We catch up with Ian Thomas, senior counsel – brand and marketing at MRM to find out why data and analytics are the brand trend to beat, how employees have become the focus of good marketing during coronavirus and why work from home is here to stay
1. Which brands have stood out during COVID and why
In terms of reputation, there have been brand angels, demons and breakthroughs.
On the side of the angels, the deeper role of the brands we really depend on have been revealed. More significantly, it’s their employees who have enjoyed elevated status in the eyes of the population. Besides the NHS and its workers, there are the shelf-stackers, shop assistants, bus drivers, delivery drivers and riders.
Heading into the crisis, the BBC was under considerable political pressure about its funding and public service mission, but its response to the pandemic will have reminded people about the valuable role a broadcaster with a public and impartial mission can play during a crisis.
As for demons, it’s yet to be seen whether brands like Wetherspoons and British Airways will suffer a long-term reputational hit for the way they handled redundancies and restructuring but, in the short-term, I’m sure they have.
Finally, there have been breakthroughs for businesses like Zoom whose brand has become so synonymous with video calls that it’s tantalisingly close to becoming a verb. Meanwhile, limited access to exercise has propelled awareness and growth of brands like Peloton and Gymshark – the latter serving people who want to take advantage of exercise as well as those wanting something comfortable to wear when working from home.
2. Are there any clear trends that are having better cut through from a brand awareness perspective?
Data (and analytics) has been the dominant trend for some time now. With its promise of more targeted spend and revelation of ever deeper insights, data’s role at both the pull and push ends of the discipline – from service and proposition design through to promotion – is becoming more and more prevalent.
Unquestionably, data does result in efficiencies in marketing spend. And its application is only going to increase. But its growing influence has led to a debate within Adland about the long-term consequences of short-termism in brand building. (Google “Les Binet” and “Peter Field” and the phrase “long and short of it”…and dig in.)
Why short-termism? Because analytics can lull marketers, eager to demonstrate return on investment of activity, into pursuing a strategy of serial short-term sugar highs because it’s pleasure you can measure. Got to hit a target? Then dig into the data and dial up the pay per click spend at a fraction of the cost of broadcast and print ads.
But the more granular your targeting is now, the less saliency your brand will enjoy beyond its current target audience, and so the less predisposed people will be to pay attention to it in future – it’s the law of diminishing returns.
That’s why I have a hunch that we’re going to see the revival of two powerful but overlooked ideas – persuasion and publicity – as imperatives of dual-speed marketing strategies. Persuasion because the patient and persistent demonstration of your value is essential to winning trust; publicity because, in a world of paid, earned and owned media, ‘publicity’ is a much more appropriate way to think about the blend of communications necessary to be persuasive.
3. How has the current pandemic changed working habits?
I’ve worked from home for most of the last decade so I’ve been really lucky and my working day hasn’t been affected like it has for so many other people. But what has changed is the range of tools I’ve adopted so we’re able to continue to work collaboratively with clients – in particular Miro, Notion and, of course, Zoom.
4. Once lockdown is over, what do you think will change and what will stay the same?
We like to think that experiences like this will profoundly change things but – if a vaccine proves effective – our instincts will be to settle back into as familiar a routine as possible at the first opportunity.
So I’m not convinced that the role of offices will change significantly mainly because the idea of working from home is only really attractive to people who a) can work at a desk and b) have the space to do so.
5. What positives have you taken from the whole lockdown experience?
I have learned a lot about the different tools out there which help facilitate working with clients remotely, which has been really useful. I always had an interest in live events as a format and have been involved in the Paraplanners Assembly from the start.
This year, it wasn’t possible to host the national Assembly in teepees in rural Northamptonshire, so we created a hybrid event – called the Big Day Out (In) – which combined a live studio feed from the beach of an imaginary coastal resort with a live event platform where participants could gather together. It’s been fantastic to think about format and theme in a way that, despite being scattered across the UK, brings people together so they feel part of an occasion.
6. If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice what would it be?
Don’t stop your regular pension contributions.
7. What would you do if you were head of the FCA for the day?
I’ve been beaten to the punch on this by the FCA themselves. They’ve announced an inquiry into deferred payment services like Klarna. I’m really pleased to see that because they feel a lot like the new incarnation of payday loans providers.
8. What is the one column or website that you read every day?
I read the Guardian daily.
9. What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000?
Get the kitchen done!