Facing an underwhelming economy, marketers have to go all-in to boost growth for their brands, taking risks and trying new things to maintain their place in the market. CMOs are more accountable than ever about growth, the company’s purpose and their brand’s place in the cultural conversation, said speakers at a meeting of top marketers.
Everything is marketing today, from employee relations to the customer frontline, so marketers need to become the stewards of the whole process in order to boost company growth and remain relevant, according to top marketers speaking at the Association of National Advertisers’ annual Masters of Marketing meeting.
“I’m the only CMO in this room who will have an easier job if the economy tanks,” said Cpt. Matt Boren, CMO of the U.S. Navy Recruitment Command.
The prospect of economic slowdown—the meeting got under way as stock market indeces dropped more than 600 points in one day—brought into high relief the need for companies to sharpen marketing focus for the tougher days ahead.
“It feels like marketing needs a marketing campaign,” said Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble.
The performance of the companies in the S&P 500 index “has been underwhelming” and growth has been an issue for a while, said ANA CEO Bob Liodice, opening the conference. He noted that a 1% change in a company’s underlying growth rate is worth at least $500 million to the bottom line, so any improvement marketers can enable will make a difference.
“Marketing is no longer an expense driver. It is a growth engine, and that has responsibilities,” said Suzy Deering, CMO of eBay.
But getting a brand’s message across is increasingly fraught in this era of tribal politics and real-time media overload, said marketers. Consumers are not receptive to traditional messages and are able to shut them off, said speakers.
“People are paying us to go away,” said George Hammer, IBM’s chief content officer.
Marketers don’t need a lot of gimmicks that don’t work long-term and ruin the opportunity to matter to consumers, Hammer said, adding IBM has adopted a mantra its content efforts: “Make less, matter more.”
Marketers need to offer something that justifies getting consumers’ attention, said Hammer. They must rely less on ad flights and big-bang campaigns and instead need to learn to build up on their brand platform to keep consumers coming back.
“Ladies and gentlemen: This is indictment of our industry. It is also a wake up call,” said Liodice. “It is abundantly clear we must have the courage to lead.”
Courage was a topic of discussion from the stage an on the floor, as marketers argued how best to push their organizations to take a chance on new technologies, new messages or publicly embracing their own beliefs.
“We’re not taking as big a risk as we had. We’re going into creative hibernation,” said Progressive CMO Jeff Charney. Some CMOs need so much information they fall into “analysis paralysis,” but the best ones don’t overthink their initiatives, giving them just enough study to know if the risk is worth it, he said.
“Do not be afraid to strike out. If you fail, fail fast,” he said, and learn from it “so the next time you’re out there you’re going to hit it.” Taking some risks is necessary to stay in front of the consumer, he said: “If you’re not relevant, stay out of the profession”
“Stop Marketing to the Average”
After years of driving the data message, marketers have begun to pivot to be a little less obsessively data-driven and more experience-focused. Many speakers stressed data is still a key part of marketing; but with the growth of technologies such as artificial intelligence, voice response and other user experience tools, data has become less a driver to shape messages and instead a fuel to power a customer-driven experience.
“We have to look at our data though a lens of what matters to our customers, not just to us,” said eBay’s Deering.
“Data is really really important… but it goes beyond data,” said Elizabeth Rutledge, CMO of American Express Co. “We’re all stewards of that human connection.”
The old-style marketing funnel is done, but marketing organizations are still structured for it, said Allan Thygesen, Google’s President-Americas. Each consumer journey is unique today, so intent is a better definition of the journey than a funnel, and it better reflects how brands can assist consumers.
“Stop marketing to the average,” he counseled.
Most speakers agreed that organizations need to restructure to enable agility now, whether it’s by bringing work in-house, working differently with their agencies, or building teams differently.
“Stand up for a consumer-first agenda at your company,” said Jill Estorino, executive VP, Global Marketing & Sales at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
That can be a tall order, most marketers agreed. When American Express first started “scrum” teams across departments to allow for agile management “everyone literally ran from the room” to ask OKs from their bosses, said Rutledge. Initially, the team members didn’t want to take a risk of making the wrong call by their departments and had to be trained to accept that test-and-learn was part of the process, she said.
Keurig had to do a similar effort when it restructured its marketing to enable new growth in a market it created—single-serve coffeemakers. What had started as a functional brand, making fresh coffee more accessible, plateaued, and the brand had to find ways to build a stronger human connection, said VP-Marketing Philip Drapeau.
“Agile for us was not a process, it was a mandate,” he said. “We had to get faster and better.”
Keurig has “taken a challenger brand mentality,” to plug into consumer trends, that meant marketing had to force people to make quick decisions and to do that it had to build their confidence with data.
IBM had a similar experience when it restructured its organization for agile management, said CMO Michelle Peluso. The company streamlined its marketing from 17,000 locations to six, including taking over an entire WeWork space in New York. This required hundreds of staff to relocate and change their work situation. They had to be convince that they would be able to do their best work and would be more marketable afterwards, but “the first six months were super-rocky,” she said.
“I think we have to change the way we work,” said Peluso. Marketers must challenge the “verticalization of organization” and silos. This kind of structure won’t stand the test of time, she said.
“I think we’re in an era of the incumbent disruptor,” said Peluso. The core marketing is to always be changing and reinventing to help clients reinvent themselves.
Most marketing still aims for share of voice but “you have to move from share of voice to share of culture,” said Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital. Many speakers noted that purpose statements are now table stakes for brands that want to remain relevant.
“To have a purpose-driven culture is now absolutely essential,” said Deering, who cited research showing 65% of consumers support brands that are purpose-driven, 80% of millennials believe companies have an obligation to improve society and 87% believe businesses should be measured by more than just their performance
“We know that brand purpose drives growth. It is well established. But data and technology, these are really just building blocks,” said Hatch. “When you can dig down down to where your consumer is…That is the marketing that drives growth… and that is marketing that is a force for good.”
The main message of the conference was to embolden marketers to speak up and arm themselves with data. Most speakers said that making bets is essential; even losing bets can yield some useful results.
“The main takeaway for today is: Do not be afraid to speak up,” said Erick Dickens, SVP & CMO of King’s Hawaiian. “Whether it comes from a place of courage or a place of ignorance… the effect is the same.”