The Industry Speaks: 2016's Top Priorities

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What's the No. 1 issue that the overall marketing and advertising industry needs to deal with in 2016? Advertising Age surveyed executives from throughout the business, and heard a surprising range of answers.

Jeff Charney, CMO, Progressive

The biggest issue in marketing today is the world's reckless use of content.

Everyone's so concerned about ad blocking and time shifting, but we see a very different threat. Everybody is flooding the web with their own content, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. That's great, the web is democratized and the best stuff will usually rise up, but the clutter also makes it noisy. We're not just competing with our top competitors, or even other brands outside of our category, we're competing with people's friends, mothers and self-made celebrities on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. And it's just getting started.

Martin Sorrell.
Martin Sorrell. Credit: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP

Clients are still focused on the short term, for understandable reasons, i.e. low GDP growth, little or no inflation, little or no pricing power, and therefore a focus on cost. In addition, if you're running a legacy business, at one end of the spectrum you have the disruptors like AirBnB and Uber, at the other end you have the zero-based cost budgeters like 3G, Valeant and Endo, and then in the middle you have the activist investors like Nelson Peltz, Bill Ackman and Dan Loeb, who seem to have had remarkable success in 2015 (e.g. Dow and Dupont, AB InBev and SABMiller). So number one on the agenda is encouraging companies to take a longer-term, less risk-averse view of the world, predicated on the fundamental truth that marketing is an investment not a cost.

It's clear from BrandZ analysis that investing in brands works. In the last 10 years, a measurement of the strongest brands from the BrandZ Top 100 as a stock portfolio shows their share price has risen over three times more than the MSCI World Index and almost two thirds more than the S&P500. Encouragingly, some institutional investors, such as BlackRock, are tiring of the corporate focus on short-term cost cutting. We support the Focusing Capital on the Long Term initiative led by Dow Chemicals, McKinsey and others, which highlights the importance of long-term growth and investment.

Lori Senecal.
Lori Senecal. Credit: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg

Lori Senecal, global CEO, CP&B

Convention won't challenge itself. As an industry, we need to help marketers really take control of the technology solutions that unlock opportunities to offer consumers truly inventive, additive, and welcome experiences. But clients, agencies, and consumers will only benefit - and our industry will only thrive - if together with CMOs we can control the necessary technology from start to finish.

Maurice Levy, chairman and CEO, Publicis Groupe

Mobile and data

Douwe Bergsma, CMO, Georgia-Pacific

Better connect with our target consumer with breakthrough content at the right time, in the right place and in the right way, including the store.

David Sable, global CEO, Y&R

Digibabble and data glut. Time to stop the useless talk about digital disruption -- it's getting old and tired. Digital is everything but not everything is digital. And time to stop the faux worship of Big Data -- meaningless. It's all about Primal Data -- you, me, etc.

Mauricio Vergara, global lead and North America CMO, Bacardi

Consumers and how they continuously change. Their habits and how they consume media, how they interact with and choose brands, etc. For me, marketers, advertising and media executives that don't understand, accept and embrace the change will be unable to drive growth...for me the main evolution that marketers need to do is to think about ourselves as publishers and producers of content that deliver the point of view and value proposition of our brands in a way that engages consumers and adds value to them and their day to day lives.

Charlie Collier, president of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios

I hope it's too much upfront demand.

Lisa Utzschneider.
Lisa Utzschneider. Credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Lisa Utzschneider, chief revenue officer, Yahoo

Data is disrupting the digital advertising industry. In 2016, data will be a major agenda item for marketers, as they think differently about how to use the most relevant data and make smarter connections with their customers.

Scott Howe, CEO, Acxiom

Clutter, clutter, clutter. It's ad clutter and it's also vendor clutter. The Lumascape has gotten out of control. This isn't my observation, this is coming from our clients.

Jan Jacobs, co-founder, Johannes Leonardo

I hope that as it seems like the original digital hype and confusion has blown over, marketers will come to realize again that the thing that was most important before, still is – that a brand needs a point of view.

Martine Reardon, CMO, Macy's

I think it's a toss-up between breaking through the content overload (i.e. getting and keeping the consumer's attention) and keeping up with her. The pace of change has never been faster, and staying relevant in today's world requires making rapid decisions with more information than we've ever had and that can sometimes slow decision making down. Relevancy, authenticity, experiences and great product will be what wins the consumer over and the marketer who does that will have great success in my opinion.

Holly Zheng, CEO and president, BlueFocus International

The No. 1 challenge is all about making the right choices. For instance, which types of businesses to invest in, how much valuation can be set for a certain target company, what should be the new skill set and knowledge we need to build to better fit brand advertisers' new needs in such an ever-changing industry. And also figuring out how to work together in a more collaborative and seamless way, among brands, agencies, ad–tech companies, publishers and even users.

Rich Stoddart, CEO, Leo Burnett North America

The need to grapple with the accelerating demand for more content and more types of content, as well as the imperative to create that content with greater speed and at lower cost.

Joe Abruzzese, president of advertising sales, Discovery Communications

I think advertisers need to look at television as a long-term investment and focus on putting the proper media mix together.

Jim Bankoff, CEO, Vox Media

Distinguishing premium quality marketing (context, performance, creative, relevance) from bad advertising (interruptive, annoying, irrelevant); consolidating around premium quality at scale in digital.

Andy Polanksy, CEO, Weber Shandwick

Total spending on marketing services continues to grow at a global scale, so we see a lot of opportunity given the evolution going on in the digital, media and cultural landscape. But what clients are looking for with their investment is integration in their communication strategies. That includes PR, social, digital, content marketing, advertising, branding, media, multiplatform campaigns and so on. So our biggest challenge -- or as I see it, opportunity -- is integration. Our imperative is to think bigger, broader and in a more integrated way.

Eric Ashman, president, Thrillist Media Group

The rise of ad blockers and the extension of ad campaigns to social platforms has created a real opportunity for meaningful change in campaign measurement that premium publishers and marketers should seize as an opportunity to evolve what digital advertising looks like. Programs that integrate great creative, branded content that is created to serve the target audience, offline experiential programs, and social distribution can deliver engaging campaigns that deliver the increases in brand awareness and purchase intent that marketers are seeking.

Spencer Rice, CMO, SoulCycle

Communicating a brand story is no longer just about the storytelling, it's about the channel or platform being used to tell the story, how people are interacting with the content, and whether they are emotionally connected to it, inspired to share it, comment on it or otherwise engage with the content.

Jane Lin-Baden, CEO, Isobar China Group

On an industry level, the focus is how to really make data work for brands and how to monetize data. We're hearing a lot about big data, but the industry is still looking for a proven model for how to use data to more precisely generate commercial value. This year it's going to be important to integrate indirect data (research, impressions, media results) and direct data (on real-time consumer spending.) We have so many data silos in the industry, and everyone claims to own a piece of data. A critical step to minimize data is to create more data hubs that aggregate data from different sources, especially real-time transaction data with data which captures consumers' brand journey. For example, integrating real time granular-level consumer spending data with real-time consumer comments and perception of brands gives brands a better position to correlate sales with marketing investment.