Time to leave the pulpit and put buzz words into practice

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Consumer control. Accountability. Innovation. Engagement. Collaboration.

These are the buzzwords of the marketing industry today, and they can't be repeated often enough. "Intellectually," one marketing exec told me last week, "people are starting to get it."

But it's not sufficient to hear those terms ring out from behind podiums, no matter how prominent the speaker. It's time for marketers and those who do business with them to stop paying lip service to the changes sweeping the business and adapt.

That means recruiting talent with new skill sets and retraining existing work forces. It means redefining metrics around behavior and engagement rather than distribution and impressions. It means reconfiguring organizations, redirecting spending, and confronting the operational challenges of the marketing revolution.

Make no mistake, it's nothing short of a revolution. Those who don't embrace it-and resistance to change remains disappointingly strong-will be crushed by it.

The good news is that many marketers are singing from the same hymnal, and some can even point to real-world examples of how their organizations or consumer communications have evolved. At the Association of National Advertisers conference this month, just about every conversation revolved around the same themes, whether in meeting rooms or over courtyard cocktails. The repetition was numbing, yet confirmed that even though they work in diverse industries, CMOs are kept awake at night by the same concerns.

"Accountability sounds almost boring, but it's one of the most dynamic principles that drives us today," said ANA President Bob Liodice.

Larry Light, global chief marketing officer at McDonald's, once again publicly declared the death of the broadcast-centric ad model: "Mass marketing today is a mass mistake." McDonald's used to spend two-thirds of its ad budget on network prime time; that figure is now down to less than one-third.

General Motors' Roger Adams, noting the automaker's experimentation with less-intrusive forms of marketing, said, "The consumer wants to be in control, and we want to put them in control." Echoed Saatchi & Saatchi chief Kevin Roberts: "The consumer now has absolute power."

"It is not your goddamn brand," he told marketers.

This consumer empowerment is at the heart of everything. End users are now in control of how, whether and where they consume information and entertainment. Whatever they don't want to interact with is gone. That upends the intrusive model the advertising business has been sustained by for decades.

To succeed in a consumer-centric world, marketers must demand and get collaboration from their various partners. Many say that for the first time they are holding meetings that bring together their ad agencies, PR shops, direct-marketing partners, Internet consultants, media strategists, designers and others to develop truly integrated communications plans. There's no room in such meetings for sensitive egos or hidden agendas; all must work toward a common goal of effectively finding, and delivering, the right messages to customers.

What's also clear is that within their own organizations, chief marketing officers are fighting to win the respect of their CEOs, to align their agendas and create realistic expectations, and to prove the value of marketing in driving top-line growth.

This, easily, is the most exciting time to be in and around the marketing business.

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