From data hacks and the Cambridge Analytica scandal to ad bombardment, influencer fraud and brand safety issues, the crisis of confidence in marketing remains a persistent concern.
Public perceptions of advertising, for example – granted it is just one aspect of marketing – have been in decline for decades; from a 50% favourable perception in the early 1990s to just 25% in 2018, according to statistics from the Advertising Association (AA).
Marketers’ influence and reputation internally is also suffering. The fact brands including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Uber are getting rid of the CMO role, instead splitting the top marketer’s responsibilities across less senior, non-C-suite executives, should ring alarm bells.
It suggests Fournaise’s often-cited research that 80% of CEOs do not trust their marketers remains a cause for concern.
We have a responsibility as marketers to be the champions and flag-wavers for our industry.
Lindsey Clay, Thinkbox
The rise of alternative titles such as chief customer officer and chief growth officer have also diluted the relevance of the CMO.
As Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson puts it: “With the CMO position, we had a rare opportunity to make marketing into an established, strategic and senior function within most companies. No surprise then that a bunch of idiot marketing commentators spent the past few years critiquing the role and suggesting it needed to be retitled for the new challenges of the 21st Century.”
With trust undoubtedly in decline, marketing is at risk of losing its positive influence. It is not too late to turn the situation around, but marketers need to work hard to reclaim consumer trust, forge stronger bonds with the C-suite and enhance the impact of their work. That is the advice of the judges of Marketing Week’s Top 100 Most Effective UK Marketers, sponsored by Salesforce, the results of which will be revealed tomorrow (10 September).
They urge the industry to become genuinely customer obsessed and strike a balance between short-term tactics and long-term brand building, as well as striving to win over the boardroom.
Perceptions are certainly not helped by the fact it is fashionable in the media to see marketing as a dirty word, notes Thinkbox CEO Lindsey Clay. This has sparked a self-consciousness within the industry, with brands like BrewDog and Oasis creating campaigns that actively mock the notion of advertising.
“Is there an element of self-loathing within the industry? We have a responsibility as marketers to be the champions and flag-wavers for our industry,” says Clay.
“Rather than just contributing to the negativity, maybe marketers should be thinking about how they can contribute positively to overcoming some of these misconceptions. They are probably true of the worst of marketing, but that’s not all marketing.”
It is a misconception that must be addressed, though, given the advertising industry is now the lowest-ranked on the AA’s long-term trust tracking survey, which includes retail, music, telecoms, banking, energy and the media.
Some 42% of consumers interviewed by the AA say they often come across advertising that annoys them, while 13% frequently see advertising that genuinely concerns them. Consumers take issue with advertising seen to “unfairly target” vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly, intrusive ads that infringe upon their privacy and “suspicious techniques” that make consumers feel like they are being manipulated.
The survey also finds that 45% of people are annoyed by the repetition and obtrusiveness of advertising that gets in the way of their experience, while 35% are irritated about the volume of ads they receive. A further 38% criticise ads for not being relevant.
Clay argues the entire industry has been “wilfully neglectful” in taking responsibility for creating a positive environment in advertising, particularly online, with people prioritising money over the customer experience, which is “such an own-goal”.
With regard to creating targeted, relevant advertising, former CEO at Direct Line Paul Geddes believes there is a win-win to be struck between consumers and advertisers.
If brands spend money advertising products consumers have no interest in, it will be a waste of time for all concerned. For this reason, he argues brands need to do a better job at understanding what customers want earlier on in the process.
Given the choice consumers have today, the power lies firmly in their hands agrees AA CEO Stephen Woodford. This means the bar for great marketing just gets higher and higher, he says.
When it comes to raising the bar, the Top 100 judges agree the most effective marketers understand how to strike the balance between short-term metrics and long-term brand building to the benefit of consumers.
ISBA director-general Phil Smith accepts it can be difficult to get the balance right, because short-term activations can appear as if they are driving the brand forward, even though they might be squandering brand equity rather than growing it. It is also important to understand that long-term brand growth should be focused on sales, he argues.
“Marketers that just talk in terms of brand equity and soft metrics, rather than in terms of strong commercial growth, are deluding themselves,” he suggests. “Those who are trying to build long-term brands are trying to build sales as well, but are trying to do it in a way that is much more effective.”
Geddes agrees there is a danger in marketing of looking at the metrics that move quickly and under-measuring the metrics that move more slowly. Mixing the short-term gains of digital media with channels that drive underlying brand health and relevance is crucial, as is appreciating that long-term brand building is a science.
“You need to be good at measuring it because you’re not doing it for art, you’re not doing it for awards; you’re doing it for next year’s sales and the year after,” says Geddes.
“I completely get that businesses are trying to deliver results all the time, so it is not to say short-term metrics don’t matter, but if that’s the only thing you worry about there’s a danger that you just run out of steam.”
Marketers that just talk in terms of brand equity and soft metrics, rather than in terms of strong commercial growth, are deluding themselves.
Phil Smith, ISBA
Marketers whose work resonates are pragmatic and hold onto the vision, understanding the delicate balance between short-term sales and long-term brand building, suggests Kathryn Jacobs, CEO at cinema advertising company Pearl & Dean.
“It’s difficult if you’re in a business where you’re having to hit short-term financial targets, because you come under huge pressure. But look at the way people talk about great campaigns, the resonance they have. That is so strong for brands,” she says.
“It’s interesting talking to young people about why they like certain brands. It’s because there’s a thread of values, purpose and understanding about what they do.”
Clay argues the best marketers use their power for good and do the right thing, not just the fashionable thing.
“Sometimes it’s important to test and learn and innovate, but not to treat the newest thing as if it’s the only thing,” she explains. “Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t always feel wildly innovative, but you have got to do the best thing for the business, not just the thing that’s going to catch a headline.”
Marketing Week’s Top 100 Most Effective UK Marketers, sponsored by Salesforce, will be published tomorrow.
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