It’s undeniable that since last year’s EU Referendum Brexit has stuck steadfastly to the top of news and business agendas across the UK. Indeed, following the triggering of Article 50 and the impending General Election on June 8, Brexit is as front and centre as it ever has been.
But does this same dominance prevail in the world of marketing? Is it really the be-all and end-all for marketers this year? What are the other key challenges (and opportunities) facing the industry in 2017, and how should we prepare to meet them head on?
To help answer these questions, I recently sat down with Chris Daly, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) at Page Executive’s ‘Marketing Leader’s Breakfast’ event. During our discussion he outlined four of the top trends impacting the marketing department in 2017, and offered best practice tips on how marketers can continue to be successful in the face of such an ever-changing industry:
From Chris’s perspective, it is clear that the political backdrop of 2016 is having a continued impact on marketing decisions this year – and will likely do so until future prospects are more assured. In January, the CIM surveyed 255 marketing professionals across England, Scotland and Wales, and 55% listed Brexit as their main concern. The real dilemma for marketers and businesses alike, Chris concluded from the research, is whether to pre-empt the changes afoot, or simply wait and see.
Realistically he saw three options on how marketers could act. The first would be to relocate into the new boundaries of the EU. The second, to move outside of the EU and attempt to change your export market, and the third would be to just sit tight – after all, Article 50 has only just been actioned and it could be two years until we actually know what’s going to happen.
However, in spite of such uncertainty, it’s not all doom and gloom. At a time where patriotism is high, there is a growing appetite for companies to create a Great British brand – ‘Brand Britain’, as Chris called it. In light of this, the real opportunity for marketers, Chris felt, is to utilise British standards and ethics to their benefit – whether for export advantage or simply promoting British qualities in the interest of the customer.
On ethical marketing
Aside from Brexit Chris pointed to the pressure for brands to build an ethical company name and engage in reputable marketing throughout 2017 as another of the key pressures being felt by the industry – according to stats he quoted 87% of marketers today admit they feel the pressure to act ethically and provide a role model for society. As an example of the environment marketers find themselves in today, Chris highlighted the brands (M&S, HSBC, Audi etc.) that boycotted Google due to the unethical, extremist content it was serving their adverts next to.
As this case clearly showed, consumers have increasing power to influence brands, and will wield it if they perceive a brand being unethical, supporting unethical practices, or sourcing its products or services irresponsibly. With so many channels at consumer fingertips, the damage to a brand’s reputation can be swift and brutal.
In light of this, Chris advised that not only is it the right thing for brands to promote the ethical nature of their brand and stand up to their values, but it is also what consumers are expecting them to do. Marketers hoping to gain and retain customers need to create trust between the consumer and the brand, and then strengthen that bond through resilient brand morals.
Another challenge looming on the horizon for marketers, according to Chris, is the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation. Due to become a legal requirement in May 2018, this requires every organisation to be able to physically demonstrate that they have the consent of their customers to use their data in the ways they have specified.
With the fines for those that do not or cannot conform hefty – as much as €20 billion – Chris warned that it is vitally important for businesses to begin preparing the appropriate measures now. The CIM has designed a Data Right Pledge to help businesses get ready for the GDPR legislation, and is encouraging those that haven’t already put systems in place to ensure they are compliant by next May (according to CIM data, only 11% have) to take the necessary steps in good time.
On the growing skills gap
The final issue that Chris and I discussed is one that marketing as an industry is not alone in facing – and that is the growing skills gap that has opened up as we struggle to keep up with the latest technologies born from the digital revolution. As we strive to acquire these new skills, we often do so at the expense of other, equally important skillsets.
The need for digital expertise, for example, has seen technical specialisms emerge within marketing teams. While this is great in the short term as it ensures businesses have key skills to draw upon, it appears to be causing confusion at a strategic level. Nine in ten marketers the CIM has spoken to believe this trend to specialise in specific areas means executives are missing out on other business skills, leaving a detrimental skills gap at the strategic level in marketing.
To combat this, Chris urged that senior marketers need to be able to expand their specialist knowledge in order to meet the needs of their business as a whole, and that leaders should be looking to develop marketing teams of both generalists and specialists capable of serving their organisation on multiple levels.”
With such significant changes afoot in Britain throughout the rest of this year and into the next, the role of the marketer is having to adjust once more. While Brexit is certainly a key influencing factor in this change, it’s far from the complete picture.
Marketers in 2017 need to be leaders of change and communicate their brands’ vision resolutely to their audiences – whatever it is. In doing so, the marketing department really does have an instrumental role to play in ensuring businesses continue to flourish in a mid- and post-Brexit economy.
By Mark Lawson-Jones, business director at Page Executive
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