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The importance of networking

Sam Watkinson

May 5, 2022   Thoughts

 

Networking and business events can be painful; awkward silences, vacant looks and the inevitable repetition of who you are, where you’re from and what you do. So, after attending and hosting a couple of such events this year already, it’s pleasantly surprising to have avoided all of these tropes.

Quite often, all you can come away with from some events are a bunch of business cards destined for the bin and a longing for your time back, but again I’m hoping to buck this trend with three key takeaways.

  1. Sharing is caring.

Businesses are rarely in totally unique positions. The most striking moments in the sessions I co-hosted were the flurry of nodding heads and mutters of agreement when an attendee posed a question or mentioned a problem, and the look of relief on that attendee’s face as they realised they were not alone, and that the problem is not solely theirs.

It can be easy to get tunnel vision when trying to manage a business, and the awareness that others are going through, or have been through, similar milestones was a visible relief to some. No matter what size or style of business, there is undoubtedly someone else experiencing the same thing(s). It can be that it is only when we stick our heads above water to take a breath that it’s possible to realise this.

The great thing about the sessions I was a part of, is that this realisation was quickly followed by listening and learning. Without wanting to call ‘house’ on a bingo board of post-pandemic jargon too soon in this blog, the fact these discussions were happening in person for the first time in a long time meant they felt more meaningful, sincere and actionable.

There are always opportunities for growth and areas to explore, and by being open with each other, we (agencies and clients alike) can find renewed energy from those at an earlier stage of the journey, be more aware of potential pitfalls by learning from those who have ‘been there’ and ‘done that’, and take a moment to reflect on the positives and what has been achieved.

  1. ‘Unprecedented times’

Yes, Covid. But this is also true of the considerations beyond the pandemic. Data security, user tracking, and balancing online and offline sales were recurring themes and topics of discussion. And no matter how much sharing and caring happens, the level of changes on the horizon and the pace at which they are required can be a daunting prospect.

Broadly speaking, the way businesses and agencies approach marketing is undergoing an enormous shift, not least in the digital marketing sector. To be overly dramatic about it, we must all ‘adapt or die’. To be less so, here are three key areas I noted down from the sessions I attended that are worth highlighting and elaborating on.


Cookies

Not news to many, but the tracking of third-party cookies is fast approaching its demise. By the end of 2023, Google will join a long list of (admittedly much smaller) browsers no longer supporting this type of tracking and, in doing so, has signalled a sizeable shift in the way most digital businesses operate.

This, of course, doesn’t mean the end of tracking but asks more questions than most are willing (or able) to answer about where we go from here. The biggest of these from the sessions I have joined has simply been: “How do we continue to get information [about our customers]?”. Far be it from me to try and answer this here, but there are some simple first steps – some of which I have shamelessly stolen from an older Fountain blog on the matter.

  1. Consider the impact of losing third-party data
    – Identify all cookies and how their absence could directly and indirectly impact performance
  2. Start to understand other metrics more clearly
    – Knowing how simpler metrics (that will remain) relate to those you’ll lose could prove invaluable in the short-term
  3. Look into first-party data collection


First-party data

Making better use of data you collect naturally/for free should be part of most accomplished multi-channel marketing strategies and, in light of the death of third-party cookies, is likely to play a bigger role in even more.

With most attendees hailing from the world of retail, first-party data is not a new concept and there was plenty of advice for younger businesses on what does and doesn’t work best. Despite the differences in the businesses present, some advice was universal; offering good value exchange and giving the user something worthwhile for their data, constantly testing new ways of gathering, using and measuring data, and focusing on good content were at the forefront of discussions.

Google, somewhat inevitably, can offer greater details and further ideas here.


GA4

In just over a year’s time, Google will replace the universal analytics programme it provides us with a new, snazzier property: Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Despite the rather unimaginative new name, the changes in what users can do, and how we do them, are significant – both for the security of our customers, but also in respect of their technological evolution. Google themselves describe their new analytics beau as ‘privacy-focused and durable for the future’.

Few attendees mentioned GA4 unprompted, but it was probably the topic I talked around most, pressing others to adopt it now in tandem with universal analytics, gathering as much data as early as possible – after all, information is power. However, Google has stepped up their messaging about GA4 recently, meaning more businesses may now be scratching their heads about it all – though agencies like Fountain will long have been aware and have been planning accordingly.

In this article, someone far cleverer than me has put together a useful GA4 FAQ, which helps you by compiling all the interesting bits about it all, and helps by allowing me to avoid pretending I know enough to write several paragraphs on it.

The point to make with these examples is that there will always be new challenges and ways of doing things to resolve such issues, but the steadfast way to navigate change successfully is to always be open to learning new things and adopt them as early as possible.

  1. The start of a conversation

The final takeaway is that no one thing can be solved by a solitary conversation or one visit to a networking event, but that they can be a vitally important asset in building business and continuing growth. Such sessions can spark genuine interest in other people’s businesses, as well as the willingness to re-evaluate our own position, but only by following up with determined effort will anything come of it as a result.

It was reassuring to see collaboration begin in person, with different businesses planning to collaborate, or to meet up again to share ideas and experience. The mantra here is “working smarter, not harder” – and whilst this is the type of thing we can see plastered over LinkedIn as a ‘humble brag’ by annoyingly successful people, it can go beyond self-promotion and be used to provide us all with much needed time to prepare for and deliver change.

What I notice more with every new event I attend is the seeds that can be planted only by talking with those in a similar position. And in the midst of a very changeable landscape, it’s these conversations that offer the direction and reassurance these ideas need to blossom. Simply asking the question or raising a hand can start the dialogue which opens doors and offers answers.


Summary

At their worst, networking events are a tiresome, unenjoyable and unproductive way to spend a morning, but when done right (and over breakfast), events like these can be a genuine pleasure; seeing the ideas, energy and enthusiasm that time spent sharing knowledge and experience can produce – whether anyone there cares who you are, where you’re from and what you do … or not.

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