At the start of every year, industry experts talk about new trends and their latest predictions for the next 12 months. More often than not, this focuses on the shiniest and newest toys and technologies. For five years or so running, it was that this year would be the ‘year of mobile’. Since then, the experts have predicted the rise of AR, VR, wearables and blockchain on more than one occasion.

Added to this, TV has been predicted to die many times over – and before that, it was radio. And a year ago I read that 2018 was to be the year when influencer marketing came of age – at the same time another article said the influencer bubble was about to burst!

But does this constant chase for innovation – and the marketers’ inner magpie – mean that some important marketing fundamentals are being forgotten? Sadly, it probably does. And so, before trying to forecast the future (often through the crystal ball of vested interest), it might be beneficial to first ensure we learn from the lessons of the past – and focus on the basics that have always underpinned any sort of sustainable marketing success.

To begin with, we can’t look back on 2018 without mentioning GDPR and the fallout from Cambridge Analytica. In our data-obsessed industry, both these events served as timely reminders of the need to be ‘people first’. That data and technology is a means to an end, but our obsession should be on the customer.

That may seem blindingly obvious, but I’ve witnessed a number of occasions of data blindness where a brand’s or agency’s fixation with the numbers has left both common sense and the need to connect with consumers at a human level gasping in their wake.

It doesn’t have to be like that. In a world of increased automation, the real winners are going to be the brands who create an emotional, sometimes irrational bond with their customers. A bond so strong that they won’t leave a purchase decision to a machine, no matter how good its data may be.

This need to continue to build brands leads us on to another 2018 learning – and solid gold fundamental: the danger of short-termism. Now clearly this isn’t hot-off-the-presses news, as the IPA first published its famous report The Long and the Short of It back in 2013.

However, this year continued to add to the mounting evidence showing that over-focusing on short-term tactics and vanity metrics is at the detriment to genuine marketing effectiveness. Yet despite this, a survey conducted by the IPA and ISBA in October showed that marketers are still prioritising tactics over strategy: three-quarters of marketers and agencies said that short-term tactical needs often take priority over longer-term objectives.

This marketing paralysis, where the industry is aware of the problem yet powerless or reluctant to do anything about it, remains. And coincidentally, as the IPA and ISBA released their survey, a report from Works Research spoke of ‘The Brand Gap’, the difference between what agencies know and how they behave. It also highlighted that short-term thinking is taking precedence.

So perhaps, rather than focusing on what’s likely to be new and exciting in 2019, it should be time to take a step back and ensure that brands are getting the basics right. Is it still people-first? Are technology and innovation, even the latest things like machine learning, serving a genuine purpose? To paraphrase Jurassic Park, just because you could do something doesn’t mean you should.

Some brands are making sure their focus is on the basics despite the many pressures. For example, UK retailers have had an incredibly tough year and John Lewis is far from immune, with a subdued Christmas for all forecast.

Yet while many competitors reverted to frankly forgettable product-centric advertising, John Lewis held the line. Once again, it delivered a powerful brand ad with Elton John that looks to emotionally connect customers with the brand and will benefit them beyond this Christmas.

Once the lessons have been learned, then unquestionably we should be looking forward. But let’s elevate the conversation and focus on three-year strategies and five-year brand ambitions rather than 12-month trends. The latter is hardly conducive to marketing shaking off the ‘colouring-in department’ moniker that’s plagued it for so long.

Adam Morton

Adam Morton


Managing Partner, Client Services, UM.