Announcing our Theme for 2021: “Reinvention: Rebuilding the Systems of Social Media Marketing for a Better Future”

If we have learned anything from the tumultuousness and catastrophic events of 2020, it is that we need to make substantial and even systemic changes in society and especially in our industry. The spotlight of scrutiny has never been brighter and what is in plain sight for all of us to see is a business landscape that has failed to adequately respond to the moment.

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The Great Re-Invention

Author, marketing guru, and former Chief Growth Officer at Publicis, Rishad Tobaccowala, says that we are in the midst of a Great Re-Invention of society, business, and ourselves.

What he means is that at the macro-level, when we face societal change and economic uncertainty, systems undergo a kind of stress test. All systems go through it, government, healthcare, education, infrastructure, business, and of course marketing. In 2020, many of these systems failed, or at the very least, buckled under the weight of a global pandemic, civic uprising, misinformation, and economic uncertainty.

How Our Systems Are Failing Us

The system of marketing buckled and continues to be weighed down by a failure to be strategic, versus. tactical, an obsession with short term gains, the glorification of shiny social media, an ocean of unwanted and frankly irrelevant data, the latest technology or tools, and probably most importantly, a failure by marketers to put themselves in the shoes of their customers and lead with empathy.

There’s a reason why so many brand messages during the early days of the Pandemic were trite, cliched, and in many cases completely tone-deaf, or that marketers felt paralyzed as the ground swell of racial inequality led to an uprising, protests and civil unrest. As marketers, we were ill-equipped to quickly respond and adapt to the movement. The reason why is there are only a few stand-out examples during this period, including the likes of Postmates, P&G, Clorox, Aviation Gin and AirBnb comes down to whether their brand values, leadership and messages were grounded in something bigger than their own organizations.

These examples, both the failures and the successes, should force us to look at every aspect of our industry and ask important questions, such as, what does our brand actually stand for? Does our leadership embody empathic-led and human-first principles of marketing? Is our message right, and are we engaging appropriately through the mediums in which we communicate? Most importantly, how must we reinvent ourselves and how should we as marketers respond to the challenges of our time?

Reinvention v.s. Invention

During periods of massive disruption and societal and business change, we also experience something truly remarkable; invention and ingenuity. The creation of something new. The Phoenix rising from the ashes.

There are businesses and brands that exist today that have become category leaders including AirBnb, Uber, and Pinterest that were invented after the Great Recession of 2008. There will be businesses and brands that will be invented in 2020 and over the coming years that will be similarly disruptive. This is certain. Invention is good. Invention is sexy and cool. But what needs reinvention? What does this moment mean in terms of fixing what’s broken and designing new systems for how we do marketing?

In his October 2020 piece, “The ABCDE of Marketing Re-Invented,” Rishad addresses this question through a framework for how marketing has changed and is changing into the future.

A = Audience
B = Brand
C = Content
D = Data
E = Enterprise

In adapting the ABCDE Framework for reinvention we have put together a list of questions, which we believe represent the priority areas that we need to focus on:

Audiences: Who we are marketing to, how we find them, and how has their mindset shifted? How can we think about people and not consumers?
Brand: Brands continue to be important but the way they are built is changing greatly and our relationship with them is complicated. How should experience and purpose play into brand strategy?

Content: Has always been a key to marketing but here is much more of it, there are new ways to make it, faster and cheaper, so how do we cut through the noise?

Data: Data is key to the future of marketing, but very few companies will find a competitive edge in how they use it. How do we focus on quality versus quantity?

Enterprise: A progressive company is where information and decision making is transparent and leaders are accountable. How do we give power back to the people and inspire leaders to step out of their way?

Where Does Re-Invention Start?

We believe that reinvention starts with acknowledging what is not working, asking the hardest and most important questions, and being willing to embrace the idea that change, however hard, or potentially costly in the short term, is what will allow us to survive and thrive in the future.
Much of the change we’ve experienced in recent years has been technologically driven, and we imagine this change will continue and even accelerate, but as marketers, the change we should want to affect, the kind of future we should be working hard to realize, is one that is human-first, technology second.

With some much still uncertain about the future, we should come together and commit that 2021 will be the year where our industry undergoes the greatest reinvention of our lifetime and that the outcome we are striving for is more equitable, fair, and positive and less extractive, exploitative and divisive.

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