‘The only thing I know is that I know nothing’. Socrates could not have predicted that his statement, made about 400 years B.C., would form the running theme about 2400 years later at the Marketing Congress of the Belgian Association of Marketing (BAM) in December. Yet that was the common denominator among the various speakers: forget what you know, because it’s wrong anyway. So stop navel-gazing and break out of your bubble: we don’t know our target group, we aren’t our target group, and even the people in the target group don’t know who they are.


Did you miss the Congress? We have summarised the main conclusions in a nutshell:

  1. The impact of ‘the digital era’ is far more limited than we think. Do you remember the furore after Dr. David Dao was manhandled off a United Airlines flight? How the videos went viral? A mere two weeks later, United Airlines’ share price had bounced back to the same level as before all the outcry.
  2. Social media can work on small scale. If you look at large firms, only 1 to 6% of their customers follow them on social media. So it doesn’t make that much sense for these firms to use them to build up a customer relationship. But you can use social media to reinforce messages sent out via traditional media. Social media are also suitable if you have to send a message to a niche target group. They offer the possibility of targeting precisely, they are flexible and enable you to build up direct relationships with that target group.
  3. Traditional media are not dead. How else can you explain that technology companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify are advertising more and more in traditional media? Just recently, Facebook took full-page adverts in every newspaper with ten tips for recognizing fake news. Hyperpersonalisation is one thing, reach remains important and becomes even more important the larger your company is. People watch more live TV than they realise, and paper media have more touchpoints than before. Traditional media are complementary to digital media.
  4. Perception is driven by context. Expensive medication works better. Food that tastes great can’t be healthy. That knowledge has a lot of influence on big data, AI and machine learning: you need people who ask the right questions, help to assess the emotional impact and bear the human factor in mind. And remember that your context is not the only context. There is a difference between how you are, how you think that others are, and the reality.
  5. Actions are driven primarily by instinct. 75-85% of our decision-making happens subconsciously. When we have taken our decision, we rationalise until we have found an explanation for our actions. Research also reveals: we can’t bear uncertainty and like to see the positive side of things. Just look at yourself. Which message would you prefer to hear? “Your flight has just landed, but due to the large number of flights, no passenger bridge is currently available. So we have laid on buses.” Or: “Your flight has just landed. Due to the large number of flights, no passenger bridge is currently available but fortunately there are buses to drop you off outside the baggage reclaim and passport control.”
    So focus on the positive side in your communication, instead of what people claim they want to know. And if you manage to press the right buttons, there is more chance that you will make a lasting impression. A creative form of communication that can help you do this is ‘nudging‘, where you can achieve the desired behaviour via invisible ‘nudges’ and positive reinforcement.
  6. You are not the centre of the world; your target group is. So stop sending messages that you think are relevant. Ensure that you earn the respect of your customers by disseminating messages that really matter and that change the world. Where we used to adopt the mantra: what is good for the company is good for society, now it is the other way around: what is good for society is also good for the company. Making profits is crucial, but it can’t be the main aim: if you want to reach the new consumer, you need to be more ethical, more transparent and more responsible. It may be an oldie, but the UnGrounded campaign by British Airways from 2014 illustrates that perfectly.
  7. What you have to do to enjoy short-term success is totally different from what you have to do to enjoy long-term success. So an ideal strategy is one that is effective both in the short and the long term: brands are most efficient if they spend 60% of their budget on long-term branding and 40% on short-term campaigns. Success is more than achieving short-term sales targets.
  8. Technology is becoming our best friend. Literally: we have fewer and fewer real friends in our lives. Technology is helping us to be more social (Facebook or Twitter anyone?). The next step: computers and robots who understand us and predict our actions.

The above conclusions have not revealed much that’s new, but do emphasise the (digital) transformation of communication. Always take account of the importance that a target group attaches to relevant, correct and personal communication and human nature. Graft this onto your message and choose the right (creative) form of communication. And remember, your target group is the key, not the company, your product or your service.

The next Marketing Congress will be held on 6 December 2018. The programme is not known yet, but make sure you keep an eye on the website of the Belgian Association of Marketing (BAM).