Exactly 12 months ago, on my 37th birthday, the world looked a lot different for me. I was happy annoying everyone at The Tomorrow Lab and doing my thing as part of a big team.

And when I wrote this post for The Tomorrow Lab blog, as my birthday gift to the world, I wasn’t expecting to reprise the idea again in 2018, but this time for my own company. But here we are.

The quick witted will know that I’m a year older this year, so here’s 3.8 lessons from a career in marketing. (The previous post explains why it’s 3.8 and not 38)

1) Build Your Own Data Farm

Without doubt the two things people have asked me most in 2018 have been about GDPR and the changes in Facebook’s algorithm.

Facebook’s changes have been lamented by news organisations, called anti democratic by others and caused endless amounts of tears from dodgy social media marketing gurus.

changes to facebook news feed

The only thing that surprises me is that this surprises anyone.

Facebook have been quite clear for years that they are an ad platform. As a public company, they have a responsibility to provide a return to shareholders and selling ads is their primary way of making cash. And that cash comes from business page owners.

It’s a simple equation:

Kill page reach x (increased advertisers x many dollars) = happy shareholders

This is an old chart, but it highlights the situation perfectly. Falling reach (the worm) tracks nicely with the rise in Facebook’s share price (blocks). Let’s be honest, if you had those levers to pull in your business, you would have pulled them hard a long time ago.

link between facebook stock price and organic reach

It’s pretty straightforward; regardless of what you think, anyone on Facebook belongs to them, not you. The fact they have liked your page is irrelevant.

The way forward is to build your own database. Collect emails, phone numbers, addresses. And keep it up to date. Invest in the time and a tool (there are plenty of free ones) to keep it in order.

Once you have this you can use it for email marketing, lookalike audiences, text marketing or whatever. Just make sure it’s GDPR compliant.

2) Net-works

Networks are a tricky subject.

The old school tie system of picking chaps (almost always chaps) from your old school or university to join your firm because, well, they were a good sort has a long and inglorious history in England. And probably elsewhere.

Only five years ago I was talking to a guy from a medium to large London ad agency at an event. He was laughing (or grimacing, I can’t remember) about how he missed out on a job with the “big boys” in London when he left university because he didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge.

He went on to explain that they would take average candidates from Oxbridge over great candidates from red brick unis because the Oxbridge chaps would have more mates on FTSE 100 company boards in the future than the others. I honestly thought he was joking. He wasn’t.

But while this is extreme, at its heart, it is just networking.

Is it really that different from me picking up the phone to someone from my rugby club to ask for help on a project, or checking with a friend if they know anyone with the right skills for a job?

So, while accepting the potential limitations and unfairness inherent in networking, I am a fan.

It’s become increasingly important since starting my journey with Eximo Marketing. I went from working in a team of 40ish to working on my own.

Instead of being able to bounce ideas off the lovely people sat around me, I was left talking to the cat.

When I needed a recommendation, I had lost many, many years of experience now I was on my own. And who would refer business to me, now I’d lost the support of the Pierce Group? All of this I needed to replace to help my business grow.

And networking was the answer.

I’ve been to stacks of events and had more coffees than I care to remember. I reckon I’ve shaken more hands than The Queen in the last five months.

I’m a fan of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, of what the team are doing at Ormeau Baths and I take my hat off to Rosemary and Ashleigh for starting their own network, Fascinating Company.

Networking is a two-way street. You have to give to get, and there is no easy way to measure how long it takes for the pay off.

But it’s worked for me and I’ll continue to commit my time to attending events. Which is probably the hardest skill – deciding which events to attend and when you need to stay in start typing.

3) Back To Basics

The next 12 to 18 months could well be the most significant for the UK since the end of World War 2.

That’s quite a bold statement for a marketing blog. However, Brexit has the potential to reshape the UK and no one, including (especially?!) the politicians has the first idea what our relationship with Europe will look like.

Brexit marketing
Banksy’s take on Brexit

We’re likely to chase trade deals with countries that could put pressure on the UK to change standards in our production, taxation system and migration policies.

In Northern Ireland we still don’t have a functioning Executive to make the case for Northern Ireland in the Brexit discussions.

These are the sort of huge geo-political discussions that will shape what marketers have to do in the next five years. And they will make worries about Facebook reducing organic reach pale into insignificance.

Over the next few years, those marketers with a firm grip of basic tenets of marketing will flourish. I often say that it’s a central idea of marketing, that if someone hasn’t heard of you, they can’t buy from you. So I suspect brand building will make a bit of a come back as companies try and position themselves for the new marketing landscape that we will face.

And those marketers who understand data will also fly. Not those who know how to collect it, but those who can interpret it, which is a much harder skill to find.

It’s an uncertain time. So I’m focusing on marketing that has survived uncertainty before. Marketing that has seen depressions, growth markets and boom times. And that means going back to basics to get the strategy right, before choosing the tactics extremely carefully and monitoring the implementation closely.

3.8) GDP Aaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhh

It’s coming.

Deal with it.

Don’t hide from it. Accept it. Take it as a chance to get your data in order.

Good data is a HUGE opportunity for you.

Bad data is a waste of time.

Embrace GDPR. Or embrace the fines.

The choice is yours