Neil Perkin is the founder of consultancy Only Dead Fish and host of Think with Google’s Firestarters podcast. Here, he shares his learnings from a year of conversation with the “interested and interesting” of marketing.
In a time of constant change, there’s a perhaps surprising but common thread among my guests on the Firestarters series: a resolute optimism about the future.
They think deeply, and often differently, contemplating the implications of current trends and challenges — from climate change to advancements in AI. And they consistently offer positive perspectives and practical solutions that promise to benefit the industry and the wider world.
Below, I’ve selected five key lessons from my conversations with leaders across the advertising, marketing, and innovation communities — lessons I believe are particularly relevant for the year ahead.
1. Look beyond traditional places to drive sustainable growth
Pinpointing the best sources of growth is highly challenging at the moment. Many of my guests had an interesting take on this topic, but Helen Edwards’ advice stands out: she suggests pursuing “growth from the margins”.
A columnist for Marketing Week and a brand consultant, Helen encourages marketers to venture beyond the usual places to drive sustainable growth. She emphasises the importance of exploring fringe behaviours, such as polyphasic sleeping (no, I hadn’t heard of it either), rather than just following mainstream trends to find those with the potential to scale.
This sentiment was echoed by Claire Hennah, chief customer and digital commerce officer for beauty and wellbeing at Unilever. Her recommendation: focus your energy not only on where your customers are currently but also on where they will be next.
2. Never lose sight of people’s needs
With marketers pulled in so many directions, it’s easy to lose sight of the people who consume your ads and use your products and services. However, as highlighted by Lou Downe, founder of the School of Good Services, it’s crucial to stay focused on your customers and their needs — and that means paying attention to the details.
Lou argues that no matter how well-crafted your campaign or strategy might be, “you can’t market something that doesn’t work”. Success hinges on aspects such as accessibility, the language used, and even details as simple as whether someone receives an email or not.
“Every decision you make needs to bear in mind the effect it will have on your end-user,” says Lou. Brands and marketers adopting a human-centric approach are positioning themselves for success in 2024.
3. Use AI to get to the good ideas quicker
Over the past year, the exploration of generative AI has led many of us to reflect on the unique needs, limitations, and value of human input.
The vast majority of my guests, like myself, share a tech-optimistic view, recognising generative AI’s potential to support the creative process and provide insights when used correctly. As Nick Myers, head of planning at OLIVER agency, says, AI “helps people get to good ideas quicker”.
It can provide a starting point and be integrated with human qualities such as creativity, intuition, and empathy — but it can’t replace them. “No amount of data will ever enable you to predict whether that big or radical idea is going to be successful,” says VCCP’s Michael Lee.
4. Build teams for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities
Michael is also chair of the Account Planning Group, which recently undertook a survey to explore the expanding skill set required in the industry. It revealed that planners and strategists are now expected to master 24 different skills.
This, says Michael, highlights the growing importance of “T-shaped marketers” who possess a broad knowledge along with a deep specialisation. However, the “T-bar” is getting thicker, with marketers needing to know more about everything. The answer? Collaboration, with specialists working together and using their strengths for a common goal.
Rob Estreitinho, planning director at VCCP, offered a unique perspective on this search for skills and knowledge. Drawing on his experiences as a parent, he said: “You can’t know all the answers, but you can create the conditions where answers emerge.”
Rob’s approach is a good one for uncertain times: focus on creating environments that naturally lead to solutions rather than always seeking immediate results.
5. Focus on creative excellence to drive success
For all the talk of change and new technology, some challenges remain a constant for marketers, with advertising effectiveness at the forefront.
Dom Boyd, Kantar’s managing director for U.K. insights and marketing effectiveness, delved into this issue during the most enlightening 30 minutes I’ve ever spent on the subject.
He identified a “confidence gap” in the marketing community: despite the resilience of advertising budgets, there’s a lack of confidence in the implementation. To bridge this gap, Dom suggests focusing on the crucial role of creative quality and differentiation. Creative excellence isn’t just an aesthetic choice; it's a strategic one that significantly drives marketing success and profitability.
Regardless of how you chart your path to success in 2024, I hope these insights from Dom, my other Firestarters guests, and those yet to come will empower you to move forward with confidence and optimism in the year ahead.
Watch the Firestarters series on Think with Google’s YouTube or listen wherever you get your podcasts — and don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as they go live. We look forward to bringing you more insights and perspectives in 2024.