2016: What a Year

As 2016 draws to a close, reviews of the calendar year are everywhere, and rarely can there have been such a wealth of stories to draw from.  Whether it’s the sad deaths of many famous people, wars, or politics it seems to have been a 12 months packed with big news.  I was one of 13,000 delighted sports fans who attended the BBC Sports Personality of the Year event on Sunday evening in Birmingham and again there were so many notable team and individual performances, it was hard to cram it all in.
From a marketing perspective, I have picked two stories from 2016 which stood out for me.
If you don’t follow the marketing press and/or aren’t working for a leading FMCG brand owner, you may have missed the emergence of zero-based budgeting or ZBB as it is becoming known in those circles.  Businesses such as Diageo, Unilever, Kraft Heinz and Coca-Cola are amongst those who have adopted this approach to their marketing planning.
I don’t want to appear smug, but it’s a philosophy which we have been recommending to clients since Aardvark began back in 2005 – every marketing expense should be justified for the next financial year on the basis of the expected return.  The marketing plan shouldn’t start with “what we did last year” and then adjust up or down, it should start with zeros in the budget, a set of objectives and a strategy.  Of course, what we learned in previous years (assuming we are measuring our marketing) will help select and refine the activities we choose to invest in, but for me, it’s important to challenge the easy assumption that we’ll do roughly the same as we did last year.  It fits very well with the old saying “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got (at best).”
The other story relates to the voting shocks of 2016 – Brexit, Trump, Ed Balls and of course Boaty McBoatface.  Is this a wave of anti-establishment rebellion, or could it just be that the establishment didn’t really understand its customers?  As marketers, we should never be surprised by the decisions our customers make – if we are then we have a gap in our understanding and that will make it harder for us to succeed.  Whether we’re trying to get people to vote for us or buy our goods and services, if we keep failing to understand what makes them tick we’ll probably get an unintended and disappointing result.
So as you look forward to 2017, my advice is to keep working to understand your customers and prospects and challenge everything in your marketing plan – does it really deserve to be there?
I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.