James Thompson
Jan 3, 2017

Goodbye cruel year; can 2017 do worse?

The past 12 months have been ‘WRONG’ on almost every level, but marketers can work for a better world over the coming year, writes Diageo Reserve's James Thompson.

2017 Outlook: Brand-building
2017 Outlook: Brand-building

Editor's note: We'll be featuring 2017 Outlook content from the latest issue of Campaign all this week. Subscribers can see it all now in the emagazine.

All I can say is that, after the year we’ve just endured, 2017 had better be a damn good one! And despite some of the political and economic monstrosities that have reared their very ugly heads over the past 12 months, there are grounds for optimism in our industries for the year ahead if we can just get our heads around a few little issues.

2017 needs to be the year when we embrace the robots but retain some vital human control. Embracing the robots means that more marketers need to get with the programme and build campaigns by identifying audiences first and, driven by data, let the programmatic wizardry do its thing. Companies that don’t do this will go the way of the dinosaur. But those who only drink this particular brand of moon juice are missing the point as well: humans also respond to environment, placement and context, so at some point marketers need to override the robotic function and make some human-based decisions based on context and heart.

2017 also needs to be the year when more companies realise they can’t go it alone in an increasingly crowded and noisy marketplace. Most of us don’t have big enough budgets to cut through as much as we’d like. And distressingly enough, most of us don’t sell products and services that keep consumers up at night thinking about. Savvy marketers will build alliances with other brands and companies that increase their reach, give them access to enhanced data about their customers, or help reinforce associations with their purpose.

Ah yes, purpose. That had to get a look in. With any luck, 2017 will be the year when more marketers realise that this isn’t about lip service; it’s what their consumers (and employees, current and potential) actually care about far more than the aggregated fragments of assets and memories we call brands. If your brand doesn’t stand for something, it probably won’t be much of a brand for very long. It doesn’t necessarily have to stand for something too noble or worthy, and of course it has to be relevant to its category—but nowadays most people really do want what they purchase, consume and do to add to life’s potential rather than be neutral or detract from it.

(Clever people have started to write what they obviously think are clever articles about Donald Trump being an embodiment of ‘purpose-led marketing’. As The Donald himself would say, “WRONG”; at his most successful he is a wrecking ball and when he starts to compromise and normalise, watch his ratings fall. Sorry, I’m still angry about that election). 

If we all get behind this—and I know this sounds hokey to some people but if you’re one of those, I’m afraid I don’t really apologise—this really could be a year when we make the world a better (as well as more successful) place. And wouldn’t you agree that rather needs to happen at the moment?

Luxury goods marketers: please let 2017 be the year when it finally sinks in that the codes of status and luxury have changed. Please let your models smile, or at least let them not look in pain. Please stop making your shoes, bags, fragrances or jewellery the apparent trigger for deep contemplation by some over-made-up, starved and sullen model set in some five-star palace overlooking the Bosphorus / Seine / Venetian canals (insert clichéd glamour location of choice). Luxury today is about time, company and connection; it’s less formal, it’s more human and frankly it’s more fun. To those luxury marketers stuck in the cold (no longer cool) pool of a prior marketing decade, please come and join the rest of us — the water’s much warmer out here.

And finally, this could be the year when some of the outstanding debates between clients and agencies start to see people taking sides. Will all of us clients start to build studios to produce our own creative work? Will strategic consultancies finally start to enter the marketing services world in earnest? Will companies start to outsource their marketing departments? These issues are unlikely to be resolved in 2017 but the lie of the land is likely to get a little clearer.

Whatever your own role or area of interest, I hope 2017 is both successful and happy for you. Many of my predictions will doubtless turn out “wrong” but it should be fun finding out which ones aren’t.

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio) 


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