The Marketing Norms We Took for Granted Are Crumbling. Embrace It.

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Written by Julian Baring, General Manager-North America, Adform

For the past four months, people have been putting quotation marks around the word “normal.” Or better yet—the “new normal.” That’s because since the pandemic hit, the status quo has evaporated on nearly every level—societally, culturally, politically and economically. Pretty much every industry and company on the planet is struggling to reconcile what the past four months will mean for the next four years of business.

Marketers, tasked as brand stewards through this crisis, are as disrupted as everyone else—but this isn’t necessarily a new feeling. Rather than the genesis of disruption, the past four months have represented a culmination of forces that have been mounting in our industry for more than a decade. Many of the norms that we have come to rely on as marketers—expectations around platforms, privacy and measurement—have crumbled around us, and the path forward is anything but clear. Let’s look at the shattered norms that require our attention as we all struggle the right the ship.

Platforms Under Fire

Over the past decade, certain platforms have risen to the top of every digital media plan due to their scale and ubiquity within consumers’ lives. But now, external forces and shifts in consumer behavior are prompting marketers to take a harder look at line items that for years have gone unquestioned. The Department of Justice is weighing the possibility of antitrust charges against Google, the outcome of which could have notable implications for the many companies that rely on its digital ecosystem to varying degrees. Meanwhile, the advertising boycott of Facebook continues to gain steam among prominent brands due to the platform’s handling of divisive content and hate speech. Moreover, prominent industry voices have begun personally—and quite publicly—abandoning the platform over similar concerns.

This isn’t the first time major advertising platforms have come under fire, but this time, the conversations are different. Concerns over basic brand safety have evolved into deeper discussions of brand ethics when it comes to the morality and fairness of the companies being underwritten by ad dollars. At a time when so much is in flux within our industry and society, marketers are questioning their allegiances—and alternatives—for the long term.

Privacy as an Expectation

Over the past 15 years, the building blocks of digital have been laid by corporate powerhouses that slowly eroded consumer trust in their ability to maintain privacy while also engaging in the online marketplace and social sphere. However, with the July 1 enforcement date of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the resulting coverage of these new protections, following years of growing awareness of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, the tide is turning on consumer privacy.

Today’s consumers are demanding greater transparency and control than ever and expressing growing distrust when it comes to their willingness to share personal details with organizations. At the same time, technologies that enabled the behind-the-scenes monitoring of consumer behavior online are fading quickly into irrelevance. After decades of reliance on lax consumer attitudes toward data privacy and covert methods of tracking customers across channels, the game has suddenly changed.

Measurement on the Move

Tangled amid the other crumbling norms of the marketing world is the question of measurement. As marketers wrestle with their platform relationships and struggle to pivot within a shifting privacy landscape, questions around which metrics represent accurate measures of brand health and how brands can independently identify and communicate with their prospects and customers across channels and devices weigh heavily.

Ultimately, the questions again lead back to the issue of control. In a fragmented world still dominated by a few, how can brands maintain autonomy when it comes to measurement and tracking against their KPIs?

Realigning Around Control

As we realign our industry for its next phase of development, marketing executives will have to make a number of decisions when it comes to the future management of their brands and media spends. In weighing their options, one consideration needs to supersede all others: control. It’s time for marketers to reclaim control of their campaigns, their customer relationships and their KPIs. In doing so, the following goals must guide decision-making across the marketing landscape:

  • The need to understand who a brand’s audience is and how to track that audience across platforms.
  • The ability to control how KPIs are calculated and maintain an independent view of customers, regardless of partner measurement standards
  • The flexibility to quickly pivot marketing spend via an independent, comprehensive tech stack that offers transparency across channels and platforms

Without a doubt, the world and the marketing industry’s role within it are messy right now, and they’re going to remain messy for a while longer. Navigating the chaos at this moment where long-held norms are no longer available to guide us requires a commitment to control and autonomy. By prioritizing independence and customer knowledge in this time of rebuilding, our industry can ensure the new norms that rise from this time of turmoil are more sustainable than those built—and subsequently broken down—over the past decades.


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