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The Current State of Marketing- Thoughts from the ANA Conference- Orlando

October 24, 2014

Having spent three days at the ANA’s conference with 3,000 of the country’s leading marketers, it was a good opportunity to take the pulse of the current state of marketing and to identify the current conversation.

It’s clear that marketing is in the middle of revolutionary change that will in the end make it more powerful and respected as a discipline. This is exciting for many in the field, because since its inception, it’s lacked respect because it’s never been accountable, it’s also often sat on the fringes of the corporation, but it’s now able in many cases to take a front seat.

There were two standout keynote presentations that exemplified the two sides of marketing’s potency. Jeff Jones, Target’s CMO gave a passionate talk about how the data breech forced the leadership to take a serious look at the brand and make some significant changes. Instead of just paying lip service to the problem, Target used the event as a catalyst to examine everything; from their target consumer to their brand promise.

His parting words to the assembled mass were “ Don’t take your brand for granted, it’s always a good time to understand your brand and its relevance.”

Target’s case showed marketing’s power, sitting at the top table and helping to drive through change across the customer experience and taking responsibility for crafting powerful messaging to help put the struggling retailer back on its feet.

While Jeff Jones won my vote for best conference presentation because of his passion and honesty, both Mike Seivert of T-Mobile and Mark Addicks of General Mills both highlighted marketing’s power to lead organizational change.

Seivert explained how the company’s desire to disrupt the static carrier business had become ingrained in the culture and was now running through the veins of everyone from the CEO to the front-line employee. Like Jones, Seifert made it clear that marketing had a big role to play in this.

“The story starts with our 70k employees, we have to change, not just make ads”

Addicks showed the audience how powerful “purpose” can be when each brand identifies a higher calling that goes beyond the basic product.

At the other end of the scale, it’s clear marketing’s new found love affair with data is a chance for it to finally get the respect inside the organization that it’s craved since its inception. While data is talked about as the “Holy Grail” and is sometimes in danger of over-complicating itself into oblivion, it was great to hear someone who had the discipline to harness and direct it.

Deanie Elsner’s presentation had to be one of the best anyone has heard on the topic. She came across as a passionate, driven leader who would not stop until she’d achieved her goal of making data an integral part of Kraft’s marketing machine.  And what a machine she’s built- a social listening lab – “listening at the speed of culture” and rich customer datasets all built around three pillars- consumers, content and infrastructure. Kraft’s process had put a premium on technical innovation a priority which Elsner’s stressed when explaining the company’s connection to 30-40 start-ups.

Innovation was also at the heart of the presentation given by Peter McGuinness of Chobani. It didn’t seem that long ago that Chobani was the only “Greek” game in town, how quickly that’s changed and the brand now faces a slew of 800 competitors and a slowing market. Chobani’s response has been to stick to its brand promise that “How Matters” and to innovate at the speed of light. It was very impressive to see the sheer number of new ideas coming from the brand; from baby food, to retail stores.

Contrasting 2014’s event with the last time I attended 2 years ago, it was striking to see how agencies were now back and seem to be part of the conversation which they hadn’t been when all the talk was of client’s new found love for Facebook. Part of that might be genuine, but also the presenters had to play TV ad-like objects to get the crowd excited, a mobile banner wouldn’t cut it with the 3,000. That alone tells you something.

Marketers seemed to have cooled a little on the random and unstructured world of social and digital, certain speakers called out the danger of the discipline’s flirtations with shiny new objects and suggested that now was the time to focus, re-group and get disciplined.

In summary, the conference set a very positive tone for the future of marketing for two reasons:

  1. It showed how marketing has the power to lead from the top- it can define the purpose and drive it through to internal and external audiences
  2. It’s clear technology is transforming marketing and the organization- it’s making data actionable which has significant benefits in being able to demonstrate and drive ROI, but it’s also about innovation; new ideas and new ways to connect. Mobile is the most important thing right now- with many leading-edge marketers at the event talking about the need for a “mobile first” approach, which is a further evolution from the “digital first”, which most marketers are just coming to terms with.




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