Will 2019 be the year of doing things better?

The New Year has traditionally been about making predictions about all the new stuff the industry will do, all the new tech, new companies. What would actually make an impact, argues Gareth Kay, is a renewed interest in the things we do that work, and what can make them better. Here are two ways to make 2019 better.

It’s only a few days into the New Year and already my feeds are subsumed with endless predictions about what new shining technology will change everything this year. What shiny new platform, technology, channel or trick is finally going to take off after three years of being told x is the next big thing? Of what will be ‘killed’ by the rise of something new. We’re really good at making bold predictions, full of hyperbole that are hysterically wrong. As Mark Ritson put it, we live in an industry that attracts a disproportionate share of ‘glitter seekers’ obsessed with ‘the pornography of change’.

Perhaps we’d all be better off if we make 2019 the year of addressing the fundamentals we seem to have forgotten about. Creating more sustainable demand. Making things people want. Of getting back to the four Ps of marketing, not slicing and dicing the ‘P’ of promotion into a thousand little pieces. That’s what I think should be the goal for marketing in 2018. To focus more on better serving what Bill Bernbach famously called the needs, wants and desires of “the unchanging man”. To follow the maxim that doing things better is better than doing new things.

So, for 2019, I’m going to focus on finding ways to solve two tensions: being human friendly whilst not losing a sense of who you are as a brand and being more joined up by doing fewer things. And I think solving those two tensions boil down to two core tenets — being soulful and being intentioned.

Be soulful

Marketing serves a business by better serving people; building a bridge between what people need and what we, as a brand, can genuinely deliver. Unfortunately, there are far too few examples of us understanding this as we swing like a pendulum from the one extreme of corporate narcissism to the other of human centered design.

Being better will be about finding balance. On the one hand we need to recognize that better serving people is an expectation that is finally being fulfilled by some surprising entities: if governments now want to be as human friendly as Amazon or Google (thanks to the game changing work of the UK government’s Government Digital Service — GDS — unit), then perhaps every brand needs to set their goals a little higher.

But at the same time, we need to be aware of the risk of blindly being human centered. Yes, we might be more relevant to people, but we risk eroding the distinctiveness created by a visceral understanding of who we are, what we believe and what we can credibly do. The best marketing understands where a brand can credibly fit in to people’s lives and how it should behave in these moments. It adapts not just to people but to itself and the context in which it operates. It realizes that propelling insights come from a fresh and more sophisticated understanding of the brand and its context. Brands capable of doing this are human friendly not human servile; they’re soulful not selfish.

Be intentioned

Thankfully, more and more marketers are seeing the importance of a joined-up, coherent experience. They recognize that great brands are built on many little actions and that any experience is only as strong as its weakest link. They are re-organizing companies around their customer and, in so doing, are breaking down the institutional siloes that have been the biggest barrier to delivering a coherent experience.

However, this creates its own challenges. The temptation now is to do too many things; to see every touchpoint, every channel, every new piece of technology as an opportunity to spam more people more often. The opportunity is to not just think about how you can deliver every interaction in a branded way but how you can focus on the moments that matter the most so you can make them truly iconic.

Choose where you want to play, where you want to focus and how you are going to overcommit to create a truly signature moment in the experience. In doing this we can not only help build greater distinctiveness in how people experience our brand but also can begin to bend how people experience a category towards our brand. Think about how Zappos overcommitted to customer service and delivery or how Nike has overcommitted to giving away training expertise. These are new ways of creating more relevant distinctiveness.

So here’s to the New Year. Let’s see if we can make 2019 the year of doing things better. Of trying to find some balance between the need to be human friendly and brand authentic; to be more intentioned and soulful in everything we do. They’re simple goals, but like most simple things require determination and sacrifice to deliver.

First published in WARC