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Irish brands and marketers must ensure plans and strategies are in place for future success

2020 is a landmark year for a lot of the marketing and business community. Over the past decade a number of business plans and strategies were based around “the road to 2020”, or a version of it. Some people may wonder what the next decade will bring for brands or marketers but it is a fruitless task predicting exactly what the next 12 months, let alone the decade, will bring. Looking back 10 years ago, Nokia was the clear leader in the smartphone market, Google’s total annual revenue was less than their quarterly numbers in 2019 and Instagram was an independent start-up with a limited advertising model. It’s all different today.

The preceding decade has certainly been a period of technological evolution and disruption. The 2020s will accelerate this digital transformation, yet can we predict what this next decade or year can bring? No. However we can outline three focus areas Irish brands and marketers should consider when building their marketing strategies in 2020. This isn’t an exhaustive list but some of the key areas that should be considered when preparing for 2020 and beyond.

1. The Decade of Regulation

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is now a well-known term for most businesses and consumers. Regulators have taken their first step at addressing consumer privacy concerns and, in turn, holding the technology players to account. What is clear is that regulation in this decade will increase, evolve and continue to impose huge changes on marketing strategies. This is the just beginning of what we believe will be the decade of regulation.

One impact of this increased regulation is the decline of cookies, the main means of how marketers tracked consumer online activity for the past 25 years. Apple’s Safari browser, Google Chrome and Firefox have increased their privacy controls, limiting certain types of tracking and cookies. Recent studies have shown people rejecting cookies to some extent, and we will continue to see browsers, ad blockers and users opting to reject cookies.

The decade of regulation could mean the death of cookies as we know them. Brands will need to ensure they have the technical infrastructure in place to capture data in the correct way, and use it responsibly to deliver content or advertising that is useful but not intrusive, and respects consumer privacy stipulations. Platforms with signed-in environments and scaled data solutions will see greater dominance, and this plays into the hands of the major technology platforms or ecosystems ie Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

2. Ecosystems will be king

Back in 2010, each of the main technology platforms had very clear roles and a value exchange with their consumers. Amazon was primarily known for selling products, Google was an advertising behemoth, Facebook was about connecting people and Apple was a leader in hardware. That has completely changed. The leading technology platforms or ecosystems are growing stronger and constantly increasing their scope to capture consumer attention, consumer data and, most importantly, consumer’s wallets.

Take video as an example. Apple TV has committed $6 billion to creating its own content; Amazon Prime is producing the most expensive TV series in history (estimated at over $1 billion); Facebook Watch has more than 140 million people per day viewing video content; and Google has the largest video platform globally in YouTube. This is without considering Netflix and Disney.

Then look at retail and commerce. Amazon, the world’s largest ecommerce platform, is now selling through physical stores; in the US Facebook is starting to sell through its social channels via Instagram Shopping; Google Shopping is growing at a breakneck pace globally and is a core part of any online retail strategy. The platforms are also looking at ways to ensure they keep consumers within their own ecosystem and make it as frictionless as possible – for example all four platforms now offer payment facilities (Apple Pay, Google Pay etc).

Brands will benefit from the high reach opportunity to engage with a highly relevant target audience in these ecosystems, but they will pay a premium to communicate with the consumers most likely to buy their product or service. Brands will need to have a clear ecosystem strategy to ensure they maximise their budget and capitalise on the opportunity they offer.

3. Greater connectivity will enable growth

With Irish ecommerce sales forecast to hit nearly €4 billion by 2024 – from $2 billion in 2019 – consumers will demand speed, a safe and secure environment and greater connectivity when transacting. There has been much debate and speculation about the national broadband plan, but the launch of 5G in Ireland in 2019 is a strong indicator of the infrastructure improvement Irish consumers will experience in the 2020s.

5G means access to much faster connection speeds and near-instantaneous response times that can ultimately drive growth for business, and better experiences for consumers. According to the recent 5G Focus report in The Irish Times, 4G has been about connecting people and 5G will be about connecting everything that can be connected. 5G will lead to a better-connected world that will open up the Internet of Things to a wider audience and help people in their daily lives.

Websites, mobile sites and apps need to be able to handle this increased demand and expectation from consumers, and impact from technology such as digital assistants. 5G will help drive an increased use of the internet and in turn will also increase the amount of data generated. Brands will need the right infrastructure in place to house and use this data responsibly; they will need to have well trained Data Scientists to help use it correctly and enable them to make smarter decisions that ultimately better serve their consumers.

Greater connectivity will better enable artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to deliver a vast array of benefits to marketers; it will also have a disruptive impact on the majority of industries. Oxford Economics is predicting up to 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide will be displaced globally by 2030. All of this means that businesses need to intimately understand the positive impact AI and automation can have, but also prepare to reskill, educate, retrain and recruit people with new skillsets as this technology enhances existing capabilities or indeed replaces the need for certain roles.

What next?

The good news for brands or marketers who feel they haven’t addressed or considered these areas is that it is very early days in this era of digital transformation. The Digital Transformation Index, a study conducted by Dell and Intel, reported that only 7 per cent of Irish businesses would see themselves as digital leaders, slightly above the global average but with a higher than average number of “digital laggard” businesses in Ireland. It will be crucial for Irish brands and marketers to ensure they lay the foundations in 2020 so they are set up for success in the future. Nobody can say for sure what this decade will bring, we are confident though that these three areas of focus should be at least considered, and help form part of a future vision, plan or blueprint.

Shenda Loughnane is group MD of Dentsu Aegis Network and a board member of IAPI, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland. Mark Fagan is Chief Operating Officer, iProspect Global

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