Wit and wisdom from ANA

Would it be reasonable to assume that if I actively practiced the overwhelming top takeaway from the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference, then my invitation to the Marketing Hall of Fame would soon be in the hands of calligraphers?

Trouble is, even in my limited wisdom, we’d long ago determined without last week’s dozens of reminders to “put the consumer first.”

It was a theme, albeit a noble one, repeated often by 20 leading marketers of iconic brands during ANA’s four-day extravaganza, which drew close to 3,000 attendees to Orlando. In fact, it seemed conspicuously absent among the few presenters who chose to focus elsewhere.

ANA President and CEO Bob Liodice had first crack in his opening remarks, and explained eloquently the notion that marketing has transformed from “trying to tell consumers what they need, to actually putting them in charge” of the buying experience. But words are often easier than actions: Citing research done in conjunction with McKinsey, Liodice said 50 percent of marketers still do not have a clear understanding of the customer journey, describing the result as “fractured customer experiences.”

Liodice quoted the research findings to make several other fascinating observations:

  • Even with so much emphasis on content marketing, 84 percent of the survey respondents said they do not have a formal content strategy or distribution process.
  • 43 percent of marketing leaders said they are not encouraged or empowered to innovate or experiment.
  • More than one-third of the respondents are not using data to make decisions.

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Speaking of data, there were lots of good discussions about it, and it was hard to imagine anyone more passionate and proficient with data than Kraft Foods Group CMO Deanie Elsner, who jokingly asked what the maker of Velveeta could possibly know about it. She pointed to the seismic disruption in the industry caused in large part by Millennials rejecting traditional mass merchandising. “They don’t buy brands like anybody else—they are a real problem,” she may have said half-jokingly. This has caused the need for new input, and “data is the new currency—data strategy is the future of everything we’re banking on.”

Kraft, she explained, is doing precision targeting and building an infrastructure to harness data, through a social listening lab and advanced analytics. Eventually, data will direct marketers toward producing content that she said has to be “share-worthy. You can’t fake content with consumers.”

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Going to the other extreme, T-Mobile USA CMO Mike Sievert, in trying to explain what drives choice, said, “Ninety percent of market research is a complete waste of money. It’s there to make people look and sound good in meetings.”

Sievert was dealing with a brand which he described as “the fourth carrier, an inferior network, and 40,000 employees, many of whom were unmotivated.” On the flip side, though, he felt “people would give up their personal hygiene before they would give up their smart phones.”

T-Mobile’s approach was to develop an “un-carrier” strategy and challenge traditional market rules. For example, he said T-Mobile unleashed “contract freedom, allowing customers to upgrade when they want, not when you are told you could upgrade. You’ve served your last two-year sentence!”

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Circling back to Liodice’s theme of a transforming market, General Mills CMO Mark Addicks noted that in the past, the onus would be on brands to tell consumers how their products work and what the benefits are. “Today, we are serving a ‘making’ generation, and our job is to empower them to create, giving them a story of purpose in helping them determine who they want to be and where brands can grow,” he said.

Ironically, this was not an enormous leap for General Mills, which, Addicks explained, recognized the “making” concept early via Betty Crocker, which “was a service and social brand, built a community, answered thousands of letters a day, and helped people make home.” Today’s marching orders are to “rediscover American families.”

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While Addicks discussed family values, Marty St. George, JetBlue’s SVP, Commercial, focused his presentation on brand values: “If brands stand for one thing, your employees can’t act in another way—the brands and employees have to match. Your job as marketers is to ferret out the contradiction, because if you don’t, your customers will.”

St. George said everything starts with a values-based culture, which at JetBlue means caring, safety, fun, passion and integrity. “Every employee should be able to recite the values. And if it’s not part of their everyday life, it’s really not a functioning value.”

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Some other nuggets from industry leaders at ANA:

  • “Organize around the consumer—not the screen.” – Kirk Perry, Google President, Global Client and Agency Solutions
  • “Outthink will always trump outspend.” – Kathleen Hall, Microsoft’s General Manager, Global Advertising
  • “Showing sugar crystals on the candy visuals dramatically increased engagement.” – Michael Kelly, Media/Consumer Communications Manager, American Licorice
  • “Marketing is a journey without end. When you think you are on course, the market will cause you to change.” – Roel de Vries, Global Head of Marketing, Nissan Motor
  • “67 percent of the customer journey is done digitally.” – Cisco CMO Blair Christie
  • “Don’t let your brand promise become merely an ad tagline.” – Target CMO Jeffrey Jones
  • “There are a lot of ‘what’ brands and ‘when’ brands, but to us, ‘how’ matters.” – ChobaniCMO Peter McGuinness
  • “People want to see an impact from their own engagement.” – Walmart CMO Stephen Quinn
  • “Sharing of data is often siloed and limited by organizational structures.” – Starcom USACEO Lisa Donohue