2009: The Changeover

“It’s called a changeover.  The movie goes on and nobody in the audience has any idea.”<o:p></o:p>

The Narrator, Fight Club



Having never worked through any sort of downturn (I don’t think you can really count the ‘dotcom bubble’ of the early noughties as a proper recession), I’ve no first hand experience of the effects it has on the communications industry… <o:p></o:p>

…but then so very few people in our industry do, given the relative youth compared to other sectors… seriously, it’s like some weird sort of Logan’s Run; where are all the 40 year-olds?




So I’m not alone in my relative naivety, but then I don’t think anyone in the brand communications game has ever gone through something like this, because:<o:p></o:p>

a) This is a huge downturn, a once in a century event.  There aren’t many folk left alive who can remember the last time things were this bad.  Sorry, it’s not pessimism, it’s just true<o:p></o:p>

b) Previous recessions for brand communications were less complex; people minimised, or stopped, spending on advertising.   Then when the good times rolled back round again, they started doing what they’d been doing before.<o:p></o:p>

This time though, it’s going to be different, and probably better… welcome to The Changeover.  Marketing will continue, but when we come out of the downturn it’ll have changed forever.   And it’ll all start next year, for three key reasons…<o:p></o:p>

Less waste<o:p></o:p>

You’ll all be familiar with the Pareto principle (or at least the concept if not the name); 20% of your customers will buy about 80% of your product.<o:p></o:p>

In the mass media landscape, though, it was really hard to just target the 20%; there wasn’t a TV channel or poster campaign that the people that just bought most of your product.  So companies are used to targeting everyone, and making the infrequent 80% buy occasionally… the cause and effect of mass communications.<o:p></o:p>

In 2009, the order of the day will be efficiency, as the budgets that allowed people to reach loads of people all at once disappear.  <o:p></o:p>

Of course with the internet, we can focus on talking to the 20%, and holding conversations with them, rather than shouting at them, and the 80% who gather around the margins.   Less waste, more precision.<o:p></o:p>

Necessity is the mother of invention<o:p></o:p>

How do we do this?  Well, marketing people who no longer have huge, expensive campaigns to wrangle and organise should be focussed on how to really encourage dialogue with the core 20%.  Less focus on acquisition, much more on retention.<o:p></o:p>

They have the time it takes to think about and implement programs that build these relationships, and they don’t have the temptation/obligation to use the ‘shortcuts’ that they might think mass media (and the massive spend that went with it) would deliver.  They will have to hold conversations with the people who want to talk.<o:p></o:p>

They will naturally employ the wit, inspiration and cunning that comes to us all naturally when there are no easy way to achieve our aims; there will be a lot more ‘freedia’ and ‘slow planning’ taking the place of traditional marketing.<o:p></o:p>

The industry will develop skills, knowledge, and understanding about how to build communities with the 20%, rather than the ways they learned to do things when money was plentiful and reach was king.  So what happens when the marketing budgets come back?<o:p></o:p>

This Time, Some People Won’t Come Back<o:p></o:p>

This all makes this recession a lot different from previous ones in not just scale, but in the end effects… <o:p></o:p>

The companies who succeed in building relationships using innovative marketing techniques won’t stop it all once budgets are raised again.  They won’t suddenly think ‘let’s stop all this stuff and get back to reach and awareness.  They’ll just start directing more money at the stuff they’ve found out really works.<o:p></o:p>

It’s the changeover, as the Narrator in Fight Club says; marketing, the art of connecting people to companies, will carry on, but the way in which it plays out will be a lot different in the future.  <o:p></o:p>

Just like when the Narrator found out that he and Tyler Durden were one and the same person, it changes everything you thought you knew before, and everything you do in the future.<o:p></o:p>

There’s no point pretending we’re going to go back to the ways things were; when we emerge from the recession, marketing is going to be a completely different beast.  <o:p></o:p>

The Changeover

So, rather than be downcast about the economic prospects for the next 12 months, I think we should consider this to be very, very exciting indeed. 

There has never been a better time to innovate than now.  All the constructs and processes within the brand communications industry that you think don’t make any sense (you need to fly to Argentina to make a 30 second car ad?  REALLY?!??!!), well, there’s no time like the present to challenge them.<o:p></o:p>

2009 will be the year that everything changes, and a lot of it will be very positive for the industry; I think…no, in fact I believe that we’re entering an era where companies will connect to people in ways that both parties benefit from and like.  The age of brand communities; social, participatory, reciprocal.<o:p></o:p>

So, see you in 2009 for The Changeover… have a lovely break, one and all.