In this opinion piece and in the spirit of Christmas, Oliver Shawyer- behaviour change marketer, looks back on 2016 and touch on six things he learned from six specific days.
Where did 2016 go? Obviously I don’t expect anyone to answer that, but it’s getting harder and harder to comprehend just how quickly we move around the sun. Quicker every year. 2016 has been huge. Personally and professionally, locally and internationally. A lot has happened – some good, some bad – but all with some significant impact to every one of us and our businesses.
It’s redundant and cliche to try and forecast the big things that will happen in 2017, and both in a bid to not look like a fool or a tool, I’m not going to try. But in the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to look back on 2016 and touch on six things I took out of it from six specific days. Yes it’s somewhat generic. Yes it’s somewhat saying a lot without saying anything. But as opposed to the detail, it’s about the themes that I believe will have a role to play in 2017 for our organisations, our brands and for us as individuals.
Day 1 – January 10. Sunday. David Bowie Dies.
THE HEADLINE: Be relevantly distinctive but true to yourself.
I have to admit, I only recently found Bowie’s music. I obviously knew it existed well before his death, but only in the last 12-months have I really come to enjoy his music. In fact, love his music. And as I dived into his music, I dived into the man. I researched him and tried to unpack him. I was so intrigued by his story, his personality and his success. In doing so, I discovered that over the test of time, David was the master of standing out from the crowd.
Re-reading Byron Sharp’s ‘How Brands Grow’, I was drawn to the comments and thoughts on differentiation versus distinctiveness. Generally speaking, for those who haven’t read it, Byron outlines that there is not a lot of difference between a business and its competitor. There really isn’t much businesses can differentiate on. But you can be distinctive. Be unique.
With a look and message that drastically changed from decade to decade, David was the king of being relevantly distinctive. He stood out from a crowded market, constantly evolving to keep doing so as time rolled on. Whilst one-hit wonders and groups came and went across five decades, David continued (and still continues) to build deep, emotional connections with fans because of his uniqueness and prevalence.
As the world becomes smaller, and barriers for competitor entry continues to dissolve, individuals and organisations need to build and continue to leverage their distinctive assets to stand out from the crowd. And in order to create a retrievable impression in consumers memory, use them authentically, consistently and relentlessly.
Day 2 – May 2. Monday. Leicester City Premier League Champions.
THE HEADLINE: Tear up the rule book.
Faint interest in sport? Give me a few minutes. Following a diabolical 2014/15 season where they just avoided relegation (i.e finishing last), Leicester City did the unthinkable in the 2015/16 season and won the Premier League (arguably the best football competition in the world). They were 5000-1 odds, had the fourth lowest wage bill (of the 20 teams) and were competing in a league of traditionally big spenders. For instance, Manchester United at the beginning of this season spent over $100 million on just one player (which was twice what Leicester had for an entire team). A small start up challenging the corporations if you’d like. So with less money, less clout and inevitably already written off by everyone before the season even starts, how on earth did they win?
Well, by a combination of things that included playing to strengths, having an unrelenting focus, executing consistency and commitment to what’s working and, supporting a culture that enhances the intent to never give up. But for me, the biggest and most intriguing lesson to take from their triumph was in their ability to tear up the rule book.
A famous philosophy in world football is based off two simple facts: if we have the ball, you can’t score and, we have a better chance of scoring. So football has traditionally been all about possession. But Leicester City set out to rewrite this. Statistically, the Foxes ended the season with the lowest possession figures of the entire league. They achieved success by biting their time and counter attacking, calling on all their strengths including their commitment and support for each other.
The status quo has a huge influence on our behaviour, both as individuals and corporations, but reward favours the brave for those that set out to challenge it. A lot has been written for business from the learnings from sport, but very little so encouragingly about going up against the rules. You don’t always need to follow the same rules that everyone else is following in order to find success.
Day 3 – May 26. Thursday. Mark Ritson Deconstructs Marketing.
THE HEADLINE: New age media or old-school TV, will it actually change behaviour?
Looking locally, this day marked the first of Mark Ritson’s three-part ‘marketing deconstructed’ series for the AANA. It wasn’t the first time that Mark’s agenda had been given an audience, but it certainly got the attention of our industry, sensationally stirring the pot. And full credit to him for doing so. The more debate in this industry, the better. Whilst a hard pill to swallow at first (that flies in the face of most new-age marketers), Mark attacks the digital landscape and the industry’s insatiable appetite for it – rightly for some, but more importantly, wrongly for most. The ‘traditional advertising is dead’ headline has been yelled from the hilltops for many years now, and some have felt the impact more than others. So Mark has stood up, grabbed a big spot light and said ‘look, most if it is bullshit’. And not with the same motive as the old ad-guy craving the kickbacks and lifestyle that came with those times. Mark’s agenda is for the betterment of us all – to ensure we stay (or get) great at what we’re supposed to do. What we’re paid to do.
Since this day, his comments and those who have responded have been thrown from one corner to another, emphatically debated about who is right and who is wrong. But details aside, Mark isn’t saying digital marketing is all bullshit. He’s saying it does has a role to play (potentially a huge role), IF it’s in line with your strategy and objectives. Who do you need to talk to and what’s the most efficient way to do so?
The industry continues to tear itself apart about what is the most effective medium to use, what channel doesn’t work any more that apparently once did, what technology is now dead that was once the future, what new platform is now the messiah that was born overnight. And it will continue to do so for many more years. But in doing so, most of it only muddies the one thing we actually only need to know – will it change behaviour? The only thing you need to ask yourself (and keep asking yourself) is will it actually change behaviour. Day 4 – June 23. Thursday. Brexit Vote.
THE HEADLINE: We need to better understand why people behave the way they do.
Results aside, astonishment aside, this day will sit with me for some time. And it should sit with politicians, organisations, brands and other individuals for some time. Reiterated by the results of the US Election, it was here that we all realised how detached from reality a lot of us. How the world some of us live in is actually not the world most people live in. The power of confirmation bias (our tendency to only accept information that backs up our preconceived beliefs) and our unconscious ability to surround ourselves with similar people and networks that tell powerful stories, was seriously miscalculated in both events.
The ability to understand why people behave the way they do and make the decisions they do will be echoed throughout the new year, with significant implications for the communications industry as we strive to have a more efficient ROI, including, but not limited to agency side via researchers running focus groups and creatives executing off gut instinct.
Day 5 – November 8. Tuesday. US Election.
THE HEADLINE: Don’t underestimate trust or how that trust is built (rationally or not).
Surprise. The second, big global election result has found itself into my 2016 reflection. A day that will sit in the history books for centuries told. How this story will be passed on however, is still to be determined. A fair number of us sat at the beginning of the year following the Primary’s in disbelief, but somewhat excitedly as we rubbed our hands together in anticipation of the comedy we were going to be lucky enough to witness in the coming months. But as each month passed, the wide grins dropped inch by inch respectively. To the point that come that second Tuesday in November, were well and truly wiped off our faces. A reality TV-star who had done almost everything possible to insult every form of voter was announced as the next President of historically the most powerful country in the world.
Echoing the lessons learnt from Brexit (that were clearly not acted on), Trump’s win for me, really drove home the question and role of trust and it’s impact on us as individuals in the most simplest of ways. And for many, the idea and concept of trust will be difficult to comprehend in association with his name. But research has shown that people who reveal information are always seen as more trustworthy than people who decline to disclose information. Unfortunately for Clinton, there were many examples of this at play during her run which ironically played into the hands of Trump.
Elections aside, trust will continue to have a huge role to play in communications,notably as consumers become more and more savvy and connected in a digital world. As the world becomes smaller in 2017, we need to be prepared to take the front foot on our mistakes, on our blemishes, and be prepared to communicate openly about them. Only earlier this year, fellow behavioural scientist Adam Ferrier captured this sentiment when he highlighted “that mistakes can increase brand preference because consumers in developed markets such as Australia and Japan like marketing to reflect reality, not an idealised portrayal of a brand.” Imperfection = authenticity.
Day 6 – December 12. Monday. Howcroft joins PWC.
THE HEADLINE: Good agencies will survive, evolve and kick ass again.
For those in Australia, it’s highly likely that the news of Russel Howcroft joining PWC hit your inbox this last week. The trade press were all over it, notably Mumbrella who painted it to a certain extent as the beginning of the end for agencies (again). But before you jump down my throat, I’m aware it’s not the first piece to appear that captures the intent of consultancies and their move into the ‘agency’ market. And it’s not the first article that justifies such plays in market because of agencies’ failure to innovate and adapt to this ‘brave new world’. But it is the first within the local market that’s been given a fair amount of oxygen, emphasising that they’re not just talking the talk, they’re walking the walk and now coming after our talent. It’s created a stir, sat a lot of people up in their seats and got us all thinking.
But with every challenge that confronts this industry, comes opportunity. The passionate, smart, flexible and dedicated of our side of the fence will continue to reframe the agency offering, and we will continue to exist, offering more value than ever. We have to. And I commit myself to this statement (and call bullshit on you calling my bullshit) because it was only a few months ago that I turned down a very similar opportunity to switch sides from agency to ‘big four’ consultancy.
No longer will a good suit and a great creative set you apart from the rest. Save you. The agency of the future, and the amazing agencies of today, will be a melting pot of individuals that break the mould of the ‘agency offering’ that many of us are unwilling to let go.
2017 is going to be a huge year. It’s going to be a challenging year and as businesses and individuals, we’ll face challenges and difficulties we’ve not even considered yet. But, it’s an exciting time to exist because with those challenges will come huge opportunities to respectively stand up and take control. I’m personally incredibly excited about it.
May you all have a wonderful break (if you’re taking one) and enjoy the holiday season.
Be well and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.