Charlie Marchant on Strategies for Staying Ahead
Charlie Marchant is COO of Exposure Ninja
Can you introduce yourself and share a little about your background?
I've been working in the digital marketing sector for a decade and in the COO role for 6.5 years. It's a fast moving industry and the first half of 2023 has been no different with huge leaps in AI tech and the rollouts of GA4, Google Perspectives, Threads, Performance Max and more. We're also seeing the business landscape change with global recession predictions (and the fear around this) and inflation and cost of business and living increases. As the COO in such a rapidly moving business sector and for a B2B organisation, staying ahead of the changing business landscape is necessary for our organisation to adapt, survive and thrive.
As a forward-thinking professional, how do you identify ways to stay ahead in your industry?
I have a few different techniques I use for staying ahead in the digital marketing industry. Firstly, keeping up with news through not only traditional news websites but industry specific publications, YouTubers, industry experts and getting hands-on to take a look at things and understand people's opinions on them. When it comes to changes in this sector, both the changes themselves and how people are viewing them are important in recognising which changes to focus in on and avoiding fruitless rabbit holes. I have a fantastic team around me who I tap into often. Our agency's marketing team and our founder, Tim Cameron-Kitchen, create cutting-edge videos on marketing topics from Google Perspectives to AI disrupting the sector. We have specialists with fresh ideas and expertise across so many different areas that their opinions support the business to stay ahead. Every quarter, we have a strategic planning session with the Senior Leadership team to look at our progress towards our annual goals and assess what's working and if we need to pivot on anything. We do this quarterly to keep on top of the changes that happen and be able to adapt to them as needed. Annually, these include PESTLE and SWOT analysis too so that we can create contingency plans for any major blockers that might impact our business plans.
How often do you reassess your competitive landscape and, as I know you're very busy, I'd love for you to share any tips you have on carving out the time to do this?
Being too busy not to do this is not an option for businesses that want to survive and arguably is the most important use of time for any senior leader, founder or C-suite role. I reassess the competitive landscape on a quarterly basis, but am constantly engaged in conversations around this. I have regular catch-ups with CEOs, COOs, Commercial Directors etc in other agencies and businesses to hear about their experiences and discuss the competitive landscape together - we share insights about what's been working and not, and learn from each other. I keep these conversations scheduled at regular intervals in my calendar and carve out focus-time quarterly on an early morning or a Friday afternoon when I know it will be a quieter period.
What have been the most significant challenges you've faced when striving to stay ahead in a rapidly changing world, and how have you overcome them?
The most significant challenges have been the unanticipated ones such as COVID-19 where it's unexpected and hard to predict exactly how it will unfurl. We've overcome these types of challenges by contingency planning for the worst case scenarios when it comes up. This includes trigger points for certain actions happening so that there's a plan in place. Involving the full management team is an important part of this exercise to gain perspectives and ideas for each set of actions. This means going deep into different areas it will impact the business and analysing those scenarios to create plans, e.g. sales, marketing, people, finance and so on. Having management team involved early means that if the stage does come where these actions need to be executed, they are already briefed and ready.
Can you pinpoint a defining moment or experience where your innovative strategies led to success or a competitive advantage in your business or career?
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we lost 47% of our client base within a month. We had regained this and more during the 2 months following this due to the innovative strategies we had planned and executed. These included repositioning our marketing towards eCommerce businesses for that period, running workshops with clients on marketing during COVID-19 and pivoting their businesses to continue to make sales during that period and temporarily cutting certain parts of our budget to make cost savings during a tight time.
In your opinion, what are the key ingredients of an effective strategy for staying ahead in 2023?
In 2023, I would say the key ingredients would be: - Planning for the worst-case scenarios that could happen for your business in relation to recession and inflation/cost increases. Whilst UK news has decided a recession is unlikely to happen in 2023, it's on the cards for 2024. Either way, there's risk here and risk from 'fear of recession' that can affect consumer spending habits. - Adaptability to new challenges that arise. We've seen many businesses immediately bury their heads in the sand about AI and become defensive about it. Whilst AI might not impact immediately or may be regulated, closing yourself off from learning about new trends is not an effective strategy. This is just one example where open-mindedness and adaptability will be essential for success in 2023. - Data-driven decision making is always in my toolkit for effective strategies. Knowing your business' numbers, testing and experimenting with sales offering, surveying your customers etc to get good data to make decisions from is essential in decision making. Done well, this data should also reveal where emotion-led decision making happens too, which you can use to your advantage.
In your opinion, what role does continuous learning and personal development play in staying ahead, and how do you incorporate these practices into your own professional journey?
It plays a huge role in staying ahead. As Aristotle wrote: "The more you know, the more you realise you don't know." You can never know everything and this awareness is essential. The more aware you are of what you don't know and the better understanding you can have of what's going on in the world, your own character traits and your personal development areas, the more strategic-minded you will become in a professional environment. Personally, I keep continuous learning and personal development central in my personal and professional life by reading widely (fiction and non-fiction), listening to podcasts, listening to others who work in my industry and the opinions of friends and people I meet (on both topics they know well and their opinions on topics they may be less familiar with) and questioning my own thinking. In recent years, I've also referred back to my personality type to understand why I might be inclined to take certain actions or have certain opinions and reflect on these.
Looking ahead, what emerging trends or technologies do you believe will have the most significant impact on businesses or ambitious professionals, and how are you preparing to leverage them for future success?
The continued development of AI is happening and will impact businesses and ambitious professionals. Whilst there's a question of how it will be regulated and how ethics ties in, there is no doubt that emerging AI technology will be used in some capacity to move businesses forward. There's a lot of irrelevant information out there and at the moment it can feel hazy to know what this could look like. For me at the moment, this looks like keeping up with the news on this, watching videos from those testing out different software and AI tools, and understanding potential possibilities from it.