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Managing Marketing in the New Normal

UK online usage by age 2019 Fig 1: Managing marketing in the digital age

The digital age is now over 30 years old, though its consequences have become more prevalent due to the emergence of a (non-computer) bug that rampaged the globe.

The Coronavirus digital catalyst

The number of digital platforms, their actual usage and time spent online has simply sky-rocketed. At the height of the April 2020 Coronavirus lock-down to 4 hours and 2 minutes a day compared with the mean time spent online in 2019 of just 3 hours and 19 minutes (1).  And linked to this the online proportion of total retail sales also sky-rocketed to nearly 33% compared with less than 20% through the whole of 2019 (May 2020)(3).

It is fair to say that this massive growth caught everyone by surprise except the early digital adopters. They are easily underestimated as nerds, the youth of today or both!

Looking to the future

However, the world will never be the same again. Digital now permeates every aspect of life for every generation of whatever creed or country. Generation Y (so-called Millennials) watched as the digital world erupted around them, and Generation Z were the first generation to live digital lives from birth. The 2020 lock-down embedded the shift to digital. And the children of Millennials (Generation Alpha) are now set to be the most digitally savvy ever (Figure 1).

UK online usage by age 2019

Dominance of Google and Facebook

But did you know the extent to which Google and Facebook dominate online reach and time spent online? (Figure 2). In the UK, they reached over 95% adults and commanded over 45 minutes and 30 minutes a day respectively. Their dominance is such that a massive 39% of total time is spent on Google-owned media (including YouTube) and Facebook-owned media (including Instagram and Whats App) (4).

And as the public turned online, so has Marketing. As a result, some 57% of total UK advertising expenditure now goes online. Initially and still mostly to Google, who offer certainty of audience reach at a competitive cost and also expertise on the vagaries of search and algorithms. All without the need for a long term commitment to planning or creativity.

Yet their costs have grown and thus the balance of spend has tilted their way at the expense of TV and press, outdoor and public relations, and even other online media. Such that some 78% of online advertising spend, now goes to Google and Facebook (5). However, advertising was not their original nor primary intent, and their advertising and analysis offers are only based on a superficial understanding of marketing. Not for these digital experts the troublesome need to build brands or customer loyalty, but merely to attract clicks.  

However, there are now signs that the emperors’ clothes are wearing thin. Google’s annual minutage fell in 2019 (6), and search advertising revenue appears to be flat-lining. Though Facebook advertising shows continued growth (Figure 3).

Google and Facebook advertising income : Moving annual total to 2020

Marketing Inspiration for the new normal

So how to manage marketing in the new normal?

While the digital world perpetuated keeping in touch and entertainment in many forms, customer usage also expanded through predictive text and emoji. Because people do what they always do … congregate and gossip, and be amused and saddened. For human nature is what it is.

So building strong brand relationships and customer loyalty remain the bedrock of marketing.

And understanding human nature and their concomitant behaviour is also at the heart of Marketing.

The fundamentals to manage marketing in new normal remain constant as much as change is a constant. It is in embracing change and remaining customer-centric that Marketing is most successful.

The Marketing Director’s role is to understand and exploit the change to benefit their organisation by always staying one step ahead. That’s what successful marketing has always done and must continue to do.

A digital guide for the new normal

To help you stay a step ahead, we’ve launched Volume 2 of The Marketing Director’s Handbook – Managing Digital Marketing. This spotlights, and puts marketing in the new normal in context. It helps you understand the changing digital world and also to manage key digital marketing activities. Specifically, to optimise your website for search, and better use advertising, and social media to attract and engage more customers. But most fundamentally to help you better lead your organisation, and manage marketing as a whole.

The Marketing Directors Handbook is available as a one or two volume work from all good bookshops, including Foyles, Waterstones, WH Smith, Blackwells, Amazon, many university bookshops, as well as our own bookshop (with free P&P).


1, 2, 5 and 6. OFCOM Online Nation 2020. Base: All adults 18+. This is updated every year.

3. Office of National Statistics May 2020.

4. OFCOM Communications Market Report September 2020. This is also updated every year.

Tim Arnold is a famous marketer of the 80's and 90's who ran one of the most sucessful independent UK agencies. He went on to establish a leading UK search marketing agency and become a sought-after interim marketing director and consultant. He is co-author of The Marketing Director's Handbook volumes 1 and 2.

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