Aug 29 2018 Charles Studt Blog Strategy Uncertainty Is the New Norm in Marketing—Here’s How Digital Leaders Prioritize Growth Strategy To date, 2018 has been a year of massive change in the digital space. 2019 seems set to bring just as many challenges to online retailers, brands, and internet marketers alike. The intense volatility of this time makes it difficult to predict what will happen next and how to leverage each event for maximum profit. Any business leader that hopes to succeed in coming years must take note of these trends and develop a future-proof growth strategy accordingly. What kinds of challenges are we talking about, exactly? Think tectonic shifts in global markets, which make it difficult for brands to set marketing goals that will remain meaningful amid the shifts. Future performance on marketing spend is tough to predict given some of the changes happening right now. New online regulations that, while creating necessary protections for citizens, also create challenging hurdles that we must overcome to succeed online. Smart digital leaders, the ones who will ride out the coming years in style – or perhaps even benefit from these changes – are working hard to spot such challenges and develop growth strategy that can handle current and future online shifts. Let’s take a look at a few of the coming challenges, as well as some examples of online leaders doing it right. Change Is Given and Constant Uncertainty is the new norm in marketing, giving rise to both creativity and constraints. Leaders in the digital marketing economy are planning a future in which major technology players hold a share of political clout that has thus far been unimaginable. This future comes with risk, uncertainty, lack of predictability … and opportunity. Author, entrepreneur, and product strategist Azeem Azhar elaborates on this idea in a recent article for the MIT Technology Review: “The massive global platforms – Facebook, Google, Amazon, and the like – are defining a new political economy. Their corporate sovereignty will chafe with states’ own sovereignty. Those same nations will curry favor with the platforms to win the putative economic benefits provided by them.” Meanwhile, he explains that the AI software stack will continue to diverge from traditional software. He points to recent trends around novel interface methods—including voice inputs and outputs, images as large-scale inputs to machine-learning software, and specialist hardware and frameworks such as Google’s TPU and TensorFlow. What gives technology such power is its ability for platforms to keep up with the pace at which people, goods, and commerce move – and will continue to move, given that goods are moving more rapidly through supply chains. Digital leaders understand that this power serves as a form of currency that cannot be bought out or controlled, at least not entirely, by states and nations. Therefore, the most intelligent are linking their advertising strategies to Google, social and other media that promise big returns in future. Purchase, Payment, and Market Changes Provide Opportunity to Smart Leaders Prevailing changes in how people shop and from whom they’re buying also poses uncertainty to brands. For instance, the passage of General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) in Europe imposes new regulations for express consent of what data a company can collect – and how marketers within an organization can subsequently use it. Simultaneously, the imposition of new trade regulations and restrictions in the United States creates a lack of predictability for some industries as to what shoppers will buy. A state of increasing retail fragmentation means that established brands no longer have the same foothold that they once did. Intelligent digital leaders resist the despair that may temporarily accompany declining sales, and instead see this as an opportunity to test. There’s always a market somewhere; now is the time to create a far-reaching growth strategy that plays with audience, product, ad creative, bids and more. Meanwhile, advertising economies are maturing across the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, which means that the timing is right to launch campaigns that help you expand into new markets. Also on the radar of intelligent digital leaders: Cryptocurrencies. These offer the opportunity to help digitize cash-based economies, whose citizens are only recently gaining access to smartphones, but they also bring with them serious security risks and the dangers inherent in any method of payment unregulated by a central banking system. Digital Growth Strategy: Two Case Studies Understanding you need change is one thing; knowing how to implement a future-proof growth strategy is something else entirely. Here’s how two industry innovators are preparing. Domino’s Pizza Domino’s is the second-largest pizza chain in the United States, with sales in fiscal year 2015 hitting more than $4.7 billion. Today, this global franchise leader is focusing on speed as its competitive advantage, according to Innovation Leader. Accordingly, the company is implementing technology that makes “order now” possible at every advertising touchpoint, giving customers much-desired control over their buying choices. “When you place an order online, you have ultimate control,” explains Domino’s CDO Dennis Maloney. “You get to see the entire menu, you get to browse, you get to add products to your cart. It’s just a much more controlled experience if you’re shopping online than if you place a phone call to the store.” It’s a simple vision that employees ranging from the CEO to retail store associates can align towards—use digital touchpoints to make ordering straightforward. This capability is future-optimized and platform agnostic, i.e. no matter which digital platform ends up succeeding in future, this growth strategy will continue to perform. Sierra Club Innovation Leader shared another story from grassroots environmental nonprofit Sierra Club, which has grown to a base of 2.5 million supporters across 52 volunteer-run local chapters. The company has maintained an active community base, despite significant market competition. Among its two most important foci: preserve community relationships over the long-term and expand its influence. Better data is important for both objectives, because retention campaigns are built on understanding audience behavior. Luckily, lookalike audiences on Facebook and Google (among other platforms) pave the way to an excellent growth strategy. In collecting their own data through various platforms, they can aggregate it to create a picture of their members, then use that picture to advertise out to future members with the same attributes and interests. “The ability to capture member activity, such as participation in trash clean-up at a local park, means that the Sierra Club could publish how many pounds of trash were collected that week and how many people participated,” explains the Sierra Club’s chief innovation officer, Chris Thomas. “The Sierra Club can also use this information to track its most active members, and recruit them for participation in events or as local chapter leaders.” This is another powerful example of a growth strategy whose creators have girded it against future market changes. No matter which platforms end up most popular, no matter what other changes occur in the market, there will remain the ability to gather data from one’s own audiences and craft marketing campaigns targeted toward similar people. Flexible Technologies Form the Basis of a Future-Proof Growth Strategy The future of marketing is ever-changing, which makes the process of building a marketing stack a challenge. By selecting tactics that are bound to be with us in several years – e.g. lookalike audiences and customized online shopping experiences – you’re bound to set your company up for success. Now it’s time to leverage market changes by choosing technologies that align well with your growth strategy. In this ever-changing world, machine learning is the most powerful way to keep up with market changes, analyze new opportunities and take advantage of niches that pop up faster than your competitors.