Why Agility Is Key to Winning in the Modern Marketplace

How to Respond to Shifting Consumer Shopping and Media Habits

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Consumer buying habits are undergoing seismic changes, and one reason is that consumer media habits are also changing dramatically, inductees to this year's American Advertising Foundation Hall of Achievement agreed.

"How do we reach people who don't want to be reached and go out of their way to not be reached?" asked Ian Schafer, founder and global chairman of Deep Focus. "That's going to require probably the greatest amount of creativity that's ever been applied to this business."

Today's marketers need to be able to move quickly and easily to keep up, said Seth Kaufman, chief marketing officer at PepsiCo North American Beverages. "Given how quickly everything's changing around us, and you wake up every day and there's a new platform that we have to connect and engage our consumers with, it's really, really important to be agile. And I think the best marketers, the best ad people, are extraordinarily agile."

What other characteristics apply to today's marketing people, I wanted to know. Cindy Gustafson, founder of Mindshare's Invention Studio, came up with "pioneering." She said today's ad people look at things "and wonder what we can do to stretch them and twist them so that we can build new things out of it and figure out what we could make of these new things."

Ian thought the most important attribute was "entrepreneurial." He said you may see fewer agencies being started these days, but you see more opportunities to be an entrepreneur -- "starting operations within existing agencies to help find new solutions to new problems. I think we find more new problems every day in this business and they do require fresh looks. There are more opportunities to do what we do than in places other than agencies and advertisers, and I think that is giving people more of an entrepreneurial spirit as well."

Other marketing people participating in the video interview were Joel Lunenfeld, VP of global brand strategy, Twitter; and Sarah Personette, VP-global business marketing, Facebook. Unable to attend the session were Ricardo Dias, global VP-consumer connections, Anheuser-Busch InBev; and Casey Wasserman, founder and CEO, Wasserman Media Group.

Sarah made the point that because mobile phones now allow you to make purchase decisions on demand, "it has totally changed the way we discover products, the way we buy products and, ultimately, the way we fulfill. So it's just the crux of all the dynamic changes in purchase habits today." To demonstrate how fast things are changing, she noted that it took 14 years for the TV world to accumulate 50 million users; it took the smartphone sector two years.

Joel said if "engagement" is the word people are talking about now, "attention" is probably the word they'll be talking about next. "Because you can't fake that attention. If somebody is actually spending time with your ad, or taking the time to talk to you or respond, that's the measure: that he or she responded.

"And it puts pressure on us as an industry to serve up the right message at the right time to the right target, which is really, really complex, given how micro some of these segments are, but it's also a lot of fun."

Ian asserted that the results from digital advertising "don't have to take place in digital. Because everything in digital was being attributed to digital, you had to follow a trail of bread crumbs that fed from a click to a sale.

"Now, thankfully, there's technology and research out there that enables us to look at the things that are happening online and see how they impact the real world. Increasingly, people are living their lives in the real world, aided and abetted by technology."

What separates millennials from other generations, the panelists agreed, is that they care more about the value, the quality of the products and the story behind it than just the cost.

Cindy said at her client Unilever there's a real push to have every brand stand for something "sincere and authentic" as a way to engage.

So companies are bringing back depictions of the original owners in their ads, like the Dodge brothers and Colonel Sanders, who have authentic stories about their products that millennials want to hear.
Ian said it takes brands like Dove and Always "to have the courage to build their brands over a longer period of time and play the long game and not just the short game." Brands that are able to tell their story in a relevant way and make it personal are the ones who will succeed, the panel agreed.

Sarah said what it all boils down to is "rooted in the fundamental reason we as an advertising industry exist. And that's because we are people first. We care about the consumer and we want to expedite that consumer experience to go from understanding to purchase as fast and as frictionlessly as possible."