We live in a world where the number of channels between brand and consumer is proliferating at an unprecedented rate. Within those channels, the range of different messages trying to be heard is enormous. To compensate, consumers are acquiring tools and developing behaviours to allow them to filter signal from noise, and curate their preferred sources.

Alongside the increasing capability for consumers to create and share their own content, this trend represents a fundamental power shift away from the marketer and towards the consumer. No longer can you aim to take control of a significant fraction of the information channels accessible to our target audience: you must earn them. Convince consumers to choose your message over others.

Over the coming years the challenge facing digital marketers will only become harder. How do you most effectively and efficiently reach your audience? How do you monitor impact? How do you ensure that you respond to customers on the channels that are important to them?

Barely a week goes by without a new case study emerging of a brand that is failing this test. There are a number of high profile failures: a slow response to an influencer on one social media channel, or an ill-advised piece of content on another. But the biggest failure is simple indifference.

So what's the answer?

Thinking strategically about the future needs a range of inputs. You can learn much from looking at other industries facing similar challenges. The 'diffusion' principle of trend forecasting maintains that a successful approach in one area will naturally carry over to others. Being the first to learn from other's mistakes - and successes - could give you a critical advantage.

Beyond this though, the most future-proof approach is based on three key ideas.

Planning, planning, planning

In the past, planning your business strategy was something that may have only happened quarterly, or indeed annually. Today’s marketers need to take a more agile approach and adopt a critical foresight function. This allows you to rapidly and regularly identify the most important business opportunities, threats and priorities as they continue to evolve.

A good foresight process will assess the impact of external macro factors, such as new technologies, cultural change or economic shifts. And it will help you to map these macro factors back to the specific pressure points in your own market and business.

Once you have identified a series of issues, the process of going through and ranking these priorities must be absolutely ruthless. Our rule of thumb is that any action must have at least a 2x impact – will it double sales or halve negative sentiment in a given area? If not, put it to the back of the pile. This method will allow any you to quickly identify major threats which must be dealt with quickly.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Experimentation is an oft-discussed area of digital marketing, but too often it's restricted to narrow A/B tests of existing web campaigns. Think bigger.

There are a thousand guides out there to what works but read enough and you often find that they conflict. Not only is other people's experience of limited value, your own might be too: a hunch that the campaign you delivered last month was successful is no longer enough. Instead, marketers need to ensure that a data-driven approach becomes part of a constant, iterative cycle in order to keep up with changes in human behaviour.

Experiment with completely new approaches: new channels, messages, tones and media. But don't do it in a haphazard way.

The first step is to set a hypothesis. For example, this could be deciding that engaging a resource in channel X will deliver Y in timeframe X. Once you’ve cemented your hypothesis, put the tools in place to test it. If it works, then great, if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. It’s important not to be afraid to move on, remembering that you can always revisit it later down the line.

The biggest challenge with this experimental approach is achieving buy-in from clients and managers. Start the conversation early, be honest and explain that you are operating in a fast-changing landscape. Make it clear that this will deliver the best results in the long term and ensure you have the scope to experiment on an ongoing basis, not just in the initial weeks of a campaign.

Tapping into data to deliver a targeted message

You're probably an analytics hotshot. You know how to optimise your ads and your content for maximum bang for buck. But we're only in the earliest, embryonic stages of data-driven marketing. Make sure you keep learning.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the value of their own data. It won't be long before this knowledge is matched with the tools to allow them to broker their data for direct value: discounts, cashback, services and other rewards. When this transition comes, the benchmarks for ROI are going to go through a quantum leap.

Personalisation and retargeting today often feels like 'gaming' the consumer. In the future it will be a much more direct, conversational interaction. Make sure your content strategies, platforms and processes account for this shift.

 

By Tom Cheesewright, founder of Book of the Future and organiser at the TMRW conference


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