I could write things about marketing that textbooks and clever professors would only write better so I have decided to take a different tack. I hope it will be entertaining and informing, but, ultimately, you will decide.
So as you embark on this year, what's the most you can hope for from it? Indulge yourself and think about this year, for you. Just think about where it could take you. Possibilities; things to crack; traits to curb; what are you going to give, not just get?
This is not meant to be a sermon. It is to suggest standing back, thinking of some themes and, dare I say it, allowing yourself to think about the big picture. Yours and society. May I suggest only think about your customers when you have sorted this out. I don't mean grand plans or portentous ambition but a notion of where you fit in, rather than a headlong dive into 2011 with a "let's see what turns up" attitude.
What matters to you will show up in your work and what you bring to your life, so you might as well be clear about it at the start. Strangely enough, you will then help those around you and, I would assert, be better at your job for it. I suspect some career choices might be made out of it too. To that end, I will talk about some of the themes that intrigue me but first let's look at the big picture.
The world is a big place. Having a global role, as I have, forces you to look at issues beyond our cosy shores. That's the world in which our businesses or causes have to compete. Regardless of the geography of your role, the start point, for me, has to be the big issues in the world, then UK-specifics, then your market and, indeed, industry.
- Austerity in most countries - governments pulling back, taxes going up.
- Lifestyle - people feeling squeezed, lower growth in the West and less easy credit.
- Security - jobs less secure at home, terrorism and global instability.
- Energy and climate - cost of energy rising while need to tackle climate change is ever present.
- A three-tier world
- The competitive unstoppable Asia and growth markets, the traditional West and there is still the Third World where people are dying every day.
THE BIG UK-SPECIFIC ISSUES
- Can coalition politics survive when cuts really begin and people start to respond (for example, the recent student protests)?
- Will "nudging" us change the world or will it be seen as Orwellian manipulation?
- Big Society - what part can companies play? What part can you play?
- Who to trust in a world of over communication? There is so much communication coming at us all demanding greater degrees of response, deeper engagement and yet still containing "spin" and hidden agendas. To whom will customers turn?
- The "no secrets" world - the impact of Wikileaks means that if something is written down it might be published. The era of "off the record" is over.
- Participation - making sense of the new world, tuning in to where people want to be. So the long-anticipated death of broadcast isn't going to happen and I don't want an interact button on everything I do, but there is no denying that recognising people's desire to have a view and be heard and take part will need to be in any brand manager's toolkit. And the usual issues such as funding, effectiveness, channel mix.
- Funding models in the digital age.
- Government communication.
- Increased regulation and its effects.
So, in this context, here are some themes that I am intrigued about:
Pay it forward
I love films that have a thought and concept in the title. Like Groundhog Day or Sliding Doors. Rather like brands should. Pay It Forward portrays Kevin Spacey as a teacher who sets his class the challenge to think of an idea that could change the world. One particularly beautiful pupil thinks of the idea to do a good deed for a number of people, who then do the same. Before you know it, everyone is effectively paying forward, not paying back. Changing the world by changing how people react in it. We could do with a dose of this in 2011.
Doing your bit (beyond paying tax)
Look at events such as Pride of Britain or charities that have been doing extraordinary things for people for 100 years, such as Barnardo's, to more recent ones such as Tickets for Troops. If you think of the ease with which online giving sites have made raising money almost effortless, more and more people are doing something for Society or World plc. Taking a responsibility beyond that of one's family seems to be important.
Women on boards
In February, Lord Davies will make recommendations about how to get more women on boards in the UK. The appetite for doing something is enormous. Having a balanced leadership will do what the description suggests; through better balance, more sustainable businesses emerge. If the board better represents its customer base in product terms, or communication or approach to governance or social responsibility, there will probably be a shift of emphasis. Not before time!
People are still people
I think about the list of macro issues that frame the world into which I must market Aviva and it's rather daunting. It makes me feel very small. Consider the impact of Ireland looking to save EUR7 billion next year with a population of only four million. Consider India with an emerging middle class that will be 200 million-plus people while, at the same time, the majority of girls under 14 are having their first child.
The challenges in the world are enormous. However, the one thing that keeps me relatively sane is that people are still people. The fact that behavioural economics fascinates us all so is that it does tap into the core human psychology that hardwires and connects us all.
In this context, I suspect human nature is not much different from several hundred years ago when my company started insuring people against highway robbery! So when faced with decisions about digital this, cloud that, blah blah, trust in your instincts and humanity. I think Nietzsche said "a confused mind says no". We do risk inertia in our consumer unless we can helpfully navigate the emerging world. Applying humanity and common sense will always go a long way.
So here's the frame of mind I hope to show up in as I start 2011. (I want to really recognise our customers in a market that is not famous for that. I want to bring out all the amazing work for society that our people do and show how it makes a brand. I want to be a better citizen of the world.) The next time I lose my temper, I'd better read this.
Above all, here's to YOU.
Amanda Mackenzie is the chief marketing officer at Aviva and a non-executive director of Mothercare.