Could uncertainty make your data useless?


This piece by Alex Hayes was first published in ADMA’s July 2022 newsletter.


Feeling uncertain can have a major impact on how we do business and live our lives. Alex Hayes, Principal, Clear Hayes Consulting, explores our collective uncertainty tolerance and what current events mean for marketers.

Do you remember the heady days of early 2021 when we all thought things could only get better. We’d battled through the worst of COVID-19, managed the economic dip and things seemed to be bouncing back to ‘normal’.

How naive we were to think there was a ‘normal’.

Fast forward 18-months and, while COVID-19 may be a problem we’re now living with, there are myriad other existential issues many of us haven’t faced before. War in Europe, huge inflation, a cost of living crisis, accelerating climate issues wreaking havoc, crippled supply chains – the list goes on.

It’s a lot to take in and it creates an environment of uncertainty. It’s actually that uncertainty that is the root cause of many of the issues facing people today – anxiety, fatigue and exhaustion.

Speaking at the recent Advertising Week Europe conference, Katherine Templar Lewis, Lead Scientist at Uncertainty Experts, explained how people with low uncertainty tolerance “suddenly make poor decisions, they have self doubt, they’re indecisive, they get physically fatigued, they are impressionable to extremist views, and have high anxiety”.

We’ve all felt this in some way in the last two years and everyone has a different uncertainty tolerance. For example, in times of seismic change, people with lower thresholds become more erratic, and less easy to predict. And that is a challenge for any data-reliant marketer.

In marketing we’ve become accustomed to relying on data to predict what our customers are likely to do. After all, humans are generally pretty reliable, so looking at past models is a reasonable way of making pragmatic decisions.

But if higher levels of uncertainty make everyone more volatile, then what is the impact on these models and the reliability they have? Couple this with a time when economic pressures mean people are scrutinising their spending habits, and no brand can afford to rest on its laurels.

So what can you do? Most of the experts will tell you it’s the perfect time to double down on your marketing spend. As consumer psychology guru Rory Sutherland eloquently reminded the Advertising Week Europe audience, “brands create value in the mind, not in the factory”.

Data-driven and personalised marketing is certainly still a great option, but it needs to be coupled with a more nuanced and sympathetic approach to understanding human behaviour, an eye on the current circumstances and therefore the context of what is happening. When bad news abounds, what’s your point of differentiation?

One thing I’ve noticed with the return to in-person events is a greater willingness from marketers to engage in more meaningful conversations, and express themselves more clearly. It’s these kind of environments which are creating fertile grounds to stimulate new thinking and conversations and help people break out of the usual moulds.

You can take a pulse check of everything that is happening in the world of marketing and advertising by diving into Advertising Week’s Europe Trends Report. It takes a look at everything from the future of data in different contexts, to influencers, brand, leadership and the environment.

And if you want to get a real in-person feel for what’s shaping our industry regionally, the upcoming Advertising Week APAC conference is jammed full of fascinating sessions covering all the big issues.

In times of uncertainty, inspiration can be hard to come by. But where we’ve been starved of human connection, taking advantage of in-person events is a great way to spark new thinking, have different perspectives served up to you and connect on that more human level.

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