But as Mr. Bublé also once sang, it’s a new dawn and a new day, and when economic pressures get too intense, brand advertising gets cut by financially phobic marketers looking for short-term results. Therefore, the big question at this year’s conference will be whether marketers can keep the faith and recognize that building your brand and driving sales can—and must—be done simultaneously. The tragic alternative is disposable advertising, eroding equity, and short-term gains that merely mask long-term weaknesses in your brand position.
So for this year’s Masters of Marketing, here are some tips that might liven up the conference and set us all on a clearer path:
Stop talking about brand purpose as if it’s a new idea
The notion of defining your brand around a higher purpose is at least as old as Coca-Cola’s hilltop commercial, circa 1971. If you count corporate mission statements, then carbon-dating on purpose-led campaigns takes us back more than a century.
Remember that every successful company was founded to make something better, and that impetus is the DNA of any brand purpose. Think of purpose as a natural extension of your core business—the societal benefit of your success. A toothpaste that creates brighter smiles might make this a friendlier world. Peace of mind for homeowners is a worthy cause for any insurance company. Connecting people with their loved ones is a good reason to work for that telecom company. And so on.
Pursuing your purpose is not a license to pander, which is how it’s been interpreted over the past few years. Pontificating pundits preach about corporate responsibility and the need for brands to play with politics, but that isn’t purpose, it’s posturing. Surveys have shown that CEOs yearn to virtue-signal, but consumers mostly want brands to deliver a good product or service and treat their employees well. Try ignoring the Twitterverse to focus on your actual customers. Modern CMOs should keep their CEOs focused on growth, not grandstanding.
(As an aside, may I suggest that someone at this year’s conference start a drinking game and take a shot every time a speaker says purpose, creativity, inclusive or customer-centric.)
Never forget that your brand is an experience
Marketers obsess about their latest campaign but forget that consumers build affinity for a brand based on an overall experience, only part of which is advertising. The retail experience, the website, the form factor of physical products, the customer service—every brand expression and step along the journey elicits a visceral reaction more powerful than the fleeting impression of an ad.
That’s not to say advertising and the graphic language of a brand aren’t important, but they exist to set consumer expectations and amplify a brand experience. True marketing masters spend as much time on CX as they do comms, and they don’t rest until every stage of the customer journey is seamless.
Remember that nobody really cares about your ads
One or two scheduled ANA panels may tackle the dilemma of too many media platforms and insufficient reach, but this is a point worth repeating: No consumer is going to wake up tomorrow and ask for another unsolicited email or beg to get programmatically pursued across the internet.
Marketers need to realize they are in the entertainment business, because the easiest thing in the world to avoid today is advertising. The commercials you produce must be as engaging as the TV shows they interrupt, and the content you create will be ignored unless it’s more entertaining than the playlist, game, social feed or friend request on a given consumer’s phone.
Branded entertainment isn’t a niche marketing play—it has been the driving philosophy behind great advertising forever. Win consumers’ hearts, and their minds will follow, eager to post-rationalize an emotional buying decision. Spend less time on your RTBs and more time on your brand narrative, because without a good story, you’ll soon be forgotten.
Marketing can never be mastered
This last bit of advice isn’t meant to negate the value of these sorts of conferences. Quite the opposite. After all, sometimes seeing a great case study from another brand can open up your thinking and expand ambition beyond your category. Networking never hurts, and a few days away from the office can be a catalyst for creative thinking.
The point here is simply that marketing is always changing because the marketplace is evolving, new media platforms are emerging, and keeping pace with culture is like riding a skateboard blindfolded. The minute you think you’ve mastered marketing, you’re lost. So stay humble and curious, and never believe for an instant that you’ve got all the answers.
That’s what makes marketing so damn fun, and why a formulaic approach to creativity never works. True masters realize they know nothing, which is why the best people in our business ask so many questions. Master that (How can I drive growth? isn’t a bad place to start) and your marketing just might take care of itself.