Harriet Swinburn: Mark Ritson is kind of right

Harriet Swinburn - iProspect

“When it comes to marketing, I think AI is a smokescreen. Distracting us from planning fundamentals that are bigger growth drivers”

By Harriet Swinburn, group strategy director, iProspect

At the ADMA Global Forum, we heard a lot about AI. It got me thinking about how it can help productivity.

Strong demand following the pandemic, wage and income growth and sluggish productivity are the things the RBA and Phillip Lowe tells us we need to get under control to improve Australia’s current inflation issue. Productivity gains being an especially difficult one in the service-dominant economy Australia has.

At iProspect, we champion brand thinking with a performance mindset. We do this by focusing on growth acceleration at the core of our thinking for clients. AI could be the growth accelerator that we need, and I think it is for our ways of working. But when it comes to marketing, I think AI is a smokescreen. Distracting us from planning fundamentals that are bigger growth drivers.

And so did several speakers on the day, including Mark Ritson. Yes, this is not a Mark Ritson is wrong/right article. That would be too clickbait-y (and also play right into his hands for the next conference he speaks at). This is a Mark Ritson is kind of right (in my eyes) article.

Mark Ritson

I can agree that AI will be a huge growth accelerator as a tool for us to use. Injecting growth into businesses through streamlining tasks and much sought after productivity into the economy. Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern, spoke about the best way to build a profitable company was through a “time machine” and AI is certainly that. He believes that “AI won’t take your job, but someone using AI will,” a nod to the place he sees AI playing in complimenting the workforce.

As for all the layoffs in tech? Galloway describes this as impacting those in “Cashmere Careers” – a profitability move made by tech but impacting those who are educated and can pivot. A headline but not an economic pressure point.

Amanda Johnstone ADMA

Amanda Johnstone

Amanda Johnstone, CEO of Transhuman, spoke about AI and its ability to enhance emotion and bodies. She highlighted how body data is already being harvested for good in the health space and the opportunity for enhancing experiences. Ethically this one is a minefield for me.

Melissa Hopkins, Chief Marketing and Audience Officer, Seven West Media, was a brave reminder that when we hit crisis point (as Optus did when their customer data was hacked), the human instinct of decision making and protecting customers thrives over any automated decision making. We’re more empathetic than machines (for now at least!).

This was fascinating but brought me back to my belief that currently AI is a productivity hack, whereas accelerated client growth will still be leveraged from smart planning principles.

Ritson busted up much of his Mini MBA. He told us segmentation was a waste of time. Now as a strategist, I was waiting for Mark to tell us that segmentation is indeed necessary when tough marketing decisions have to be made. And he delivered. Phew!

Melissa Hopkins

Speaking of tough decisions, Frank Body Co-founder Jess Hatzis bridged the challenge many marketers are facing balance higher growth expectations with flat or less resources. The lines of brand and performance are blurring and at iProspect we approach this challenge with a performance mindset. Which means that everything needs to deliver a business outcome. Hatzis summarised perfectly with her session title ‘You Can’t Convert Demand That Doesn’t Exist.’ Alexander Meyer had his answers “Brand is your first love” and that to survive these tough conversations you need to talk like a CFO.

So how does a CFO talk? Growth. There is no time more important to accelerate growth than now. And no tool more important to write well than the brief. Ritson maligned the ‘bad brief’ and how this murky lack of clarity leaves the receiver with little direction. And I am aligned with him. How can we unlock growth if the growth KPI doesn’t exist? And we need a singular proposition to accelerate growth.

And look, I can even get around his view on segmentation (although I did think he was going to rubbish my speciality for a moment there). He advocates for Prosaic Target Segments – bullseye, actionable and meaningful target segments for growth.

There are definitely times when clients need mass and I’m all for it. But I’m increasingly seeing that we need to unlock high value audiences in this ever-incrementality-obsessed-world to drive quick business growth. We do this at iProspect by fuelling our segments with the brand and performance data, leveraging demonstrated human behaviours as a code for future growth opportunities. I can see that by satisfying the short-term and accelerating business growth will allow us to have a longer view on brand growth.

Intense views engaged us at ADMA from the death of brand to the rise of brand. My opinion is there’s a sweet spot in the middle where brand and performance can learn from each other sharing insights and ideas to fuel better planning. At the end of the day consumers don’t think about brand and performance they think about the brands they want to buy from, who’s services they want to use and who they will keep going back to. And our planning should reflect this.

Harriet Swinburn is group strategy director at iProspect Australia, a dentsu company. In the role she drive brand difference, perception and preference and finds a bold way forward. She ensures her team drive effective change and results for our clients, from start-up to scale-up or legacy brands evolving.

Top image: Harriet Swinburn

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