Paraphrasing the great Bob Woodward’s thesis on journalism, you could say that we just don't know what we don't know. Impossible as it can seem at times, our job as Marketeers is to find out. What are consumers likely to respond to? What are our competitors up to? How much will this cost? And on it goes.

But in a wider sense, are we asking the right questions of ourselves? Are we doing the best we possibly can? Are we ducking issues that no-one is speaking about? I believe we are. What follows are a series of observations on the challenges facing Marketing in Ireland gleaned from conversations with colleagues. Many are observations that I too didn’t know I didn’t know.

1: Insight Is Dead

Crafting insight was once at the core of a brand’s strategic planning process. Unless the insight was right, everything else would be wrong. Time and resource was devoted to insight development, and there was genuine excitement when a compelling truth was unveiled as a central part of campaign activation and growth development.

Sadly, this skillset is now in short supply. More worryingly, demand levels are worse. We simply don’t place enough emphasis on generating a truly penetrating consumer insight. How often do you see multiple statements masquerading as insight? Being factually accurate around consumer behaviour is easy. Generating that penetrating discovery out of such facts is where we should be earning our corn. Some do, some don’t but most now can’t.

I recently attended a Strategy Workshop where Insight cropped up. Statements like “18 – 25 year olds crave experiences” and “Young Mums are time challenged” abounded. It was the type of material that was one rung on the ladder above statements that might have suggested humans like to breathe.

Nothing compelling, nothing penetrating and nothing a cursory glance at a mis-spent youth couldn’t discern in five minutes. It needn’t be like this and it shouldn't be like this. If insight is the fuel that drives creativity, then we need to address this before we run out of road.

2: We’re Failing To Fail

Back when the country was broke the first time, we used equally scarce resources in a different way. Believe it or not, we sometimes tested big brand ideas in market as opposed to in focus groups. Some were successes, some were failures but at least we learned. Whilst it’s not true to say we didn’t fear failure, it is true that there was a greater acceptance of it happening from time to time. And every so often we struck Gold too.

Fear of failure has now morphed into a wider creative conservatism where we are actually removing the risk of failure by avoiding any risk in the first place. Societal factors are at play here too with greater scrutiny of messaging and meaning (intended or otherwise), visual language, legal oversight and global platforms. However, our job is to push beyond restriction to engage, inform and entertain. We must embrace this once more.

It’s an old adage that most, if not all, bad campaigns first researched brilliantly. Why else would they have seen the light of day? Nowadays, we measure every conceivable variable and if we then don’t like what we see, then we make sure no-one else sees it either! This is prudent and mostly effective. However, a measurement mafia approach shouldn’t usurp the power of instinct. We used to have it and we used to be allowed to use it. Time for that time again.

With ever evolving digital platforms, we can now effectively test in real time – and with real people in a real environment. We can fail safely. If it works, we dial up. If it doesn’t, we tweak or remove completely. But we have only spent a small percentage of our budget and we have hard data.

All too often however, our industry avoids real cutting-edge innovation. How do we know it’ll work? How do we set KPI’s? What have other brands done? How do we benchmark? All relevant questions, but not enough of themselves to avoid being brave. Lead – just make sure you learn so that you can lead better.

3: It’s Time to Ditch “Digital”

Digital. An entire industry has grown up around the term and most – including many of those working in it – would struggle to define it. So here goes. It's a range of communications channels that can deliver brand engagement. Sounds familiar I bet. And not in the least bit threatening either. But the ubiquitous use of language pointing to the “Digital bit of the campaign”, simply perpetuates a division that’s equal parts confusing and unnecessary.

Ever notice when people present their work to colleagues or at conferences, they talk about the audience, the idea and then show how it was executed across all channels.

When the presentation inevitably turns to Digital, they then branch off into discussing the technology. Why? Because the “Digital bit” seems to warrant it, when really we should be focusing on the same creative idea working across multiple platforms and connecting with greater numbers of people on a more cost efficient basis than ever before.

Try to neatly position a piece of video content that’s viewed on a connected smart TV into current discipline breakdowns and you will struggle. Does it matter? The idea should be the connective tissue, not the technology. You don’t hear people saying they work in a Television Agency or a Radio Agency. They don't define their creative work by the delivery channel it relies upon. We shouldn’t either!

4: We’re Suckered Into Technology Timebombs

Somebody once told me that a friend of his was asked why a brand that shall remain nameless had developed a Smartphone App. The answer? There wasn’t time to develop two!

True or not, it’s entirely plausible. In a rush to champion digital marketing as a central part of their plans, brands travelled to the Klondike and tech buzz reached a fever pitch. Gamification anyone?!

It’s a fundamental principle of our business that you innovate not because you can, but because you should. So ask yourself how many people will meaningfully engage with your App and what’s your cost per contact likely to end up at.

Recognise that the “Media” referred to in Social Media isn’t silent – you have to promote your content and that means you have to pay. Organic traffic happens, but when you look at the oft-cited “viral” successes that hit without any media support, do some digging around who engaged with the content. Then compare it to your target audience and where they’re located and try to imagine these people buying your product. Then redefine success!

Technology is crucial to how we will act as consumers. It was ever thus. But we shouldn’t allow terminology give us a bum steer. Nor should we allow it intimidate marketeers who are expertly skilled in making meaningful connections with consumers, but who are put off by the perceived complexity of language.

I’m not referring to acronyms that are crucial to delivering service excellence. If you don’t know what UX, IA, UI, API, CSS, CMS, DNS or any of the many other everyday terms we use stand for, then you can be forgiven - but not for too much longer. However, the industry is guilty of other crimes against language by allowing some fairly grandiose terms pass into common parlance, and not to any real benefit.

So next time, you’re asked to meet with a Digital Evangelist or interview a Futurologist, ask them who’s going to win the 3:40 from Punchestown. If they get it right, give them the job, just not the title. And maybe a few bob from your winnings!

Final Thought

If there are three things that sum up what we all need to do to move our work into the realm of word class, then we need to deliver on 3 I’s:

  • Start with insight. Get it right and it’s hard to go wrong
  • Respond intuitively. Choose delivery platforms (digital or otherwise), that allow the consumer enjoy a better experience. Ignore those that don’t.
  • Integrate. Make sure the idea is strong enough to connect across all relevant channels and explode out from there.

When applied, this can allow a brand to truly lead, as we demonstrated for Molson Canadian with the Beer Fridge

(Images via of, and


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