The big debate: Is 2017 the best time to be a marketer?

With the electrifying pace of change and sheer volume of emerging technologies bringing marketers closer to consumers, could 2017 be the best time for marketing?

2017 best time for marketing

From creative programmatic and targeted content to emerging technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the sheer variety of ways to communicate with consumers makes 2017 an exciting time to be in marketing.

READ MORE: How brands are using artificial intelligence to enhance customer experience

Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed, however, would go a step further. Speaking at Advertising Week Europe last month, Weed argued that the rapid pace of innovation, coupled with the plethora of methods available to engage with consumers makes 2017 not only exciting, but actually the best time to be a marketer.

“I genuinely believe this is the best time to be in marketing and advertising, because so much is changing and it’s so exciting. I’ve never done a job this long before, but I’m not doing the same job as I was doing seven years ago. It’s radically changed,” he explained.

“To me the exciting thing is there have never been so many ways to engage with people in a two-way conversation. Making sure you’re on top of innovation and working out what’s going on is tremendous. I can’t believe there is anything more exciting just now.”

Exciting yes, challenging definitely. This is the era of fake news, ad fraud and dubious metrics. So far in 2017 high profile advertisers from McDonald’s to L’Oreal have pulled spend from Google and YouTube in fear their adverts might appear next to extremist content.

Consumers are also more engaged with brand messaging then ever. This proved to be the downfall of Pepsi’s latest campaign, which was pulled after a matter of days following a savage social media backlash accusing the drinks giant of co-opting the Black Lives Matter global protest movement.

READ MORE: Pepsi’s ad failure shows the importance of diversity and market research

The “always on” nature of the digital age has given consumers the tools to make their voices heard and have more control over content, notes Sulinna Ong, vice president of artist marketing at music streaming site Deezer.

She believes in 2017 any marketer worth their salt must understand how to utilise all the digital tools at their disposal to create meaningful engagement, which then gives them the opportunity push innovation and creativity up the agenda.

“New technology and the continued rise of social media have dramatically increased demand for authentic and exciting conceptual work, producing creative 360-degree campaigns that may otherwise have been flagged as “too risky” in the past. Now – more than ever before – the appetite for experimentation drives innovation,” says Ong.

This opinion is shared by Creative England marketing manager Rachel Graye, who believes the digital age has broadened marketers’ ability to build relationships with consumers.

“Digital advancements definitely make marketing more exciting. I see it as an advantage to have even more tools at our disposal to get closer to the consumer. Social and influencer marketing, for example, allows us to connect with people in a more meaningful way,” she explains.

READ MORE: Is digital an effective mass market medium?

“It also allows marketing teams to work more closely as different expertise needs to come together for it to work as a whole. Content marketing forces us to be more creative, which is a challenge and an opportunity to create something new and re-write the rule book – what’s more exciting than that?”

Increasing accountability

Marketing effectiveness is under the microscope like never before, putting teams under increasing pressure to deliver tightly defined KPIs that directly impact the bottom line.

It is for this reason 2017 brings with it more complexity and accountability, says Dixons Carphone commercial marketing director Jonathan Earle. He argues short-term thinking in the boardroom means marketers are not even given enough time to hold their nerve if the numbers are not coming in.

“It’s got to be immediate response rates and that can also add pressure, because campaigns could be launching new products or services, and it takes time to drive into people’s psyches what you’re doing. Sometimes the ROI has got to be immediate otherwise it’s a failure.”

That being said, Earle believes making marketers accountable for driving real business growth can only be a good thing, as it shows marketing is being seen as a revenue generator not a cost centre.

Now – more than ever before – the appetite for experimentation drives innovation.

Sulinna Ong, Deezer

“Marketers are accountable now. They don’t just produce TV ads, they’ve got to deliver some hard-nosed numbers on the back of it,” he argues.

“The measurement of marketing ultimately drives a different conversation at the boardroom table and it gives marketing some very clear credibility and targets to hit.”

Marketers in 2017 benefit from access to high quality data, which helps to solidify their business impact, says Ladbrokes Coral chief customer officer Kristof Fahy. He believes that with measureable data at their fingertips marketers can now have robust conversations with their boards, demonstrating how their campaigns benefit the bottom line.

“For me marketing is about generating future cash flow and if you can demonstrate it to the point that everyone believes and buys into the fact your team, activity, plan and approach are delivering hard commercial benefit then actually the conversations become more about what else we can do in this area. That reframing is a very interesting journey to go on,” Fahy adds.

Resist the temptation

From rich data and insight to real time optimisation, the sheer number of tools at a modern marketer’s disposal can make it easier to lose sight of the objectives than ever before.

Bauer Media managing director of advertising, Abby Carvosso, believes modern day marketers should resist the temptation to follow the latest shiny new thing at the expense of being customer-centric.

“It’s about keeping it simple by understanding the audiences you want to reach. So, while yes there are lots of new things and that’s really exciting for all of us because it keeps the market really fresh, we have to be very careful we don’t follow the shiny new thing,” she says.

“Ultimately for a marketer it is about how do you deliver great engagement, results, action and cultural impact, and sometimes the shiny new thing doesn’t do that.”

Earle agrees that marketers have to understand their target audience better than ever, because now there are so many different opportunities to reach them with content.

“In the same breath, if you don’t reach them with fantastic content this target audience will tell you immediately that you’re wasting their time. So you’ve got to be on top of your game. You can’t just hide behind some loose segmentation, you’ve got to understand who your customers are and what they want,” he adds.

READ MORE: The shrinking and emerging demographics marketers need to know

Adapting to evolving trends and emerging platforms is what makes the job so interesting according to Anna Hale, Northern Europe marketing director at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare.

One of the most exciting things about being a marketer in 2017 is the insight that can be gathered about consumers in real time, says Hale, which is why marketers need to embrace digital transformation and get to grips with the metrics.

“Some of the challenges are actually a really interesting part of my job, with metrics and measuring effectiveness being a great example,” she adds.

“It’s a fascinating process to work with our agencies and partners to best understand how to measure engagement and it’s exciting because there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

Creative England’s Rachel Graye agrees that the variety of metrics marketers have at their disposal means in 2017 they can be more agile than ever.

“Quick access to analytics allows us to be more fast-paced – test approaches, react quickly, pivot and thrive – leading to accelerated growth. There is a clear benefit to this versus planning and implementing campaigns over a long time period, while the market is still changing as you go along.”

Constraints breed creativity

Like never before, marketers are being asked to do more with less as budgets continue to be squeezed in an era of rising inflation and post-Brexit cuts. However, the constraints are encouraging marketers to push their creative thinking and enhance their skills.

“With budgets under more pressure, yes we are all predominantly expected to deliver more for less, but we are being more creative and using new ways to reach customers,” says Dixons Carphone’s Jonathan Earle.

“Marketers historically didn’t have to be that commercial. They could be very strong brand marketers that created award-winning adverts. Now everyone needs to be very commercial because you’re in front of the chief exec and you have to show how you spent their money.”

Carvosso agrees that while times could be considered challenging this actually offers an opportunity for marketers to shine and forge stronger commercial partnerships.

“It is challenging for marketers because their budgets are being squeezed, but that should breed creativity, because you have to work that budget much harder,” she says.

“I think content and commercial partnerships work much more fluidly now. Some of the partnerships we’ve had were big TV spenders who’ve shifted to radio because it’s a really effective medium, but it doesn’t take up as much of their budget so they can do more creative work off the back of that.”

Grazia Bauer Media partnership
Bauer Media’s Abby Carvosso believes commercial partnerships between brands are becoming stronger, like this tie-up between Grazia and Boots.

As a challenger brand in the music streaming space, Deezer’s main currency is creativity says Ong, who emphasises the importance technology has to play in helping marketers deliver on their promises whatever the constraints might be.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, or so the old adage goes, and likewise the reality of having to work within tighter parameters and budgets means the onus is on creativity,” she states.

“My team and I work with some of the biggest names in music, and competition for their time and involvement is fierce. This means that all our artist marketing campaigns need to stand out and differentiate themselves.”

Looking back to move forward

In an era of virtual reality and artificial intelligence, it can be tempting for marketers to feel like there is nothing to learn from the past. That is, as Hale suggests, one of the biggest mistakes a marketer in 2017 can make.

“One of the biggest mistakes marketers can make is to move from campaign to campaign without ever actually taking a pause to look back, evaluate, learn and apply those learnings to future work,” says Hale.

“There is a lot of invaluable knowledge that can be built up and it’s a travesty if that is not passed on through the generations, otherwise the same mistakes just keep repeating themselves.”

In a digital age, where the instant results of real time measurement are everything, it can be easy for marketers to feel the answer to every single marketing question is pay-per-click (PPC) argues Earle.

My worry is that it’s all a bit vanilla, because everything’s got a ROI. Where’s all the excitement?

Jonathan Earle, Dixons Carphone

Instead marketers should not be afraid to look beyond real time optimisation and take inspiration for the way brands approached creating world-class adverts in the 1980s and 1990s.

“I think now one of the biggest issues marketers face is the idea of trying to sell in awareness building, consideration driving activity where the ROI is really hard to measure,” Earle explains.

“My worry is that it’s all a bit vanilla, because everything’s got a ROI. Where’s all the excitement? We didn’t have as many touchpoints in the 1990s as we do now, but driving consideration and awareness can easily get lost when you just want an instant return on investment.”

So is 2017 the best time for marketing?

The combination of traditional and emerging media, the wealth of data insights, and opportunities for personal development makes 2017 the best time for marketing in the opinion of GSK’s Anna Hale.

“Today it’s so exciting to be a marketer because of the opportunity to work with and build major global brands. On top of that, the importance of living and breathing as a brand with social purpose is absolutely critical and provides more fantastic opportunities for marketers as we develop campaigns that deliver on this level,” she adds.

While she does not believe 2017 is necessarily the best time for marketing, Carvosso is excited by the pace of change and the innovations taking place today, despite sounding a note of caution.

“I think it’s a great time [to be in marketing]. Tech advances are helping us and it shows the importance of trusted media brands, as well as of bringing instinct and insight together,” she states.

“We do, however, need to remember what is the core and essence of what we want to do in marketing in terms of engagement and the relationship with customers. That’s a critical thing to hold on to and if we abuse that relationship, that’s where it goes wrong.”

The electrifying pace of change means it is never boring to work in marketing, says Ladbrokes Coral’s Kristof Fahy. In his opinion every year he has worked in the industry has been the best time because there is always something new to explore.

However, for Deezer’s Sulinna Ong 2017 is equally the most exciting and challenging time there has ever been to be marketer. In her opinion the savviest marketers today are merging the latest in digital marketing with traditional methods, boosted by data and insights to give their campaigns added precision.

“Our challenge as marketers is to cut through the noise and lead in a world that’s driven by technology,” says Ong. “Concurrently the demand for pushing boundaries and being disruptive has never been stronger, giving us a creative freedom I don’t believe we’ve seen before in any other time.”

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