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Thriving in the age of complexity

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The watchword in marketing this year is not social or mobile. It's not Facebook or iPad. No, it's something much simpler: complexity. In February, Peter Naylor, exec VP-digital sales at NBCUniversal and the recently installed chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, stressed in his opening remarks at the group's annual meeting in Miami Beach that the digital advertising industry needs to combat what he termed “complexity creep.” (It's tough not to think of that fine turn of phrase in an anthropomorphic sense.) “Our products are complicated and our processes are complex,” Naylor said. “The higher the complexity, the lower the confidence marketers have investing in digital media.” Complexity was also a recurrent theme at BtoB's inaugural Digital Edge Live conference last month in San Francisco. When asked what their biggest marketing challenge is, two of the four members of a panel of CMOs cited increasing complexity. “Everything is becoming much more complicated, and my biggest challenge is trying to work out how I can use all these channels available to me as an integrated, outbound program to generate business,” said Chris Boorman, senior VP-education and enablement and CMO at Informatica. “I'm increasingly using social networking. I use direct marketing. I read all the textbooks, hear all the theory and understand how, in theory, you're supposed to combine all this together. But my biggest challenge remains gaining the maximum ROI from all this to feed the pipeline.” Tom Haas, CMO of Siemens, said: “Complexity is our biggest issue. One thing we're trying to do at Siemens is start an extensive education process, getting people up to speed on what they can do and how to go about it, especially in social media marketing. We're in different industries, and we're working with our companies to create blogs addressing industry challenges. But the biggest thing for us right now is managing all that complexity, getting people trained and giving them the tools.” Haas also delivered perhaps the best line during the full-day event, when addressing the challenges of taking advantage of the ever-burgeoning amount of data that marketers are generating these days. He said there's a saying around his company—“If Siemens only knew what Siemens knows.” Despite the massive upheaval in the world of marketing over the past decade, with the pace of change accelerating daily, it seemed clear that Boorman, Haas and the other speakers at Digital Edge Live, whether marketers or agency executives, are charged up about their work. They may feel overwhelmed at times by “big data,” but they see the promise it holds for getting ever closer to customers and prospects. They see the same potential in social media and mobile, too. Despite all the complexity, this does indeed seem the best of times to be a marketer. It's that simple. John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at jobrecht@crain.com.
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