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Why Marketers Need to Become Change Agents in the Decade Ahead

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Purpose-Driven Marketing and PR

Earlier this week, Campaign magazine hosted an industry briefing exploring the big themes and issues facing brands, businesses and their agencies for the year – and indeed the decade – ahead. I had a chance to attend the event and learn from people who will be at the forefront of these changes. Let’s take a look at some of the key themes and trends that were discussed.

A Transformative Era

The briefing began with a strong statement from Campaign’s global editor, Claire Beale: “We’re at the beginning of long-term transformation. Fundamental change in our industry is inevitable.”

It was a significant call to arms, aimed at the decision makers and influencers who have the power to shape businesses and develop marketing strategies for the greater good.UK Media and Marketing Event

Beale concluded her opening talk with a clear warning: “Moving forward, we will all be held accountable to highest social and environmental standards.”

The environmental theme continued with a talk from VML&Y’s chief experience officer, Karen Boswell, who commented on how the industry has “matured” over the past four years and now has the ability to motivate people to behave differently. Boswell believes the next decade belongs to brands who allow consumers and customers to vote through their purchasing habits for the kind of world they want.

This creates both challenges and opportunities for the industry. As marketers, we are primed to do more, reach more and, ultimately, sell more. But with a growing backlash against consumerism and a fear that by selling more stuff, we are implicit in the earth’s climate demise, how can the industry find a more sustainable purpose over the pivotal years ahead?

In a thought-provoking piece for Campaign earlier this week, Ben Essen, chief strategy officer at Iris, asked the question: “Will this be the decade we change the world… or ruin it?”

It is clear that there has never been a more important – or worthwhile – time to work in marketing. Boswell ended her talk with another call to action: “Let’s make this industry somewhere we can create meaningful work. Good businesses do good business.”

The Decade’s Big Issues

The next talk was from Douglas McCabe, Chief Executive of Enders Analysis. McCabe set out three key issues for the next decade:

  • Sustainability – how do brands build long term, sustainable profits?
  • Age bias – marketers are still obsessed with younger audiences, despite the majority of consumer spending growth coming from older generations.
  • Representation – marketers need to be more aware of how they represent groups of people, for example with the portrayal of women. One only needs to look at the public outcry to the recent Peloton ad to see this sort of outdated stereotyping still takes place, to the detriment of the brand as it lost significant share price as a result.

While the previous decade was overwhelmed by digital transformation, McCabe believes it is now social change that matters: “Sustainability should sit at the top of the decision-making process.”

UK Media and Marketing Event

Measuring Human Impact

The need for marketers to become change agents and not just communicators raises additional measurement challenges, the setting of ‘sustainable KPIs’ being a key one.

To me, there needs to be a shift towards helping brands build sustainable businesses, selling just enough, and weaving the brand values throughout all marketing efforts for the greater good. The measure of success being to sell as much stuff as possible feels unsustainable.

It is also no longer enough for metrics to be about awareness and engagement – they now need to include human and environmental impact. This is something that will need further thought and alignment from the industry. Will there be a time where an agency’s KPI is about helping a business reduce its CO2 emissions? As new eco-tech and green-tech brands continue to emerge and gain traction from investors, the responsibility of becoming sustainable and aware of your impact on the environment may fall into the hands of marketers.

McCabe concluded by saying there are new ways to measure online audiences and marketing campaigns, but we need to ask a more important question: “What do we want to become in 2020?”

Marketing Agencies Help Brands Find Purpose in a Bold New Era

An obvious role for agencies and in-house marketing teams is identifying and communicating a brand’s purpose. Whereas the early part of the last decade was about retro-fitting purpose campaigns for the sake of ‘doing the right thing’, the latter years saw brands start to put their heads above the parapet by taking a strong stance on global and political issues, Burger King being a notably successful one.

From KLM’s ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign asking its customers to fly less, to Gillette’s controversial ‘Toxic Masculinity’ adverts, in 2019 brands started to get brave about their marketing.

The most memorable brands to me have been the ones prepared to stand for something and then running that right through their business and marketing strategy.

Not all of them have gotten it right, but by being bold and taking a risk, they have demonstrated massive power to change behaviour. I expect this theme to amplify further in 2020 as more brands find their feet – and voices – in this space.

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