Audience fragmentation is a management problem
A view from Craig Mawdsley

Audience fragmentation is a management problem

The struggle to be seen and heard today isn't a creativity issue or a reach problem. They can be reconciled. It's all about management.

If you ask me to name a brand, without category prompting or context, I would probably blurt out "Squarespace".

Some of you will understand why, when I say that I listen to a lot of podcasts. I spend a lot more time listening to podcasts than I do watching TV.

Squarespace seems to sponsor at least half of them so, if ever I want to build and run a website, I will know exactly where to go.

Although, if you ask me that question on a Sunday afternoon at the height of the football season, I am likely to say "Bet365" and think about Ray Winstone (when wandering into the lounge during a televised game, my daughter once asked me: "Are all the ads on TV for betting?").

I think about these experiences when considering the much-discussed question about the fragmentation of audiences and how hard it is to reach people nowadays. That feeling in the marketing and advertising community that parts of the customer map are going dark forever thanks to ad-blocking and on-demand entertainment.

This is sometimes characterised as a creative problem, with agencies’ ideas perhaps lacking potency because they’re no longer so readily remembered as they were when there was only a handful of commercial TV channels and no internet.

Or it’s discussed as a reach problem because media agencies can’t easily get the eyeballs they once could due to changes in customer behaviour mentioned earlier. And there’s some truth in both these points of view.

But they’re not the real problem. It’s perfectly possible (not universally done, but entirely possible) to devise ideas that can live in pretty much every channel you can imagine, so it’s not a huge creative problem. And hardly anybody goes through life without spending some time somewhere that can carry an unblocked commercial message.

And most of these spaces can be accessed at lower comparative cost than ever before, so buying reach is not the main issue. It’s not a creative problem, it’s not a reach problem – it’s a management problem.

Any decent creative idea can be reformed into shapes that can fit anyone’s personal path through the world.

The problem is that to achieve reach, and to rise to the creative challenge, you need a greater number of executional forms than ever before.

And unless you are recklessly trusting, you’re going to need quite a few people in your team to manage and approve the TV ad development, the content channel, the influencer partnerships on Instagram, the podcast sponsorship, the print ads, the bus-sides, the six-sheets, the perimeter boards at the match, the content partnership with the Guardian and anything else you need to do to reach all the people you could previously hit with one 30-second TV ad.

To thrive in today’s environment, you need to be thinking as much about structure as about ideas and schedules. Perhaps the solution is to think about budgets in a different way, because a small chunk of your media millions redirected to pay salaries of smart people on your team could enable you to do much, much more.

Perhaps the solution is to think about bottlenecks and hierarchies, so you push as much decisionmaking as possible to the most operational levels of the organisation.

Perhaps you should read The Checklist Manifesto and work out how to adapt that thinking and radically change the way you think about approval processes. So think about who you have in your department, what they’re doing, how they’re communicating with you and one another.

Think about your agencies and the way they’re organising themselves and whether they’re making things more complex or more simple for you. And then tear it all up and start again. Because the marketing winners in the coming years will not be the quickest, or the smartest, or the richest. The winners will be the best-organised.

Craig Mawdsley is joint chief strategy officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
@mawdsleycraig