8 Essential Priorities for Marketing in 2018

From the stages and sessions of the Festival of Marketing in London – here’s the to-do list that marketers can’t ignore over the coming year

October 9, 2017

festival of marketing

Most marketing conferences won’t leave you with an obvious list of what to do next. There’ll be lots of inspiring talk, lots of visionary discussion of the challenges and opportunities ahead, lots of buzzy concepts; but distilling all of this down to the actions that marketers actually need to take? That kind of practical thinking usually struggles to make it onto the agenda. The Festival of Marketing 2017 though, was different.

I think this is a result of the time we’re living in. It’s hard to imagine a point when marketers have felt more challenged by menacing known unknowns: the prospect of Brexit, the countdown to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the promise and frustrations of Programmatic, the question of what on earth they’re meant to be doing with AI, the worry that, when it comes to digital media, they’re not getting what they think they’re paying for. All of these issues need a clear plan of action – and when you listened carefully during last week at London’s Tobacco Dock, that’s what you got.

I’ve pulled together a list of eight actions that I believe any marketing strategy needs to find a way to prioritise between now and the end of 2018. They come straight from some of the most important sessions at the festival – and the striking thing about these issues is how easy it often is for marketers to ignore them. They get swept under the carpet, delegated to other departments or just kicked into the long grass to wait for a better time. However putting these things off isn’t going to cut it anymore. If you haven’t thought about them already, now’s the time to start:

Sense-check your data collection
Marketing has been suffering from a bad case of GDPR paralysis. Perhaps it’s because the word on the EU’s data protection regulation is that it’s so terrifying, so complicated and so demanding that mere humans will struggle to make sense of it all. When something sounds that unattractive to deal with, it’s tempting to wait for legal and compliance to tell you what to do. The message last week though, is that GDPR needs to be on the marketing agenda – because the marketing skillset is crucial for businesses looking to navigate it.

An essential first step towards GDPR compliance is understanding what data your business is actually collecting – and why it’s collecting it. A pretty important second step is being able to communicate to your customers and other audiences about why this data collection makes sense. This is a marketing challenge – and it’s a challenge that marketers, in many ways, should relish. There’s an opportunity to sense-check and streamline the way that your company collects data from customers and to be far more purposeful about your strategy for using it. Armed with that knowledge, there’s an opportunity to be clearer with customers about how that use of data adds value to them. If you do nothing else on the GDPR front in the next few months, at least start an audit of the data that you’re collecting – and compare this to the data your brand has a real purpose in using. You’ll be taking big steps towards GDPR compliance by doing so. The chances are you’ll be creating smoother customer experiences in the process.

Jason Miller, Festival of Marketing 2017

Build a marketing career path for your tech talent
Recruiting the right marketing technology skills has been a major focus for many businesses over the last few years. The question marketing leaders now need to start asking is how do you start to develop those tech-focused marketers that you’ve added to your team. When people aren’t developing they can’t grow – and sooner or later, that starts to restrict how fulfilled they feel. You owe it to your martech specialists to enable them to learn and develop in other areas of marketing as well. That was one of the key messages to come out of the session on How to Make it as a Marketer featuring high-profile leaders like Claire Cronin of Virgin Atlantic, Philip Almond of the BBC and Julie Woods-Moss of Tata. As Almond explained, leading diverse teams has always been important in marketing – but we’ve got to allow each of those diverse talents to grow. When people come in with specialist digital skills, they have as much right as other marketers to broaden their experience.

Define a commercial value for creativity:
In her appearance on the Headliner stage on the first evening of Festival of Marketing, Jo Malone mentioned how she believed the next few years could get tough for businesses in the UK. With Brexit on the horizon, there are many that will agree with her. However, Jo had a positive message to balance this against: the fact that creativity has never had more commercial value to add for a business. And if budgets are to come under pressure, that means it’s all the more important to find ways to put a value on that creativity.

As a B2B marketer, I found Jo Malone’s session one of the most inspiring moments of Festival of Marketing. That’s partly because she sees absolutely no contradiction between being stubbornly and determinedly commercial – and being passionately creative. Jo instinctively describes herself as a shopkeeper, but she also instinctively talks about herself as a storyteller – and a storyteller who has a sense of the specific commercial value of every tale she tells. It comes from a childhood selling paintings down the market with her artist father – and knowing that if she could tell a passer-by a compelling story about a painting, she could effectively double its price. Quantifying the value of creativity in that way is something worth aiming for over the year to come.

Check the sums on Programmatic
Sam Gaunt, Head of Media the UK supermarket Lidl made headlines last week when he argued that Programmatic buying of digital advertising is significantly overvalued by marketers. He went on to say that many don’t know how much they are actually spending programmatically – or where that money is going. It’s a timely warning for businesses who assume that programmatic will automatically deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness. It won’t do this unless you arm yourself with the right partners, and the right understanding. It’s never been more important for marketers to understand what technology is buying for them – and how those automated media buys are translating into the metrics that matter. A worthy programmatic partner should be open and committed to helping you achieve this. Programmatic: the eBook, our guide to automated buying for B2B marketers, is a great place to start planning an approach that adds up.

Draw up the easy wins for AI (you might be surprised)
Where do you start figuring out how to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) to deliver smarter marketing and add value for your business? According to IBM evangelist Jeremy Waite, you should begin with the simplest aspects of your marketing that you can think of. How about testing and optimising email subject lines using an algorithm that can map the likely emotive impact of different phrases – and compare the results of every email your marketing team has ever sent?

Jeremy demonstrated how off-the-peg solutions leveraging IBM’s Watson can achieve this in seconds: a classic example of a task that humans would find tedious, difficult and time-consuming but AI excels at. According to Stephen Fry, these are the types of areas we should be looking for AI to make an impact, not replacing human creativity and ingenuity. We should be asking AI to take care of the spadework involved in marketing tactics rather than taking control of marketing strategy. It helps that the low-hanging fruit for AI tends to involve far less investment and far less organisational disruption. Start by drawing up a list of all the tasks that your marketing team hate doing – but are important anyway. That’s a great to-do list for leveraging this technology.

The LinkedIn Lab, Festival of Marketing 2017

Test all employees’ social skills
According to Hootsuite’s Penny Wilson, great customer experience is the biggest driver of competitive advantage today – and customers expect more elements of that experience to take place on social media. The problem is that multiplying touchpoints in the customer journey tends to mean inconsistent customer experiences (something that 70% of people complained to Accenture about).

What’s the solution? Here’s a clue: it’s not a chatbot. Wilson was calling for a human-first strategy that first trains and then empowers employees to represent your brand on social media. This requires a real balancing act between equipping people with the knowledge and skills they need to tell a consistent brand story – and providing them with the freedom to be themselves in how they go about doing it. It sounds simple, but it takes patience and courage – and with human, empathetic customer experience emerging as such an important differentiator, there’s no better time to start down that path than now.

Find an attribution model that fits your audience
What is your attribution model for? That was the question that Tim Bush, Data Scientist at Lynchpin, kept coming back to when discussing the pros and cons of attribution for B2C and B2B marketers. It’s one thing to rank touchpoints by how they contributed to leads or conversions – it’s another to turn this into actionable insight. Tim’s argument is that you get much more value from attribution if you design a model that reflects what you already know about your audience – and what it is that you want the data to help you achieve.

In B2B marketing, smart attribution involves looking beyond the marketing that individuals within a business were exposed to – and looking at how those individual interactions roll up into the prospect of the company as a whole buying your product. As Tim put it, in B2B you are marketing to individuals who then convert as a business. Your approach to analysing the impact of different marketing touchpoints will deliver most value to your marketing if it reflects the reality of how your buying committee works. Listening to him talk, it struck me that LinkedIn is a vital source of two types of data that this approach to attribution needs: robust tracking of all the different types of marketing that your prospects are exposed to, and valuable insight as to the role that different individuals actually play in buying decisions.

The LinkedIn Lab, Festival of Marketing 2017

Create less content!
This to-do list for 2018 has some priorities that will require extra time and effort, but which it’s well worth finding time and effort for. I wanted to leave you with one priority, though, that isn’t asking you to do more – it’s asking you to do less.

One of the key themes of our LinkedIn Lab sessions exploring the DNA of the world’s best content was the question of how much content brands produce. The data shared by Steve Rayson of Buzzsumo as part of our study showed that the vast amount of content that brands produce generates very little engagement. Shockingly, much of it isn’t even shared by the very people who created it. At the same time, our analysis shows that longer-form content is far, far more influential and effective than short posts of 500 words or less. It takes more effort to create in-depth, original content – but boy, is it worth it!

We’ve reached a point where brands are churning out content so fast that their audiences can’t possibly have a chance to consume it all, even if they wanted to. What happens when you start mass-producing something at this rate? The quality, craftsmanship and originality quickly drains out of it. You get short, dashed-off content that’s rarely worth engaging with – unsurprisingly, very few people therefore engage with it.

There’s a simple and obvious solution: as content marketers we desperately need to slow down, produce less content but invest far more in making that content in-depth, original and worthwhile. Take a decision now to produce less content in 2017 – but also take a decision to make every piece of content valuable for both your business and your audience. It’s an approach that we at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions have followed with huge success. You’ll be using the same amount of time and resource, but you’ll be getting far more value from it.