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Published November 5th 2018

Interview: Immediate Future Founder Katy Howell on Why Marketers Need to Put Down the Sledgehammer

In which we discuss the blunt force with which marketers use social media, and how we can be smarter with the data we have.

“I imagine ten years from now that we will be laughing at ourselves,” Katy says.

“We’re already laughing,” I reply.

Katy and I have been sharing stories of awfully targeted ads that keep appearing on our feeds. Katy’s being bombarded with ads for badly made Chelsea boots in different colors at discount prices, despite the fact she’s more than happy to pay for quality and wants them in black. My boyfriend is getting ads for investing in gold bullion, presumably on the basis that we’d had a jokey conversation about paying for some pancakes in gold. (By the way, we’re in no position to be investing in gold bullion).

Katy Howell, founder and CEO of social media agency Immediate Future, is sick of the “sledgehammer to crack a walnut approach” that marketers seem to favor these days, and I’m keen to hear her thoughts on how things can change.

The sledgehammer and the walnut

After 30 years in the industry, and having built an agency over 15 years that grew up with social media and focused solely upon it, Katy is well placed to talk about how the data and insights we now have access to can be used and misused.

She gives the example of simply knowing what a potential customer has looked at.

“I know you’re interested in sandwiches so maybe you’ll be interested in this sandwich. No. That’s not clever marketing. Marketing is about the art of persuasion. The art of persuasion is so much better than that. We should be so much better than that.”

According to Katy, the art of persuasion is being lost, with marketers focusing too much on the end of the funnel and ignoring the message.

“Quality is sacrificed for speed. We need to go back to some old marketing thinking, original marketing thinking, and say ‘what’s my message?’ We need to look up and remind ourselves that just because digital can play at the sharp end of the funnel, it doesn’t have to. Particularly on social I want to be entertained, I want to enjoy.”

In both our Chelsea boots and gold bullion examples, ad buyers are going straight to the point of sale. There’s nothing clever about it.

Can we be smarter these days?

“It’s partially doable right now,” Katy says, noting the availability of multiple data points.

Immediate Future do a lot of work around the customer journey by analyzing where conversations happen, from the initial consideration, through consideration and into purchase. There’s no doubt that this data can go some way to take the blunt force out of targeted ads and to create a more persuasive offering.

Of course discounts have their place, but if a customer is only just learning of the existence of a particular product or solution, going straight for the sale jugular is a waste of everyone’s time and attention.

Katy knows first hand that brands can be egoistic when it comes to social media. Both the hard sell and product spam are, in her mind, frustrating behaviors that she sees all the time.

Immediate Future works to change that, focusing on relevancy and knowing the customer.

“Our purpose is to break the social boring, because there is an awful lot of stuff being put out by companies on social media that’s just a bit of a snooze fest. It’s actually having very, very minimal impact. It’s checkbox social – social, tick!

“Our agency works on the principle that what we’re putting out on social is having an impact, making a difference.”


How can we use social data to inform business decisions?

“Brandwatch is a really significant part of the way we work,” Katy says. “With all our clients, our campaigns are devised on the basis of what the data shows us.”

She continues:

“The reason to examine data is, if you want to be less boring you have to be more relevant to the interest groups and behaviours of your audience. Note that I don’t say demographics. Not demographics.”

Katy gives the example of selling ice cream.

“You’re not selling it to 16-25-year-olds or 50-year-olds or 10-year-olds. You’re selling it to people who are interested in ice cream. How do they behave? What flavors are they talking about? When do they try and buy that product? When is it that they’re interested in it? The beauty of insights and looking at behaviors is predominantly that you uncover information that you just didn’t think about.”

This is the kind of insight that helps companies get ahead of the competition. Previously unseen connections or patterns are what Katy’s agency specialise in finding, with the help of tools like Brandwatch.

Returning to marketing as the art of persuasion

Getting to know your customers properly and creating content and campaigns that are relevant to them are Immediate Future’s speciality. Delivering those messages requires subtlety, finesse and the assumption that the target audience is not stupid.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from our chat, it’s to check my metaphorical tools. Am I going in with a sledge hammer?

When Katy says we’ll be laughing at ourselves in ten years I think she’s right. In fact, I think we’ll be ROFLing much sooner than that.

Huge thanks to Katy Howell for chatting with us. You can find her on LinkedIn here.

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