Riding The Storm: Insights From The Frontline

20 Jan, 2023

Whilst there is a cult towards the innovative and the next big thing, being bold and brave without deep understanding of the consequences is at best foolish, and at worst destructive, argues Mary Keane-Dawson in her latest column for MAD//Insight.

In July, MAD//Fest's theme is 'Riders of the Storm' - as brands look to steer through forecasted choppy waters, marketers have an opportunity to step up and cement their reputation as the growth and transformation engine of business. But how and where do you find growth when all the discussions are about how to cut costs, , manage lower consumer spend and navigate the inflationary pressures of both supply chain and distribution, while delivering bigger, better and brighter results?

I have been a leader in the advertising and marketing world for nearly four decades, so I have experienced many of these tensions and challenges before. The one key learning from these economic yo-yoing years of both strife and success for me and the businesses that I have led,  is that in order to navigate uncertainty, you need to put resources and effort where they will have the most positive effect. There will be a day of reckoning for those businesses that have taken the decision to become increasingly aggressive towards their customers, whilst hiding behind recorded messages, extraordinarily ugly soundtracks, online only contact and/or 'The pandemic excuse" - yes that's you Ryanair. (Personal gripe over...!)

However, in my humble opinion, experience alone will only get us so far into the coming storm, and if our world, as prophesied does become increasingly chaotic, disturbed and unfriendly, strategic decision making will become much more complex, and fundamental, to positive business outcomes than ever before.

Once we factor into this pandemonium the constantly changing technological and consumer behavioural environments, we have to augment experience and talent with data driven actionable insights that can guide the strategic decision making process. This is essential if we want to succeed in finding new and alternative revenues, whether you are a consumer facing brand, an innovative adtech SaaS provider or a creative AI tech agency. Our business models face previously unthinkable pivoting and pirouetting that will not only make you dizzy, it will need more than talent and guts. We absolutely need actionable insights integrated across all silos.

In our ostensibly exciting media industry, there is a cult towards the bold, the innovative, the always-new, the next big thing. We look up to figures like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates as trailblazers who cheerfully flew in the face of impossibility. However, what we are ignoring in our enthusiasm, is the bones and structure behind the innovations. Let us not forget the cases of Theranos, WeWork, and dear Elon Musk etc. In my book, without the strategic use of data and the utilisation of a decision making engine, which will de-risk and drive indicative certainty of 70% we are missing both the point and most importantly the opportunity.

Being bold or brave without deep understanding of the impact and consequences of our investments is at best foolish, and at worst destructive. I remember oh so vividly when 'paid for' search was a craft first practice, where we made specialism an exclusive and very often dark art  - forcing protectionism in data and techniques, ignoring what the data and technological advancements were really telling us, that our industry must learn the lessons from how that era led onto the black box of programmatic, insane media inflation and highly dodgy business practices.

To avoid the march of commoditisation in our industry, today and tomorrow's hero clients, inspirational business leaders and our technology and creative innovators need to use data and technology ethically, wisely and imaginatively to rescue our industry and deliver real purpose and meaningful experiences to clients and consumers. 

Time to utilise the decision making engines before we lose our ability to make decisions.

Mary Keane-Dawson is an advertising industry legend, BIMA 2022 Hall of Fame Inductee, NDA Media Hero 2022 winner, and Managing Partner at Digital Transformation Consultancy, Kiln Labs

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