2018 the year in review: what’s changed in marketing and brand communications?

2018 has been a year of change for me career wise. I started my career at an entrepreneurial full service marketing agency, that had just set up and which I helped rapidly grow over 10 years, before moving to a large corporate agency with big budgets and global links. I quickly realised that what I really enjoyed (and missed every day!) was the close-knit team, the ability to move quickly, make decisions and see everyone’s contribution to growing a business and its people. So, when I spotted a rare opportunity to join a fast-growing boutique agency that was doing things differently to some of the bigger players, I jumped at the chance to be involved.

I joined award-winning content marketing/brand communications agency Engage Comms as an Account Director half way through 2018 and it really was a breath of fresh air. The company was founded in 2012 and had steadily been working away to collaborate with clients in a range of sectors supporting them in achieving their growth plans and ambitions sustainably over the long-term with people-focused, insight-based, communications-led brand strategies. Coming into 2018, the business had hit a critical point where the founding directors’ ‘quality over quantity’ approach and common-sense ethos was finally being recognised and valued by high-growth organisations. They needed someone to not only help them deliver some exciting and innovative new branding projects but also take the team and the business to the next level over the longer term.

As we approach the end of 2018 and the end of my first six months at Engage Comms, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on what I think are some of the biggest shifts in marketing and brand communications that are taking place and what this will mean for the future (plus what makes Engage Comms best placed to meet these needs)…

B2B marketing has caught up on the digital front – and is set to take over!

Before joining Engage Comms, much of my previous experience was with consumer brands in sectors like retail, leisure, sports and gaming. I was initially worried that some of the specialist sectors we work in such as education & skills and financial services, which require in-depth industry knowledge, would leave me dangerously out of my comfort zone and, dare I say it, a tad bored. But the opposite has been the case. The opportunity to apply big consumer brand thinking to niche B2B environments has been fascinating and learning about industries such as debt advice and manufacturing has made me have to really think differently when it comes to brand communications. I think as we look ahead to 2019 and the next 5-10 years, it will become clear that B2B marketing has not only caught up with B2C brands on the digital front but that it has taken over innovation-wise across the board. This couldn’t be a more exciting time to do be doing a role like mine.

People are your biggest asset no matter what your business

The service industries have always been about people. Despite this, marketing agencies have often been notoriously bad at looking after and showcasing their teams (unlike Engage Comms which is one of the main reasons I am so happy in my new role). But products-led brands have traditionally overlooked the importance of their people even more so. Take manufacturing as an example: Since the industrial revolution, machines have been taking over ‘people power’ and operatives have simply been there to make sure as much volume is produced as quickly and profitably as possible. But manufacturers are waking up to the need for a more ethical, people-centred approach which values a ‘human touch’. That’s why things like craft beer and small batch gins have taken off so much this year – consumers want things that are made by real people who they can relate to and who they know have a real passion for what they do. And you can’t expect your people to put their heart and soul into creating your products and delivering your services if you don’t treat them accordingly and then tell that story through your brand and marketing.

The goal posts have moved – it’s now a long game

As the only man and only football fan in an all-female team, I’m accustomed to a footballing analogy that falls on deaf ears but here’s one you should heed: There is no longer such a thing as a ‘quick win’ in branding and marketing. The goal posts have moved for good and they are now a long way in the distance. If Gareth Southgate’s strategy for the 2018 World Cup taught us anything (other than that which we already know – England always seem to fall at the final hurdle) it is that egos and hype are not a winning recipe. Audiences are savvier and more cynical than they’ve ever been. They want authenticity, honesty, humility and hard work from brands – not flashy campaigns. Persistence, relationship building, and a human touch all pay off in this new world and many big brands are yet to realise it. Those that don’t do so soon could be the ones that disappear in 2019 as so many have fallen by the wayside this year.

 

Here’s to a bright future for me at Engage Comms and for branding/marketing in 2019.

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