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Nick Baughan of Maxus: is the professional “fear of missing out” holding back the marketing industry?

P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard’s recent speech to the IAB (below) was a bold and significant moment for our industry on a range of issues from the media supply chain through to measurability and marketing effectiveness. One particular focus in the speech was that P&G had been distracted by the belief that it could be “a first mover on all the latest shiny objects.” This race to be first, a concept that was clearly familiar to his audience, is a significant pressure on us all and I think merits more exploration.

I shouldn’t think there’s anyone reading this who won’t be aware of the concept of FoMO (“fear of missing out”). The term was coined in 2003 to describe the pervasive angst generated by the possibility that something better is happening to someone else, somewhere else. FoMO gained increasing traction in popular culture fed by a steady diet of the ‘best bits’ of other people’s lives and supporting imagery.

What is less well documented and less well understood is the role of the same fear in our work or what I’m going to call ‘Professional FoMO.’ This has become a pervasive driver of our working lives in marketing for both client and agency and has gone broadly undocumented.

Professional FoMO is the known unknown, it’s the heard but not seen; a burning sensation that somebody else has the answer and right now is stealing a march on you and your business.

Before we get into what’s actually driving this phenomenon, let’s rewind fifteen years to the pre-digital dawn. At that point it was easy to see who was doing what for clients and agencies. You just had to open a newspaper or turn on the TV. Your competitors’ efforts were there for all to see and you could sit back, judge and act accordingly. The creative was everything and people were recognised and advanced on the back of what the eye could see and its correlation to the bottom line; in other words the known knowns.

Back to today and our industry has become more preoccupied with what the eye can’t see; the portion that sits below the waterline that powers the surface creative and it is precisely this invisibility that engenders a sense of professional FoMO and perpetuates a cycle of concern.

In terms of the greatest hits we’re talking: “Do I have the right tech stack?”, “Is my content strategy fit for purpose?”, “Should I be working with an incubator?”, “Does someone have a better deal with Google and Facebook?”, “Am I using the best attribution methodology?”, “Do I get first access to the right betas?”, “Is my programmatic strategy best-in-class?” and so the list goes on. In short, we have developed a set of questions that define our crucial ambition of securing competitive advantage but which cannot be definitively answered.

It’s worth noting that this sense that some other agency or some other advertiser is doing it right can be a positive; it can propel us to innovate and to evolve but we know it’s not the best catalyst. Deep down we know that Yoda was right about fear being the path to the dark side.

So what’s the answer? How can we reduce this sense of professional FoMO while maintaining cultures of innovation? For us at Maxus it’s simple and redolent of Mr Pritchard’s solutions; we have invested heavily in our Technology, Effectiveness & Data team and we encourage all our people to work from a robust evidence base and to believe in their convictions.

But You have to be studious in avoiding the lure of shiny for shininess’s sake, by employing rigorous frameworks for testing ensuring that both you and your clients have concrete expectations of return and can approach innovation with confidence rather than fear.

As I write this we are still at the time of the year where we’re planning out and looking forward. While the world around us is an increasingly uncertain place, as a collective industry let’s approach 2017 with more certainty, more substantiated surety and an ambition to get to the answers that we know to be right for each of us.

Nick Baughan is CEO of Maxus UK.

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