Navigating an uncertain landscape: What marketing leaders need to know for 2023

As a company that partners with high-growth, venture-backed startups, we understand the importance of adapting to a rapidly changing landscape. So today, we’ve brought in one of our fantastic partners––Jason Clement, Founder at Stepchild Group––to share his perspective on how brands can build their marketing capabilities in 2023. Jason and his cooperative, Stepchild Group, partner with studios like ours to help brands plan their marketing investments using new ideas in strategy, technology, and media buying. They help brands focus on 10X improvements, not just 10% cost shaving.

From improving data capabilities and optimizing the customer journey, to investing in infrastructure and technology, these strategies can help position your brand for success in an uncertain market. Read on for Jason’s take on what marketing leaders need to know for 2023.

As you start thinking about your marketing investments in 2023, you will see a very uncertain and volatile landscape.

From the chaos at Twitter to Meta’s precarious position in its core and ancillary businesses, the media platforms we’ve come to rely on as marketers are likely to be question marks on your plan this coming year. Even search, once unshakable, is now seeing declining usage among younger audiences in favor of video search at places like TikTok. Streaming continues to fragment and change as Netflix has ads en masse as of November while Paramount+ continues to monetize their war chest of owned IP (and is and will likely always be ad-supported). Even the penultimate blue-chip media company, Disney, might be on the verge of an acquisition by a tech company or at the very least seeks to shore up its media business in new tech-led ways. Meanwhile, video and TV companies can’t agree on a singular form of measurement because the measurement stalwart and previous industry standard, Nielsen, looks very vulnerable

Even the idea of a publisher has been redefined. Substack continues to grow and find its flywheel. Twitch, which has a reach far beyond anything national TV offers these days, continues to mint new millionaires out of one-person content that most marketers wouldn’t have even considered sponsoring just a few years ago. They do this while also streaming NFL games every Thursday night to hundreds of thousands of live viewers.

Meanwhile, traditional agencies struggle to maintain their capabilities in this increasingly complex media landscape. Marketers are often dealing with fragmented media opportunities and partner sets that don’t always work well together, and if they do, they leave gaping holes in accountability in measurement.

So what can you do in 2023 to get more out of your investments? The best bet might be using 2023 to build infrastructure and capability. Smart brands build or grow during economic uncertainty and great ones often blossom in outright downturns. The list of “recession-grown brands” is long and storied. Brands that build capability in these times often grow to be the ones that can overcome competition for decades. 

As a marketer, I’m looking at 2023 as a “building” year. I’d specifically look at marketing investments that aren’t “marketing” per se but are more like capital investments in your marketing capabilities. There are three significant opportunities I see for brands in 2023:

Build your data capabilities

From the impending (but never-ending) demise of the cookie to the machinations in the TV and mobile measurement worlds, it’s tough to trust a third party’s data and measurement. Customer Data Platforms have become nearly turnkey these days, and they plug into all your existing data sources to create an owned data set that you can grow and execute on. These platforms also allow you to push your own data sets, or data sets you buy, back out to ad platforms and partners. As a marketer in 2023, I’ll be looking very hard at mobile-friendly customer data platforms and building brand capabilities to execute marketing on data sets you define – not just what media sellers offer.

Tighten up the creative opportunities in your customer journey

I’ve yet to meet a business owner who doesn’t think they can tighten up at least one part of their customer experience. 2023 is a great time to look at and invest in the entire customer experience you provide – from ad to loyalty. You should audit the partners and the associated experience behind each customer touchpoint. From there, you can map out your opportunities to make things better. You can focus on things like delighting a new customer or making a particular step more measurable/accountable. Using data and streamlining your tech stack is helpful, but it can be as simple as sketching out what you have now on paper – touchpoint by touchpoint. You can then rebuild creative, reorganize teams, and re-prioritize investments to ensure a single internal or external team owns and delivers on that journey. This approach creates proper accountability among teams/partners and increases your ability to measure and tweak outcomes.

Rethink what you “buy” and how you buy it

In the classic media buying universe, things are “cash and carry.” You pay at the impression/views level. It’s to the benefit of media sellers to make us pay like that – regardless of the buyer’s results. The new digital footprint affords marketers different kinds of opportunities. From the rise of the commerce editor to the influencer economy on TikTok, there are new ways for brands to create partnerships that aren’t cash-for-eyeballs but instead incentivize both partners. You can make revenue-sharing deals or even invest in creators like a talent agency to get actual results – not just eyeballs. 

There are also things in the annuals of advertising buying that might be worth revisiting. I’m old enough to remember when big agencies still had large “barter” units and would broker deals based on physical goods exchanged between two parties. I’ve heard a rumor about how the ad legend Jay Chiat got involved with the California Pistachio Board and made pistachios famous. He was (allegedly) paid in a warehouse full of pistachios. I’m sure there are clever opportunities for marketers (and agencies) to create upside together in cash-less or cash-minimal deals.

2023 can be the year you leap or find yourself adrift in a very turbulent media market and possibly rough economy – it’s time to build capability for the future and own your destiny.