Plus ça change in 22

Mon, 24/01/2022 - 09:20

Never have I felt such a strong sense of déjà vu when reflecting on the challenges facing marketers as we enter 2022.

Emerging tech, skills shortages, pandemic-weary consumers … the demands all seem so last year. Or the one before that. In a world as fast paced as ours it seems extraordinary that Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s 19th century utterance “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose“ [the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing] remains so darned relatable. 

At a tech level, new products arrive and terminology changes faster than our ability to remember the acronyms. But the challenge remains constant. This year it’s Web 3.0, the metaverse, NFTs and shifting privacy requirements. Last year it was D2C ecommerce, toxic social networks, blockchain and cookie degradation. Different labels but much the same.

As marketers, we must gen up on the new lingo. But we also need to crank our bullshit meters up to max. When some savant speaks up at a conference and tells us that the only way to engage our audience is to put a non fungible token at the centre of our next dog food campaign, we really should call him an idiot and look the other way. 

Tech is great. And in a marketing context, it should help us do a better job. But such is our collective obsession with shiny new objects that it runs the risk of becoming an impediment. A confounding distraction. Much as I love the concept of using tech at scale to target and deliver relevant content, a big part of me yearns for the brutal simplicity of an old school direct response ad. It’s somewhat ironic that advocating a return to basics could be construed as disruptive behaviour.

Collectively, we must try harder to make tech serve us, rather than become beholden, paralysed, slaves to it. 

Another major challenge of the era - the skills shortage. Yes, it’s damnably hard to recruit and retain talent. 

And with the pandemic having all but obliterated the concept of office-based work, we’re dealing with it in a whole new dimension. No longer do we fear local competitors poaching our people. We’re now under siege from European and US-based employers. In the last 12 months, the majority of resignations among my team have been to accept overseas jobs - some emigrating but most choosing to remain in Mzansi earning pounds, dollars and euros. 

But instead of decrying the exploitation of our wonderful natural resources by foreign powers, we need to double down on building culture and living purpose. As leaders we don’t always get this right but it really is possible to put people first. In our own small world, we’ve banned the use of the word ‘resource’ when it comes to describing our team. We’re currently hiring a human experience lead. Their job, as the title suggests, is to make life - in the office and out - memorable. Hopefully for the right reasons. It won’t prevent colleagues from being persuaded to leave for greener pastures, but it might just make them give a little more consideration to the offer.

To the last - and perhaps greatest - challenge of the new year: meeting the shifting mood of pandemic-weary consumers. 

After two years of trying to dodge Covid, consumers are as confused and weary as us marketers. We’ve all endured one too many circuits on the emotional roller coaster and it’s evident that we want to break free. In 2020 we tried to demonstrate empathy in our campaigns. For last year, humour seemed the right recipe. Right now it feels to me that the most effective way to land a message is to be direct and to the point. 

We’ve developed a level of self reliance not seen for decades - perhaps since the late 1940s and early 50s. Speaking to the jaded and emotionally drained requires a degree of candour. And I think it beholds us to adopt this whether we’re talking about our tech, our people or our product.

Here’s hoping that if the challenges and issues don’t change in 2022, the way we respond to them will.

*This article originally appeared on MarkLives


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