we ship worldwide”, “we have a massive customer support team”) when really it’s the same one or two founders doing all the work. They want to appear large and capable, but what’s the point really?
If a customer likes what you do and is willing to put down their credit card details - was it because they liked your product, or the fact that a nameless minimum-wage worker is packing up the box and sending it out? If you’re already on AirBnB, are you going to cancel the booking because you realise that it’s not a hotel chain you’re booking into? There’s a place for small companies (sometimes even on a large scale).
If you’re small, you should own it. There’s nothing wrong with running a two-person shop. As long as you do good work and people like what you do, that’s all that matters. The emphasis on numbers is time an energy you could be spending on improving your product.
Prioritise The Customer, The Product & The Experience (Not Growth)
Goals can be great, but when not properly planned, can be detrimental to a company. For example, if a company is set on increasing revenue by 15% in the next quarter, they may turn a blind eye on certain things (e.g. making it harder to issue refunds, cutting corners in manufacturing, etc) - happens more often than companies want to admit.
Unfortunately many people need to answer to investors or management and this is where the goals come from. Usually these goals are all about growth (“if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards”) - this mindset needs to change.
Instead, focus on making the best possible experience for your customers - whether that’s giving more support before/after the purchase, making improvements to the product or improving the overall experience of using it. Growth numbers are arbitrary. Having a good business model and staying in business because you have a good product is a lot more meaningful and a better goal to work towards.
Isn’t staying in business rather than sacrificing for the short term better anyway?
Slow It All The Way Down
Slow Down, Next Day Delivery Is Unnecessary
What’s the difference between answering an email at 10pm at night, compared to 9am in the next morning? Will anything change? If it does, was it worth it? If it doesn’t change anything, what was the point?
There’s been a surge in popularity for ‘the hustle’ - but it’s not the only way to success (it may just be a recipe for eventual burnout). Immediate sounds great, it can potentially give the impression that you care, but when the advantages are minimal, the damages may be greater than the risk of answering a few hours later.
If you can get away with achieving 98% of the same results on 75% of the work - isn’t that a deal worth taking? It’s important to take a step back and really assess what matters and what doesn’t. Unless your ONLY USP is immediate response, chances are it doesn’t matter that much (think delivering groceries and not a locksmith or a plumber where time is of essence).
(Amazon Prime is amazing. But it’s more a tool to get you to sign up and grow as well as force out the competition - think about the long term play here, they have a lot of money to win in the long run).
Don’t Always Follow The ‘Success’ Script
One person’s success is not the road map for everyone. Sure it works for some people, but it’s rarely the case that it works out for even half of the population. So why do we think companies all have to follow the same path?
Investments, IPOs might make sense for some companies, but so does growing slowly for other companies. We read about case-studies and success stories, and we’re seduced by the massive exits - but with every success, there are hundreds of other companies that try the same thing and fail.
In the same vein, social media works for some companies, but radio and traditional advertising might work for others. There’s no script when you’re attempting something new, and smart companies realise this. Unfortunately for smaller companies, who don’t have teams of people helping shape strategy, their mission is to copy (and ultimately fail or at the very least waste a lot of resources).
You can be successful without launching a kickstarter or getting money from Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank. You can be successful without millions in venture money. You can be successful just doing things your way.
There is no one way. Don’t kill yourself trying to be like others.
Value Above All Else
In a world where everyone is competing over price, the expensive is going to win out.
Cheap is great, but you will always have someone undercutting you (someone always wants it more no matter the cost). Expensive isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t matter.
When we look at the agency model in particular, we can charge based on our time, or we can change based on the value we’re providing (we’re going to choose value every time). Time is just an indication of whether an agency can take on work or not, it should never be a negotiating tool to lower cost (hello customers!).
Imagine quoting a strategy project for $10,000 and the customer asks how many hours it will take. Does this mean they’ll give you more money if you work more than you quoted? What if you do it in less time, are you supposed to give money back? Why should agencies be penalised for being efficient? Shouldn’t they get more money for doing the work faster, and allowing the customer to focus their energy on other areas of their business?
Imagine if Apple charged their MacBooks based on the hours it took to assemble and the total raw material costs. Crazy.
Good brands will understand value is what matters. If things are done properly, it doesn’t matter if it takes a little longer or costs a little more (better than doing something twice).