2023 was a year filled with both subtle and overt changes for marketers. We experienced experimenting with generative AI to understand how it might disrupt our industry, the economic uncertainty that continues to create implications for both B2C and B2B buyers, ongoing tension between marketers wanting to invest in long-term brand building and business leaders seeking more immediate sales to keep the company viable, and we’re still having conversations around measurement and attribution and how to properly demonstrate the value of marketing. 

As we push further into 2024 I wanted to share the foundational elements that we can depend on, regardless of what the year has in store. 

Prioritise market orientation 

I agree with Mark Ritson that market orientation is the first rule of marketing: we are not our customers; we do not have the answers – they do.

And now more than ever, we need to stay close to our customers. 

It’s only through direct interactions with them that we’ll understand how their world is changing, what pressures they’re facing, how this is changing their behaviour and what role our product or service can play in their lives. 

Large-scale market research that happens infrequently will only take you so far. It’s much better to create a system of little-and-often interactions: 

  • Speak with 3-5 customers (or more!) each quarter about their pain points, motivations, buying journey and the alternatives they’ve considered.
  • Where possible, visit customers in the setting in which they’re using your product so you can see the full context of how it’s being used.
  • Regularly check in with the Sales team about what messaging is resonating best with customers and what the most frequently asked questions are.
  • Spend time with the Customer Service team to understand what the common complaints are as well as the elements that they appreciate the most.
  • Ask for feedback from your customers through website forms, on your email newsletters and on social media; spend time looking at the review sites to find out what they love and hate and the language they use to talk about it.

Once you’ve identified common themes, collaborate with other departments to address the concerns and improve the product or service. Then start to create content around the themes, helping you to lead the conversation and position your brand as the solution customers are looking for. 

Evolve your approach to thinking

How we think has a huge impact on our ability to solve the problems we face in business today. 

We all operate with cognitive schemas – patterns of thinking and behaviours – that help us conserve energy and speed up our information processing capabilities. These mental frameworks act as shortcuts and determine what we pay attention to and how we interpret information. 

But if we allow our brains to run on autopilot, we can end up approaching a scenario from the same perspective or trying the same things over and over again and expecting different results. 

There are three types of thinking we should develop to help us get ahead in 2024: 

  • Critical thinking: at its heart, critical thinking is about actively engaging with a subject and interrogating it from multiple perspectives. It’s about gathering data and evidence from different sources, evaluating opposing arguments, synthesising the key elements and coming to a clear conclusion you can act on. 
  • Lateral thinking: vertical thinking is sequential and logic-based, stopping when a satisfactory solution is found. But that doesn’t always work when it comes to complex problems and it doesn’t always get you to the best possible result. Lateral thinking helps you challenge assumptions, reframe the problem and generate lots of different types of solutions. This is where breakthrough and innovation can happen.  
  • Systems thinking: the world we operate in, as individuals or as businesses, is full of interrelated and interdependent parts. We need to be able to zoom out to understand how all the parts work together and what the root cause of the problem is. Start by looking at behaviours then seek to understand the underlying structures, attitudes and beliefs that influence those behaviours and keep systems in place. It’s only when we see how everything holds together that we can start to see which levers we can pull to spark change.  

It’s worth challenging your approach to thinking if you want to level up this year. 

Take a contrarian position 

In most mature industries, brands start to cluster together around a similar solution and around the same language – in essence, they all start to look the same. When that happens, it’s only a matter of time before everyone is competing on price because there’s nothing to distinguish between them in a customer’s mind. 

Brands should avoid clustering at all costs. 

One of the best ways to stand out in the marketplace is to take a contrarian position: identify something that you believe is broken in your industry and call it out – stand up to the status quo. 

For brands, this is often about returning to their origin story. Why was the business started in the first place? What was the problem the founders were trying to solve? How has that initial problem changed or stayed the same over the years? What continues to get your best people out of bed in the morning? 

This is about identifying the unique value you bring to the marketplace. Once you have it, make sure it’s infused in your business entirely; this should be the throughline from people to product to marketing. 

Develop an appetite for taking risks

Contrarian positioning goes hand-in-hand with an appetite for taking risks, often coming to life in the creativity a brand exhibits through its product design, its company culture and its communication strategy. 

Brands that are content to look and sound like everyone else will never realise their full potential – they’ll have to be content with a fraction of the market share and they’ll be at risk of being disrupted by another brand willing to make bold moves. 

Being remarkable and outstanding is about being different and being original – and that involves taking a risk. This is a cultural trait that needs to be encouraged by the leadership of the company and it’s incredibly important for the marketing team to embody this. 

Risk doesn’t mean taking careless chances. If you’re truly market oriented and understand your customers you’ll have an idea of the parameters within which you can take risks. 

You also don’t have to change everything at once; start with a test-and-learn framework to begin evaluating hypotheses and riskier activities. 

Invest in truly unique content 

As generative AI takes hold, we’re going to see a proliferation of generic, copycat content that real people will filter out and ignore. 

The brands that want to stand out and pull ahead of the competition will need to invest in truly unique content that offers something valuable to customers. The answer lies in a content strategy that prioritises subject matter expert (SME) content. 

Whether you source SMEs from within your company or you work with influencers and key opinion leaders from the wider industry, it’s important to create content that other brands can’t. Invest in long-form content like a video series or podcast as the best format that can then be repurposed into written content for your website and posted to social media in shorter cuts. 

Social platforms are prioritising content that keeps an audience engaged on the platform itself rather than sending traffic to your own site. So post the video or audio cut downs with a longer write-up on the platform itself and gauge the success through engagement with comments, DMs and through self-reported attribution on your contact forms (a field that asks “how did you hear about us?” will do the trick). 

2024 offers marketers huge potential, but we need to ensure our mindset and actions are allowing us the best chance at maximising the opportunities we come across this year. If you’d like to review your strategy for the year ahead, get in touch with our Strategy team today.