Mark Ritson: Buckle up for marketing’s ‘Big Seven’ in 2018

What are you doing wasting your time on segmentation, targeting and positioning when 2018 is about AI, millennials and Blockchain? Here are seven marketing bandwagons you need to jump on before it’s too late.

Do you deserve one of Mark Ritson’s ‘BS in 2018’ badges?

Well, fellow marketers, we are almost at the end of the road for 2017. Can you believe it? As 2018 approaches from over the horizon I wanted to reach out directly to you and check that your marketing is in good shape for the year ahead.

Below you will find seven key challenges to review and then score your own marketing capabilities against. I’ve attended most of the big marketing conferences around the globe this year – both in the UK and further afield. It’s taken me a few weeks but I’ve reviewed the key insights that were provided this year by the gurus and big thinkers in marketing and then synthesised them into this all-important document.

I’m delighted to present to you the ‘Big Seven’ of 2018 – a crucial checklist of the seven marketing challenges for the big year approaching. How does your marketing stack up?

1. Be artificially intelligent

First, and perhaps most obviously, you need to be using artificial intelligence to analyse everything, and I mean everything. Natural forms of intelligence are so clearly part of the ancient 20th century and have no place in a modern marketing approach.

READ MORE: Machine learning may be the future but it’s still pretty dumb

Like most of the people who got on stage this year and mentioned artificial intelligence I have no idea what this concept means or how I would go about using it to do anything marketing-related. But these constraints should not hold me, or you, back. You need lots of intelligence and it needs to be artificial. No doubt about it. If you can combine it with machine learning, all the better. I don’t know what that means either. But it is also crucial.

2. Be virtually real

Next, it’s equally important than you exit from reality – at least as it currently stands – and make sure most of your marketing is centered on virtual reality. I’m yet to work out why we are so desperate to strap as many customers as possible into headsets and force them to endure badly rendered graphics while people snigger at them from the external realm of ‘real reality’. But again, this is a detail that you can iron out while you are executing. It’s important to not let basic questions like ‘what the fuck has this got to with marketing?’ get in the way. That’s the wrong question. The right questions are ‘how do those VR goggles feel?’ and ‘can you see the dancing monkey?’.

Plug your VR into your AI and ML will be boosted so much that your marketing will improve exponentially. Probably.

The key point is that unless you are spending at least half your marketing budget on a headset and a rapidly obsolete software platform that no one uses and which has no actual connection to marketing of any kind, you are clearly not doing your job properly and will soon be replaced by someone younger and better at stuff than you. Or possibly a robot.

The next bit is obvious but in case you missed the inherent synergy of these first two approaches let me underline it here. Clearly, you need to connect your virtual reality to your artificial intelligence to achieve full machine learning capability. I just wet myself mid-way through typing that last sentence, by the way. Plug your VR into your AI and ML will be boosted so much that your marketing will improve exponentially. Probably.

3. The chief content officer is king

Next in the Big Seven, you need to concentrate on connecting with customers. The answer is clearly not to utilise ancient and outdated approaches like ‘advertising’ or ‘CRM’ but to move beyond these fading systems and into the world of content marketing. Rather than creating ads we should be creating content. And rather than buying media we should simply manage the content so our target customers can access it organically.

The key to getting this working is to take the advice of the Content Marketing Institute and get a chief content officer onto your board as soon as possible. Too many companies are struggling with archaic executive teams in which outdated roles like a ‘chief finance officer’ or ‘chief operations officer’ bog down a company’s strategy with pointless issues like ‘revenues’ and ‘supply chain’. Replacing a CFO with a CCO is a big step in the right direction.

One of my first moves with the clients I work for is to meet the board and immediately propose they hire a chief content officer. The response from the senior executives is always positive. One CFO recently responded to my suggestion by banging his head against the boardroom table – that is how energised he was at the prospect.

And there is strong quantitative proof that this approach works. Sainsbury’s recently reported a 9% drop in first half profits. What does Sainsbury’s not have? You guessed it – no chief content officer. I rest my case.

4. Storify everything

Clearly a CCO will get you a long way down the road in 2018 but it will only properly work if you match your content capability with the obvious complementarity of storytelling. Too many companies focus on hiring product managers and branding people and neglect the more important role of storytelling.

Even a cursory scan of LinkedIn will reveal that there is an impressive army of executives, many of whom sport equally impressive beards, who list storytelling as one of their key strengths. A company cannot have too many of these people inside the marketing department. Indeed, the optimum structure for 2018 would be to replace all the traditional marketing roles within your company with storytellers.

Can you imagine the power of a marketing department exclusively staffed with storytellers? Who needs strategy when you can weave a magical story? Does gross margin really matter when I can tell an impressive tale to explain it all away? And who wants brand managers when fairytales are an everyday aspect of operations?

Again, it is easy to find empirical support for storytelling and show a direct causal link to profits. Take the sad case of VW and their recent issues with the Dieselgate scandal. Others have argued, largely unsuccessfully, that what the let German car manufacturer down was a total absence of corporate ethics and leadership. In reality, the roots of VW’s downfall can be traced to an abject lack of storytellers at their Wolfsburg HQ.

If the company had the requisite number of storytellers in place the disgraceful fraud engineered by VW to cheat diesel emissions testing would have been transformed into an absorbing quest to use innovation in a daring attempt to defy authority. The ensuing brand crisis that engulfed VW would have become a fascinating and ultimately uplifting account of corporate endurance. And VW executives like Oliver Schmidt, who was recently jailed in America for seven years for his role in the scandal, would have been transformed into Mandela-type figures who put their love for the brand and diesel emissions ahead of their own personal wellbeing.

5. Target millennials – and only millennials

Next we need to talk targeting. If you understand the nature of marketing in 2018 you will already know what I am talking about. I am talking millennials. Why would you even consider targeting anyone else?

Sure, it’s true that every empirical attempt to prove that this giant demographic group qualifies as a homogeneous segment of the market has only served to disprove their existence. And clearly even if millennials did qualify as a segment their lack of disposable income would render them significantly less valuable than most of the other segments of the market. But these are old-world arguments that miss the key points about millennials: they are cool, young and multicultural and they hang out together in the sunshine looking at their phones and doing creative stuff. Yeah!

6. Have a millennial-friendly brand purpose

Let’s move on to another key facet of the Big Seven for 2018. You are going to need to have a very clear brand purpose at the centre of everything to pull this off. Millennials, if they actually existed as a segment, would demand a clear and transparent brand purpose or they would simply not buy from you.

READ MORE: Heineken should remember marketing is about profit, not purpose

They don’t really care about ‘what’ the product is, they just care about ‘why’ you made it. That makes the millennial segment incredibly hard to market to; partly because they might go into the supermarket to buy bananas and bag of flour but come out with a unicycle and a bottle of brandy, but also because they demand a brand purpose. Who cares how your beer tastes? Why did you make it? And what are you doing about orangutans in Borneo?

When crafting your brand purpose it’s important to follow a few simple rules for success. First, make sure you scrap all your existing positioning that has worked well up to this point. Next, it’s best to use the same basic words as all your competitors because, unlike old-fashioned positioning strategy, brand purpose works best when yours looks pretty much identical to all the other companies out there.

Who cares how your beer tastes? Why did you make it? And what are you doing about orangutans in Borneo?

I recommend taking the following words: integrity, innovation, community, positive, future, today, tomorrow, life, create and inspire. Next find a chimpanzee, small marmoset or any other animal with opposable thumbs and ask it to select four or five of these words and then throw them randomly onto the floor. Line up the words and – hey presto – your brand purpose has been fashioned. Inspire today with innovation. Creating community from integrity. Making tomorrow great. The possibilities are endless.

Again, ignore the naysayers who point out that your brand purpose of ‘Inspiring the human spirit with integrity’ is flawed because customers for industrial solvents aren’t interested in that; because it looks exactly like your competitor’s brand purpose of “Integrity and inspiration for all humanity’; because your solvents are made from endangered panda babies; and because you run all your operations out of Costa Rica to save a bundle on tax. These are old-world, closed-minded criticisms. Your brand purpose negates those points. Get out there and be purposeful.

7. Blockchain, Blockchain, Blockchain

Finally, you will have to be on top of Blockchain in 2018, big time. Initially this might be the trickiest challenge for next year because you have no idea what Blockchain is or even whether it’s a verb or a noun. Fortunately, as no one else in marketing knows what it is either you can be assured that all you need to do is to drop the word ‘Blockchain’ into your conversations and presentations approximately four times an hour, and then step back and look like a digital marketing genius.

At first this can be challenging. Practise by throwing out an occasional ‘But what about Blockchain?’ in meetings when there is a lull in the conversation. If you give a presentation try adding a slide that says simply ‘Blockchain’ and then a question mark over a stock photo of a woman looking pensive and worried about the future in an office.

If your boss challenges you with what you are working on next year, don’t shy away from simply saying ‘Blockchain’ in an aggressive manner that suggests it should have been obvious and then stomping, or ideally running, off down the corridor. Once you feel comfortable with all of this, add ‘Blockchain’ to your LinkedIn profile, ideally between ‘digital transformation’ and ‘storytelling’.

And there you have it, the Big Seven of 2018.

  1. Artificial intelligence
  2. Virtual reality
  3. Content marketing
  4. Storytelling
  5. Millennials
  6. Brand purpose
  7. Blockchain

Of course, old-world traditional marketers will probably argue that not including outdated concepts like consumers, brand management, strategy, distribution and pricing from the list smacks of stupidity. Again, don’t let this naïve, old-fashioned viewpoint deter you. Marketing is not about what it was once about. Granted, you do not have any formal training in marketing and don’t actually know what it used to be about. But whatever it was. It has changed, radically.

Marketers must learn to make choices and to prioritise the important stuff over the traditional, outdated distractions. It’s out with having a marketing strategy or actually doing segmentation or pricing. Other people in the company can do that stuff or we can ask our agency to help with that. You need to get on with your VR-, AI- and Blockchain-associated activities as soon as possible.

Take a long hard look at your marketing approach and then look at the Big Seven in 2018. Give yourself a score out of seven. How well positioned is your marketing for 2018? At Marketing Week we have created small lapel pins with the inscription ‘BS in 2018’ for any marketers who score seven out of seven. Let us know in the comments section how well you performed and your BS in 2018 lapel pin will be in the post. Wear it with pride.

Professor Mark Ritson will be teaching the next Marketing Week Mini MBA course from 24 April 2018. To book your place, sign up at marketingweek.com/mini-mba.

Don’t miss Marketing Week’s AI and technology conference Supercharged, taking place on 1 May in London, where you can learn how AI, machine learning and emerging technology are powering marketing. Register now.

Hide Comments27 Show Comments
Comments
  • Rachel Fairley 13 Dec 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Loving that digital doesn’t even get a mention now. Thanks for bringing us the digest of the zeitgeist. I’m going to stay away from these and swim up stream doing strategy because it sounds there is work to be had there while everyone runs towards the Big Seven.

  • Frank Kowalski 13 Dec 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Agreed, most of the ideas are truly rubbish and must be put in the same corner with 3d printing. However, AI looks actually promising in pricing. It looks that this technology could be used to chew all data about the previous behaviour online and offer a unique price for everyone.

  • Alexander Levashov 14 Dec 2017 at 3:13 am

    Hilarious.

    I think about using artificial intelligence to create storytelling content linked with brand purpose and distribute it through blockchain in virtual reality to target millenials.

  • Callum Sibley 14 Dec 2017 at 8:33 am

    Although I cannot hand on heart say I’m well positioned to execute the Big Seven for my clients, I feel that having a ‘BS in 2018’ pin will help me strive for marketing greatness. Could you still send me one, please? #makemarketinggreatagain

  • Roy MacMillan 14 Dec 2017 at 10:20 am

    Very well done, with the just the right tone. You made me laugh this morning, especially on the ‘millennial-friendly brand purpose’ piece. You’ve strengthened my resolve to smile (through gritted teeth) and work patiently to ease clients off the superficial BS and help them understand that the traditional concepts may not be ‘top of mind’ but are still essential. #makemarketinggreatagain

  • Dominic Lloyd 14 Dec 2017 at 10:31 am

    I’m just here for the free pin..

  • Pratistha P 14 Dec 2017 at 11:51 am

    🙂 This article is the best way to conclude 2017. Thanks, Professor!
    But, I scored 2/7. Guilty of content marketing and story telling.

  • Grant Simmons 14 Dec 2017 at 12:51 pm

    I am ashamed to say that I have injected Millennial tactics into marketing strategy meetings, storytelling into Content Marketing meetings and AI/ML into our weekly rundown of ATATAT (Acronyms To Avoid, Tete A Tetes).
    I shall now go stand quietly in the corner with a headset and self-indulge in some virtual duncing.
    Cheers

  • Stuart Powell 14 Dec 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Again, sheer brilliance from Ritson!! I do want a free badge though, just so I can point them in the right direction.

  • Daniel Prendergast 15 Dec 2017 at 7:15 pm

    What about relatability? I don’t doubt that your article is well researched Mark but if your content isn’t authentic and relatable in 2018 you’re simply dead in the water. Your influencers and key opinion leaders won’t engage with millennials, your click bait won’t drive reach, engagement or conversion, and your AI/ML/VR chatbot drones will take off with your driverless car whilst simultaneously churning out killer brand marketing strategies and telling virtual stories that render all marketers extinct. Probably.

  • Lulama NTENTESA 17 Dec 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks Prof, I couldn’t help but chuckle at your Big Seven – 2018 list. As always, you’ve articulated brilliantly what we’ve been thinking throughout the year as slides upon slides were presented to us with these 7 “revolutionary” marketing gimmicks.

  • Marlene Greenhalgh 17 Dec 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Jumping on and off bandwagons can be thirsty work.
    A great refresher course
    SEVEN UP:
    Seven up with an acidic tone
    Each supercharged and driven home
    Grab all seven for a BS Badge
    I’ll have both please cos I’m on the cadge
    Thank you

  • Marc Egelhofer 17 Dec 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Well, what does content marketing actually mean? Everyone seems to pretend that this is a new thing. I don’t think so. There is also some evidence piling up that shows that we do too much content, and too much worthless too.

  • Tony Petruzalek 17 Dec 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Mark we all know you too well. BS can also stand for Bull Sh%$. I am guessing that is more of the view of what you have written. Those of us who read your stuff on a regular basis know you do not believe in a word that was typed;) It was so obvious there was no need to read any of it…. Made me laugh just before Christmas. Thanks for keeping me entertained throughout the year

  • Kam Mistry 18 Dec 2017 at 8:56 am

    A great read to start to the day.

    ‘Yay’ marketing ‘does my head in’ …and the obsession with this tenuous ‘why?’stuff. Hmm…

    Common sense and traditional experience just seems to be drowned out by BS and drivel…and then there are the BS statistics.

    Are we on the verge of a dotcom type bubble for BS marketing? I bloody hope so!

  • Michael Payton 18 Dec 2017 at 10:09 am

    You scared me enough to google ‘blockchain’. Still really confused because it looks like something even an IT geek would get bored with after ten minutes. So thanks for the heads-up, I will now block all my chains as instructed – I might even have found a use for that sodding robot.

  • Bart Black 18 Dec 2017 at 11:36 am

    Funny because its sooooo true! Mark always a great read you have made 2017 much more bearable for this humble marketer.

  • Tricia Murray 18 Dec 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I have no words.. (because I don’t have enough storytellers). Brilliant as always.

  • Anna Stone 18 Dec 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Immediately after reading this I received 4 headlines in a newsletter:
    – Ford to move autonomous vehicle business to Detroit
    – IBM & Walmart launch blockchain food safety alliance in China with JD.com
    – Microsoft infuses Office 365 with AI capabilities
    – IBM recruits quantum computing partners
    So I’m sorry to say Mark that there appears to be a number 8 – I shall have my quantum computing partner send you some details…

  • Kerstin Lutz 19 Dec 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Brilliant!

  • Brian George 19 Dec 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Well done Ritson. A brilliant and really funny ****-take on many of the theoretically on-trend aspects of marketing practice, because after all it’s all BS. But please, please can I still have a badge 🙂

  • Harrison Hunter 20 Dec 2017 at 11:17 am

    This is so good. A word to the author… if you wrote a book, I would buy it.

  • David Cuddihy 20 Dec 2017 at 11:52 am

    The last three paragraphs really summed up how funny and sarcastic this article is!!!! : )

  • Eric Pena 8 Jan 2018 at 2:42 am

    You’re a stable genius!

  • Nick Turner 8 Jan 2018 at 9:23 am

    Is there any truth that Mark Ritson has morphed into Jeremy Clarkson – or has Jeremy Clarkson morphed into Mark Ritson?

  • Mark Eardley 19 Mar 2018 at 3:43 pm

    You seem to have missed the essentiality of casting spells and fighting orcs. Seriously, the head of global comms at gyro reckons this is where it’s at in B2B marketing. He thinks buyers want vendors who are: “Willing to cast spells, fight orcs and, in turn, share in our victories. Even though it is business, it’s not about weighing numbers, metrics or being rational. It is about feeling. It has to feel right.” When you couldn’t even make it up, no wonder it’s so hard to keep up.

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