The ANA's Call to Arms: Will Marketers Answer?

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Bob Liodice and Marc Pritchard challenged advertisers at the 2016 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference.
Bob Liodice and Marc Pritchard challenged advertisers at the 2016 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference. Credit: Clarion Pictures

At the ANA's "Masters of Marketing" conference in Orlando last month, ANA CEO Bob Liodice, P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard and others called on marketers to take back their industry and truly lead. There was a demand for transparency from agencies and media partners, a call to embrace creativity and quality over crap and quantity, and a challenge for marketing that delivers growth, results and ROI. From where I sat in the audience, this message was spot on, overdue and well received.

Crain Communications' President and Ad Age Editor-in-Chief Rance Crain also attended the conference, but his take was a bit different. In his Ad Age column, Mr. Crain wrote: "But it seems to me that marketers are content to pour more and more money into the new order of things without much verification that it's being well spent."

While I respect Mr. Crain, his company and publications, I think this may sell our industry a bit short.

I doubt there is a CMO in America that wants to continue to pour shareholder money into tools they don't understand or can't measure. The call for all of us to embrace the digital reality of the world we live in, and to push for more transparency and verification, is an imperative. Yes, we are living in a very chaotic time, when it is extremely difficult to measure the true ROI of our marketing investments, let alone know where our ads are appearing or who is engaging with them. But to paint the marketing industry as turning a blind eye of complacency to this is an unfair characterization.

The marketers I know and interact with daily are aggressively stepping up to understand this new "order of things" and determine how to transform the experience consumers have with their brands, wherever that experience may occur. They are demanding more precision in measuring the behavioral and business response to their marketing investments, and they are experimenting with different technology platforms. They are embracing all of the intense targeting and relevance opportunities that new digital engagement platforms provide. And they are asking hard questions of their colleagues and partners.

And they better be.

In an Accenture study, CMO's were cited as the most likely C-level executives to lose their jobs when their companies miss growth targets. The good news is that they are held as the primary drivers of growth and innovation in their companies; the bad news is that a majority of them still feel that a large portion of their marketing budgets are not delivering results.

This kind of pressure does not breed complacency but rather serves as intense motivation to improve the ROI on marketing spending. When I was a CMO of a major U.S. company, where I managed a significant marketing budget, I would routinely get "the look" from our CFO and CEO, as well as our Board, who were always pushing us to improve the productivity of our investment. Any marketer who wants to keep her or his job knows they can't shirk this responsibility of continuous improvement, understanding and performance.

Brand-building and delivering growth and marketing ROI in this chaos is certainly not easy, but it is not impossible. It seems to me that those who are doing it well, particularly across emerging digital platforms, have a few things in common:

They have a big idea at the center of their brand. The best marketers are storytellers, or as one speaker at the ANA said, "story orchestrators" -- who know their brand's voice and have defined a powerful idea that captures this, wherever it is expressed. These are executives who have taken back the marketing, management and messaging of their brand across all touchpoints, and they have done so through a very clear understanding of who they are and what they stand for.

They are integrated thinkers. The best marketers, and the agencies and partners that support them, take an integrated approach and demand integrated solutions. On the client side, they are not organized around siloes; on the agency side, they operate from a single P&L that is, by definition, media, platform and discipline agnostic.

They are scrappy and entrepreneurial. "Scrappiness" may be the most under-valued marketing skill, but it is essential. To me, the best marketers embody this restless, curious approach to brand-building. They know how to stretch a marketing dollar, and they often out-think their competition vs out-spend them.

They are data-driven and embrace technology but are also nimble. Being a marketer today requires a certain courage and willingness to venture into unknown territory and try new stuff. But it also requires, moreso than ever, an analytic mind that asks tough questions about new tools and technologies. These marketers are certainly willing to try new things, even before understanding the full efficacy of them, but they are also nimble in pivoting on strategies and tactics according to marketplace response.

Sure, this is a challenging time to be a marketer. But when has it ever been easy? Marketers aren't complacent or content. They are very busy figuring out how to lead growth for their brands and companies in this chaotic, ever-changing marketplace.

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