February 2023

Marketers and an Abundance of Black Swans

The theory of "black swan" events was developed some twenty years ago by Nassim Nicholas Taleb as a metaphor to describe the disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, technology and business.

The theory of "black swan" events was developed some twenty years ago by Nassim Nicholas Taleb as a metaphor to describe the disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, technology and business.

Yeah, well, haven't we come a long way in a couple of decades? These days, we're constantly impacted by black swan events that fit at least some of the specifications. They're certainly high profile.Unfortunately, you can't call them rare any more. And we may not be able to predict specific black swan events -- but we can predict that there definitely will be black swan events, and side-effects that will require us to change the way we operate.

For those events and side effects, we need to be ready.

"Business as usual" just won't cut it anymore. Sorry, that's just the way it is. Yes, Kiwi marketers could absolutely use a break after what we've all been through over the last three years -- but unfortunately 2023 comes with its own collection of challenges.

What sorts of challenges?

Auckland and the North Island devastated by relentless atmospheric rivers of rain followed by Cyclone Gabrielle, to give two unpleasant examples.

Other recent black swan events (Covid comes top of mind) have taken their toll, causing side effects such as inflation, that bogeyman we thought we'd left behind in the 1980s (along with Big Hair, legwarmers, parachute pants and other undesirables).

Unfortunately, that's not all. Here's what else Kiwis are facing in 2023: dramatically higher mortgage rates, likely to impact more and more people -- and have a direct effect, both on their disposable income and their perceptions of prosperity.

General business expectations aren't that great either, with 73 percent of New Zealand businesses expecting economic conditions to deteriorate over the coming months, according to the NZIER Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion (Nov 2022-Jan 2023).

Recession, the 'R' word, remains a very real possibility.

Beyond the economic challenges, 2023 has a few more underarm bowling tactics in store for us. Once upon a time(pre-Covid), our target markets could be expected to behave largely the same as they had done for years. Their purchasing habits were well established and consistent, they were typically brand loyal and their media consumption patterns were highly predictable.

Now, not so much.

Lockdowns and bubbles turned us all into housebound introverts and saw the country divided by attitudes towards vaccination and other government actions.

We've all learned how to zoom, work from home half the week and watch (or create) too many TikTok clips. Attention spans have sagged dramatically now that the next video fix is just a swipe away. At the same time, disinformation is rife across social media. How are marketers supposed to compete with the endless social noise?

And then there's online shopping, which demands a whole new skillset. The enforced shutdown of all but"essential" retail outlets saw unprecedented growth in ecommerce during the lockdown years (though online shopping usage dwindled in the second half of 2022, once we returned to the new normal).

Product out-of-stocks, thanks to a combination of supply-chain problems, lockdowns in NZ and offshore (especially China) and the War in Ukraine, have seen many consumers obliged to swap brand loyalty for availability.

And, of course, staff shortages as a result of closed borders and restrictive immigration policies have created their own problems across many industries. How do businesses find (and retain) top talent in such a tough marketplace?

If all that was everything that marketers are facing in 2023, that would be enough of a challenge. But wait, there's more.

Technology marches on and marketers need to get their heads around the latest developments, especially in artificial intelligence. What are the implications of the likes of ChatGPT, which can create articles from a few short words?

For example, here's what ChatGPT told us when we asked it to describe the impact of black swan events on marketers:

Black Swan events can alter consumer behaviour, disrupt supply chains, and change economic conditions, leading to a shift in market demand. As a result, marketers have to quickly adapt their strategies to address the new market reality, which can be challenging and require a significant investment in research and development.Moreover, black swan events can also have a long-lasting impact on consumer perception and brand reputation, requiring marketers to be proactive in managing their brand image. Overall, black swan events can create both risks and opportunities for marketers, and the success of their response often depends on their ability to be flexible, innovative and data-driven in their decision-making.

Good points, ChatGPT, thanks. (In fairness to human copywriters everywhere, we should note that, if ChatGPT doesn’t have access to expert knowledge on a topic, it can simply make stuff up that sounds good but is just plain wrong.)

Words aren’t the only domain under threa tfrom Artificial Intelligence. AI art took a dramatic leap forward in 2022, with the likes of MidJourney, the AI software which can create images from just a few words. (The image above was generated by MidJourney in response to the phrase "a flock of black swans, seen in profile in the middle distance, sailing serenely on a lake").

Disruptive? Yes. Can be harnessed by marketing professionals? Definitely. Can be poorly used by the ill-experienced?Indeed.

If you're becoming increasingly aware of, and rightfully concerned about, the marketing challenges in the year ahead, perhaps we should talk.

At Good Gravy, we're a team of seasoned marketing professionals who exemplify the EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) that Google takes into account when ranking search results.

You can read all about us here.

Or simply phone Lina at Good Gravy and see how we can help you and your brands swim with the black swans.




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