Has there been a better time to be in marketing?

1:00 PM, 9 April 2014

It will come as a surprise to no one that whats making everything both more exciting and more difficult is technology. It is technology gives us the platforms to be part of our consumers lives, to earn a space on their newsfeed and the tools to reach, engage and entertain them. But it also sets challenges for us. Challenges in understanding all of these new platforms and what they can, or should do for us. Straight from the conference, here are ANZAs answers.

How can, or how should we integrate digital into a connected, coherent multi-media strategy and how should it complement marketing communications on traditional media?

The rise of technology challenges us because it provides those who regard all marketing with suspicion with new opportunities (and even multiple platforms) to blame it for some of society's most intractable problems, be it childhood overweight and obesity issues, alcohol-related harm or unsustainable consumption.

We are faced with changes to the rules that govern what we are able do as marketers. Some of these will be for the better and provide greater clarity, but a significant number represent challenges to our license to operate. It also challenges us to think not just about how we can reach our target audiences but whether we should be using this programming slot, this creative execution, this technology platform or that message to do so.

However, the real challenge of digital technology for marketers is much more fundamental. It challenges our traditional notion of what a brand is and what it means to consumers. The functional benefits that launched the first brands are now just a small part of the equation. In the digital age, information is readily accessible to citizens who want to discover more about the brands they follow and admire, not just in their own countries, but in every country where they operate.

In today's world, the concept of local doesn't exist anymore. A brand that operates across geographies needs to be seen to play by the same rules and standards everywhere. Any ill-thought through commercial, promotion, or untrusted micro-sites in Thailand or Mexico can come back and bite you in NZ, Australia or elsewhere, thus proving that today brands are only as strong as their weakest link.

Just as platforms like Twitter and Facebook have helped topple governments as part of the Arab Spring, so too Wikileaks and Edward Snowden have shed an uncomfortable light on governments in the west. And brands are equally at their mercy.

Activists, not governments, are leading the push for change. Companies cannot isolate themselves from public debate and are now expected to take positions on all manner of issues, even if they are only tangentially related to their businesses.

We need to remove the walls between the marketers who traditionally talk to consumers, and the corporate & public affairs people who deal with non-governmental organisations like the media, because in the outside world their messages blur into one - a feat social media has made possible. But activism is not solely about confrontation. Co-operation with companies is becoming increasingly important, not least because multinationals are concerned about environmental threats to their own future supplies of water, food and other raw materials, but that these issues highlight the fact that none of us alone can solve a problem so there are opportunities for companies to collaborate in ways they have never done before.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, told a recent conference: If consumers don't like what they see, they're able to express it. The youth in emerging markets are more than happy to do so and they're an incredibly important force. The point is simple, you can get an irresponsible company out of business in a matter of a few seconds now.

The truth is, in an age where everything is on show, every brand can have its own Tahrir Square or Wikileak moment.

In the Digital Age, we have to ask ourselves whether we really understand what we mean by brand conversations and how we participate in them. What skills are needed? How often do we talk and whats the balance between talking and listening? Critically, how do we stick to a meaningful and consistent message and tone of voice?

In the age of big data, successful marketers will need to be an equal measure of mad men, method men and math men (and women, of course!) While big data will no doubt bring great opportunities, what are we doing now with the small data that already exists? As marketers, we need to expand our skill sets. We need to integrate CRM, sales, public affairs, PR and corporate communications as well as traditional marketing if we are to fulfil this new role in the digital age. We need to build on our links with the other parts of our business so that we are better placed to highlight and change business decisions that expose our brands to risk.

These are huge and exciting challenges, and I reiterate; there's probably never been a better time to be in marketing. But its harder than ever before to be a good marketer and even the best are going to have to raise their game. Were going to need to become more sensitive and cultivate our listening skills to garner better insights that ultimately see us showing mindfulness around our responsibilities to society.

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