Image Credit and source - Baz Seal

How marketers can shine a light and forge a path

key takeaways from the global annual The Marketing Society conference

Changemakers Illuminate, how marketers can shine a light and forge a path, key takeouts from the annual The Marketing Society conference.

Times are dark at the moment. The last three years have been tough by any measure- a pandemic, a cost of living crisis, multiple wars. How as marketeers can we engage with the world around us, how can we illuminate in the darkest of times? 

Illumination was the underlying thread that was being explored at the annual Global Marketing Society conference that took place in London last week. A broad and diverse range of speakers took to the stage and shared their perspectives on what we can do as individuals and as a collective to illuminate in these darkest of times.

From Britain’s strictest headteacher who opened the show with the words ‘stop being mediocre’ to Starlight Media- Ukraine’s leading media agency who closed it, and everyone in between, the path became clearer.  

As a first-time attendee, I was really pleasantly surprised by the balance too, of practical marketing advice and inspiration, and the more ‘personal’- the recognition that we can’t deliver the best work or be our best selves unless we ‘slow the f**k down’ (speaker Emma Harris’s words)

As I reflect over the content there were four key themes that have stuck with me:

Purpose (don't eye roll, i'm not talking about superficial brand platitudes)

Purpose has become a bit maligned recently, and unfairly so- shoehorning it into a brand strategy was never a good idea anyway. It was the most consistent theme throughout all the talks- find something to believe in the words of Katherine Birbalsingh, Britain’s strictest headteacher,  it will make you a better leader.

As Martha Lane-Fox said, it’s the first thing she asks herself- will I be proud of myself in 5-10 years, does what I’m doing matter? 

We also heard from Anabela Chan the jewellery designer working with lab-grown diamonds and Naomi Walkland, VP of marketing at Bumble, that businesses that are truly purpose-led thrive. These businesses haven’t had purpose tacked on at the end, they live and breathe it.

For Bumble their purpose, to empower women, is clear from every touchpoint of their business- from their ad campaigns, to their offices, to their culture- it’s what grounds all teams, all departments, they all have one goal. 

To Innovate, increase your uncertainty tolerance and take risks 

Business as usual is now to ‘expect the unexpected’ we’re living in an age of unprecedented breakthrough innovation. Brands need to innovate to keep up. 

Over at Bumble, they are challenged to think differently, take risks- they know it’s the only way to grow, or as their founder says ‘let’s go bigger’. To enable this they create a culture of psychological safety, in order to take risks they say, people need to feel safe.  

Or in the words of Ebay GM Eve Williams- ask yourself- what’s the worst that can happen? Make the CFO your best friend, tell them you’re placing several bets, and if this one doesn’t come off, the next one will, I loved hearing about this in the context of their partnership with Love Island, one of the breakout brand partnerships of last year. 

The more we avoid uncertainty the harder it is to innovate 

Guy Middleton, Global Breakthrough Innovation Director at Diageo also lifted the lid on their approach to innovation, where creating a culture of innovation drives change- a key part of that is accepting failure as part of the process, or as Guy said ‘celebrate the kill’- if a risk leads to failure, that’s fine as long as you learn from it. Where things start isn’t always where they end: experiment, test, learn, pivot. 

Embrace technology, while staying human

We got to watch the potential for AI brought to life by Daniel Craig selling cars, he was pretty effective actually. 

The next revolution is coming, we don’t know yet what that means for our jobs, but not to embrace it, in the words of Martha Lane Fox, is a dereliction of duty. This personally was my biggest ‘ah ha’ moment- we need to get comfortable with the tools of the future. 

A lot of us are scared of AI, but like anything it’s a tool- it needs a human touch, if used well it can enhance, not replace human creativity. Getting ahead of the curve is the best thing you can do to future-proof your career. Or as Anabela Chan said- Jobs used to be about muscle, now they are about brains, and in the future, they will be about hearts.

It’s our very human-ness that will mean technology can’t replace us- as Starlight Media showed us by how brands are adapting in Ukraine to support their consumers in the absolute darkest of times- when brands act with humanity, we can create a better future.  

Finally, slow the f**k down and connect with those around you 

The creative industry has to slow down to be productive. We need to prioritise the right things 
In Emma Harris’s talk we got lots of practical tips for how to do this- manifest, set outcomes for the day, don’t let fear, guilt or FOMO drive decisions, control your controllables, identify ‘mood hoovers’ around you. 

I also loved that in a world that rewards ‘business,’ Martha Lane-Fox told us that leaves space in her day to ‘just be’, and that she was going off to read a book after her talk. 


The conclusion at the end of an action-packed day?

Marketeers are bringers of growth, we can bring light into organizations- but nobody does anything bold alone.  

We need to connect with each other and then connect with consumers on a human level in order to bring in the light.  

By Ruth Fittock, Fractional Marketing Director with over 15 years experience building and launching and scaling some of the UK’s most exciting food & drink brands.  


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