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The Realities for Today’s CMOs- Thoughts from The Economist’s The BigRethink

March 14, 2014

The Economist’s The Big ReThink marketing conference provided a reminder, as if we needed one that things are changing radically in the marketing world.

Technology occupied 90% of all conversations in its various guises; as a disruptive force and the creator of new social, mobile and digital channels. The white knight riding to the rescue and helping marketers and their agencies to make sense of this new world was the promise of “Big Data”.

Here are 5 themes that I believe emerged from the conference.

1. Reaching the Adressable Consumer

The brand leader that emerged from the day was Frito Lay and its CMO Anindita Mukherjee. She seemed confident that they had cracked the code where they could now predict the potential ROI on any piece of communication. Somehow the company had found the new “Holy Grail”- for example- they had managed to link up all the desperate pieces into a cohesive whole; tracking individual consumers from their Facebook newsfeeds through to coupon redemption in grocery stores.

The issue of privacy made it into the conversation as moderators asked questions about the potential “creepiness” factor of brands simply knowing too much about their customers. The issue was mainly shrugged off, as if there was little anyone could do about the marketers getting all the data they desired.

1-800-Flowers CMO Amit Shah, should have had a white cat on his lap to stroke as he gloated about his plans to model the likelihood that you would still be with your significant other in a year’s time and the brand’s efforts to reach Valentine’s Day’s shoppers while they’re buying gifts in jewelery stores.

David Rogers of Columbia Business School took the addressable idea a step further to embrace; personalized retail experiences and products thanks to 3D printing technologies.

2. Data as a Brand Relationship Enhancer

While most other marketers were left in standing in Frito Lay’s ROI wake, Caesar’s CMO Tariq Shaukat, highlighted the company’s progressiveness in the volume of data they were taking in and their ability to use that data to change potential outcomes, even in real-time on the floor of its casinos. The CMO mentioned they’re accomplishing all this with a small team of just 200 data analysts.

McCann’s Laura Simpson had another perspective; her research found consumers were delighted to trade data about themselves with brands. This was because it either made things easier for them, or at the most extreme level, handing over highly personal data was positively transforming their lives. This is about a consumer overweighting the benefits of sharing data and not considering any potential downsides.

3. New Ways for Brands to Communicate in a Multi-Channel World 

We got a reminder of the realities of channel proliferation from Octagon who had recently conducted research with sports fans. Their conclusion is that it’s no longer about a single point of media channel consumption, or one preferred channel, instead their “Avid Fan” was someone who was getting a firehouse of sports content from dozens of different outlets on mutliple devices. Not surprisingly, these were the best fans for brands to go after because they were likely to be spending the most.

David Rogers of Columbia Business School saw digital advertising mirroring the societal trend of the hollowing out of the Middle Class, with display giving way to trading desks at the low end and ever more sophisticated digital stunts and experiences at the high end and put a $20m price tag of Samsung’s recent Oscar efforts to illustrate his point.

There was talk about channels of consumption and discussion over the merits of one social media site over another. Bob Rupczynski from Kraft was very fond of Tumblr because of its reach, the ability to use multiple forms of content and unlike Facebook, it was possible to tag all of your content and obtain deep data from those tags. .

One panel examined the use of mobile video, with Tom Lamb the CMO of Lowe’s, who was pretty pleased with the success of his recent Vine videos. He found the discipline of creating 6 seconds of content, refreshing and suggested that after trying to generate huge viral hits, the brand had come back down to earth and was doing things that were more “on brand”, rather than just random pieces of entertainment to try and get attention.

In line with Lowe’s desire to create “on brand” content, Neil Bedwell of Coca-Cola talked about the discipline of using  scale to tell emotionally positive stories that are connected to brand DNA. In the case of this year’s World Cup, the focus is about the game, but Coca-Cola’s angle is all about fans and their human stories. Neil was in the midst of making plans for his crew to travel to Brazil on content-creating mission and effort that’s likely to demand a series of 19-hour working days for him.

Chipotle looked at content through another lens, as an opportunity to raise awareness of issues that relate to the brand, rather than developing content specifically for the brand. Mark Shambura talked about spending TV show production sized budgets against its “Farmed and Dangerous” content. This effort has taken the brand truly into the realm of TV production, where they were now negotiating overseas rights with broadcasters.

These brands mentioned above at least have a strong strategic POV about developing content, this contrasted with one of Frito-Lay’s efforts, who despite their very disciplined approach to ROI, were prepared to go off the brand reservation in order to achieve attention. The CMO mentioned an effort where they roamed the streets of LA searching for someone to “kidnap” ((It took 60 people declining, for one to say “yes”), so they could fly them in an executive jet to SXSW to introduce LL Cool J. This unsuspecting individual had no idea where Frito-Lay was taking him and what he was supposed to do, until he arrived at the stage and was told to go up and introduce the artist.

4. The Importance of Marketing Real 

Peter McGuinness of Chobani brought us all down to earth and unlike any of the other CMOs reminded us all of the competitive realities of marketing. He explained how the brand was fastest growing in the history of packaged goods skirted under the radar for years, until finally the big boys, like General Mills, decided to aggressively enter the space with budgets of $100 million.

Chapter 2 of Chobani’s story is all about developing a gospel based on the integrity platform of “How Matters” and spreading it to 2/3rds of the country, who aren’t yet aware of the brand.

Apparently, the company is planning to raise $5bn to help it expand globally and those plans could include more “retail-like” experiences.

The seductive temptation of technology is a danger for all marketers- while it seems like efforts are becoming more personalized, they can easily appear cold and robotic. Esther Lee of A&T highlighted how important it is to inject humanity and warmth into brand experiences as an antidote to this and Peter McGuinness of Chobani talked about how brands today need to “walk the walk”, rather than just talk.

5. Marketing Department Overload  

One big theme was the challenge of all this change for the marketing team; from finding the right agencies to work with, to breaking down silos and even just finding enough hours in the day to do their jobs. Their new lexicon is about calling failures  “experimentation”, using “war rooms” to create real-time marketing and using “dashboards” and “playbooks” as guides.

There was a sense that many of these practioners were charging bravely into the unknown without the full support of their organizations. There were CEOs and CFOs to convince and extract budgets from, not to mention legions of skeptical sales people.

The conference was dizzying in its pace and in the way it reflected the massive challenges that the average CMO faces these days.

While some agencies may feel they should have the right to the undivided attention of their CMO, the reality is that they simply have way too much going on to make that a possibility. They’re simultaneously fighting battles for budgets, managing an increasing array of agencies, uncovering the latest ROI numbers and learning about the next new thing.

This is clearly a complex world where data is paramount to helping marketers navigate and understand what works. However, there’s a sense that everyone is trying to do too much with too few resources and that there’s a big danger that without filters, there’s wastage and brands compromising themselves just for the sake of attention.

In addition, it’s clear “Big Data” is a complex problem that isn’t easy to solve, it requires a close relationship with the CIO and some deep pockets to buy all the data and talent you need to truly solve your ROI puzzle. Another issue is that data is fast becoming an addiction and there seems a distinct possibility that marketers are prepared to abuse their powers to get closer to their customers,  believing that this is what their customers want, which might not be the case.

The world of the CMO has gotten an order of magnitude more complex; to operate in this world agencies need to be clear, simple and direct as to what exactly they are going to do for their clients. There’s a temptation to match complexity with complexity, but given the realtities it’s the opposite approach that’s required.




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