ANA Masters Of Marketing Recap: Today’s Cost Center Is Tomorrow’s Revenue Generator

joannaoconnelrevised“Marketer’s Note” is a weekly column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem. It is written by Joanna O’Connell, Director of Research, AdExchanger Research.  

Having just returned from the three-day ANA Masters of Marketing conference, held this past weekend in Phoenix, I thought it worth sharing my thoughts with marketers on what I saw, heard and ultimately came away with:

The theme of the conference was GROWTH. I put this in capital letters because what I heard time and again from the marketing leaders who spoke is that marketing as a discipline has the power – now more than ever – to influence enterprise-level business decisions and drive business growth. In fact, I listened to CMO after CMO discuss the seat at the table he or she now has in developing innovative ways to find and connect with consumers – not just through advertising and marketing, but in areas like product development and the customer’s experience in-store. Now that’s cool – the implication couldn’t be clearer: The legacy thinking of “marketing as expense” is finally giving way to a belief in “marketing as revenue generator.” (And, by the way, it’s no accident that the average CMO’s tenure is now at 45 months, up from a paltry 23 months back in 2006, according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart.)

The customer is in charge and she is young, mobile and very demanding.  Stephen Quinn, CMO of Walmart, set the tone for the conference when he noted,  “The customer is empowered – they have tools that put them in the driver’s seat. It’s a painful transition for us, but it will make every one of us marketers customercentric.” And if you’re not focused on millennials — those multidevice, always-plugged-in 18-to-30-year-old digital natives — you’re a fool. At least that’s what every attendee heard loud and clear, over and over. (Noted Quinn: Millennials’ retail spending will surpass baby boomers’ by 2017). Visa CMO Antonio Lucio went so far as to exclaim: “I fundamentally believe that since the ’60s no other generation has been so equipped to dramatically change the world as the millennials.” For Visa, this doesn’t just mean marketing to this crowd; it means embracing them from the inside out, hiring fresh young faces into key marketing jobs to move new thinking to the center of Visa’s marketing activities.

The future of marketing is personalized, one to one.  If the customer is in charge, we’d better give her what she wants, where and when she wants it, said many speakers in many ways. As Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce (recent acquirer of CRM platform ExactTarget) counseled everyone, “Here’s the key: You have to remember that behind every app there is a customer. The problem is most companies don’t know their customers. Wherever the customer is, that is where we need to be — in the store, on the site, in email, on Facebook. … We’d better know it. It’s got to be a one-to-one relationship regardless of the customer touch point.” The challenge we face as an industry is how to get there: We remain mired in siloed thinking, channel-specific tools and a tracking and targeting foundation – the third-party cookie – that is woefully inadequate. I predict big change will come in the next year on this front: If every leading CMO knows that one-to-one relationships with consumers are the future of marketing, the realization that the industry doesn’t yet support it is right around the corner.

The big idea lives on, but it must be authentic. This conference was, above all, a celebration of great ideas – Chrysler’s “America’s Second Half” spot, featuring Clint Eastwood, brought the crowd to tears (I have to admit, that concept was gold). We were treated to the hilarious, the sexy, the thought-provoking and the emotionally wrenching from leading brands like Walmart, Mars, Marriott, Subway and Hennessy – and it was obvious that the emotional resonance of a big idea in marketing still matters. A lot. There was, simultaneously, major focus on bringing a sense of purpose and authenticity to marketing communications – staying true to the fundamentals of the brand (i.e. Chrysler’s highly resonant “Imported from Detroit” tagline) while engaging in the larger world in productive ways (i.e. Walmart’s focus on guaranteeing jobs to veterans and ConAgra’s work in fighting childhood hunger in the US) – today’s consumers expect nothing less from the companies with whom they choose to align.

Advertising remains the workhorse of marketing – unglamorous but critical. That said, a big idea is nothing if no one experiences it. While there were many mentions of Super Bowl advertising and the odd Facebook reference, not a whole lot of time was devoted to all the hard-working advertising media that is still so valuable in the transmission of the big idea. It made me wonder – did the crowd not believe that advertising matters so much anymore? Or did they simply think it wasn’t worth bragging about in front of a crowd of other marketers? My sense is both, a topic on which I could devote an entire column (another day). Thankfully, one speaker noticeably broke ranks and talked about his unique experience building an advertising strategy from scratch – with USAA, a brand that historically did not advertise. Roger Adams, CMO of USAA, took the time to celebrate the business success they’d achieved through advertising, noting, “Rarely do you have an opportunity to build advertising and ad positioning from scratch – using data, deep customer insight and focusing on finding the unique proposition. If you do your homework, you find it does work. We used predictive modeling to make media-mix decisions and it’s been very enlightening and helpful. When I started the journey I couldn’t even spell ROI.”

The power of data is still under-recognized, or at least undercelebrated. I expected a lot more talk about the power of data and its application in real-time technologies like demand-side platforms (DSPs) and data-management platforms (DMPs) for smart, fluid decision-making. There were moments – such as when MediaVest USA CEO Brian Terkelsen exclaimed to a roomful of senior marketers, “If you can’t explain what a DMP is, you’ve got to go back to school quickly.” — but not nearly enough. It was another moment when I wondered – is the issue that data isn’t seen as glamorous, or is it scary to this crowd? I have to thank Stephen Quinn of Walmart, again bringing smart thinking to the discussion, for pointing out, “Data and analytics are becoming so much more important to marketing. For a lot of folks, that’s not why they got into marketing. They’ve got to get savvy with data and technology as well.” We should heed the sage advice of unlikely source David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, who challenged the crowd with this question: “Ask yourself, ‘Is what we’re doing working? Or do we just think it’s working because we’ve always done it this way and we think it should work?’ It’s not about math; it’s about reality.”

Marketers, I hope this inspires you or at least gets you contemplating your own organization’s thinking about the role and value of marketing in today’s brave new world.  I’d love your thoughts either way!


Follow Joanna O’Connell (@joannaoconnell ) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter. 

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