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Future Marketing Summit: London

Posted on March 20, 2006 and read 10,729 times

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Just returned from London, England where I attended the Future Marketing Summit. The London stop was one of four city installments for the Summit, which had hit New York the week prior, and was also making its way to Shanghai and Tokyo. A new marketing caravan, of sorts, promising to tackle the live issues of new marketing. The London Summit seemed particularly interesting: great panels and speakers like Scott Goodson of Strawberry Frog, brand strategists like Greg Rowland and Sean Pillot de Chenecy, Simon Andrew from Big Picture, and creatives from Mother, The Fish Can Sing and Cunning. With such a broad representation and interesting heavy-weight industry perspectives, there were high expectations. The marketing world is racked with uncertainty and confusion, and as the death march for the :30 spot continues to gain steam (or does it?), opinions on what marketing will look like in the future oscillate between polar extremes of enthusiasm and despair. Would this one-day summit provide answers? Could it help us to see the forest for the trees?

The Summit began on a very positive note, with a riveting presentation from Jean-Paul Edwards, Future Specialist at Manning Gottlieb OMD, who provided very thorough overview of the major trends in communications and media. I may be a bit biased, as I spend a great deal of time tracking trends in media trends, but I thought this was a great place to start: the future of marketing will most certainly be shaped by the emerging media landscape forged by digital technology. Many of the following panelists seemed utterly oblivious to the challenges (and opportunities) presented by a radically changing media landscape. This was odd, given that every medium is being transformed and redefined: print, radio and television content is being created, distributed and consumed in radically different ways and changing the parameters for marketing in the process. Convergence, that thorn in the side of media and technology analysts for years, is finally, finally! taking shape. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to hear more from Jean-Paul as the day progressed, as many of the currents in media that he discussed were very relevant to a number of discussions that took place throughout the ensuing panels.

Scott Goodson of super-hot Strawberry Frog was next, with a very entertaining peek into the philosophy behind the agency. Scott emphasized that new marketing should be approached with a blend of enthusiasm, opportunity and creativity: people don’t want to bombarded with irrelevant ads; they want to be engaged. While everyone may preach this and blather on about “engagement”, Scott demonstrated that Strawberry Frog sought to create “cultural movements”, via the insights provided by a strong multi-disciplinary team, integrated communications ideas, and a finely calibrated process that harnesses the power of mass communications to amplify the ideas at the core of their thinking. I found Scott’s notion of a “global soul” inspiring as well: in a hyper-connected world, Strawberry Frog tries to dig deep for broad insights that resonate far and wide. Richard Muntoro, head of strategy at SF, affirmed the commitment to this, as he passionately told us about his intention to travel and learn more about the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations. All in all, it seemed that Strawberry Frog made a good case for a new marketing future through the lens of an agency that still does :30 spots; they are still committed to mass communications and TV commercials, but are unique in their strategic direction, the use of alternative media to launch “cultural movements” (such as the “Boomer Coalition), and their innovative thinking. One complaint: Scott’s presentation would have been complete with a more comprehensive analysis of the process through which various channels are activated in the formation of the “cultural movements” he spoke of. This process, as much as anything, can be the key in thinking of new marketing from the perspective of traditional agencies that produce TV ads but need to integrate their approach with other media.

The first panel discussion was entitled “Challenges and Opportunities in the Future Marketing Space” and was led by John Carver, founding partner and creative director of hyped experiential agency Cunning. Greg Rowland, a brand strategist specializing in semiotics offered some great insight, suggesting that we should be careful to avoid false dichotomies (new/old marketing). All forms of communication need to be engaging and relevant, and :30 ads can be just as “dialogical” as anything else (experiential etc.). This is a great point, and one that the traditional-ad bashers need to be reminded of. Traditional advertising (the film medium) remains an extremely powerful communication tool. The panel also stressed that changes in marketing and communication will more likely be progressive and evolutionary, rather than sudden; again, a good point that tempers the hysteria that sometimes surrounds this issue.

During this panel, some of the best thoughts were provided by the Chief Executive from Ted Baker, a publicly traded men’s clothing line launched in the 80’s with no advertising whatsoever. Ray’s only marketing was done with very effective, inventive stunts and experiential executions (store-front displays, street promotions and what could best be described as guerilla marketing). New marketers can learn a lot from entrepreneurs like Ray, who rely solely on an intimate knowledge of their consumer, creative communications (in anything from annual reports to the attire of store staff in communicating brand meaning) and a strong determination to continually stand out from the crowd in defining your brand. All good lessons for brands to remember, and in the age of empowered consumers and ad clutter these lessons are as important as ever. Managing a brand and crafting relevant communication means placing people at the heart of business and marketing processes. The other members of the panel seemed to agree on this point, and it was refreshing to see these brand thinkers emphasize the social relevance and cultural significance that should inform marketing.

The next panel on the agenda was “The Shape and Role of the Brand Communication Agency of the Future”, an attempt to define what, exactly, the composition of future agencies will look like. A common theme here was the difficulty in navigating the murky areas of economics, accountability, measurability, new marketing practices and risk. With a legacy of client/agency relationships to deal with, it became increasingly clear that there are a number of inherent obstacles in moving things forward: agencies have vested interests in producing TV spots, clients default to TV spots in the face of uncertainty (perceived or real) regarding new marketing, and media agencies are just as guilty of narrow-mindedness in their approach. It was interesting to note the subtext of tension between the creative agencies and media companies as well, since both are eager to protect their turf. There are a whole host of problems and issues that need to be addressed, and sometimes it seems like it’s hard to get beyond finger-pointing. With mass communication models in a state of rapid fragmentation and change, a lot of the challenges in redefining the agency model will come down to realigning the various players in the communications game, and if this panel was any indication, there is still a great deal of work to be done in this regard. Moreover, the examples presented by Strawberry Frog earlier in the day (and to a certain extent by Ray from Ted Baker) suggested that stories are key for brands and marketing, and given the declining efficacy of mass communications to do the job, blending various channels and approaches is critical. Doing this properly will demand an open-mind, new rules and experimentation, close client/agency relationships (a common theme) and less bickering about protecting old roles.

Some of these themes re-emerged during the next panel, “Pitching Future Marketing Concepts”, chaired by Scott Goodson. It became immediately apparent that cultivating strong relationships with key stakeholders is essential in order for new marketing concepts to be take hold and be adopted by clients. Andrew Wilke, formerly of Saatchi and Saatchi, now managing director of Gum, argued for the necessity of a strong strategic foundation and thought leadership demonstrated to clients; likewise, clients such as Sheryl Norman (Coca-Cola) and a rep from Procter and Gamble echoed the belief that agencies must do all they can to demonstrate innovation and leadership in the brave new world. Clients, they maintained, are looking for solutions beyond the :30 spot, and it is up to the agencies to prove that they can deliver. On the other hand, the problem of measurability came up once again: numbers-obsessed clients need to figure out a way to measure fuzzy things like “experiences”; in the digital space, clicks tell only part of the story, and it is difficult to construct accurate tools with which to measure effectiveness. With these challenges in mind, it is perhaps not difficult to understand why so many clients default to TV spots: “what gets measured gets bought”. Time will tell what sorts of measures will be adopted in the long-run. In the meantime, adventurous clients will reap the rewards (and run the risks) of new marketing concepts, and traditional agencies will hobble along hampered with an economic legacy that dampens innovation (a point made very convincingly by ad vet Jerry Judge).

Heading into the final panel, “How Prepared Really Are We”, enthusiasm and optimism about new marketing was brought to a screeching halt, as the panelists from Carat UK, Accenture and others seemed to try to bring things back down to reality. Theresa Wise, from Accenture, had her doubts about so many aspects of new marketing that are gospel for future-minded marketing folks: consumer-generated content, new media, the “long-tail” of web logs, podcasts and video were pretty much all dismissed as over-hyped, largely irrelevant hobbies with no economic bearing on media and communications. While she and other panelists downplayed various issues of media fragmentation, disaggregation and proliferating channels, I kept wondering if they had even heard the very first presentation of the day from media futures expert Jean-Paul Edwards. The final panel was a huge downer, a sharp departure from the new marketing enthusiasm that energizes people that see opportunities, and are refusing to stick their heads in the sand.

Despite the final panel letdown, the Summit was quite positive and informative, and it was very interesting to hear a range of opinions from such a diverse range of speakers. The audience also participated with great questions, and with a very international flavour (delegates present from Brazil and Japan among other countries). Much of the discussion centered around some of the challenges we outlined above, and it’s clear that, as Alex West, one of the organizers of the event stated, this is just the beginning of a process in which various segments of the industry can get together to knock heads and move things in a positive direction. We look forward to more events like this in the future, as there is no doubt a lot of work to be done in defining the future marketing space. Having said that, it is worth noting that there were a few shortcomings, areas that we feel could be improved upon.

First, as an exploration of future marketing practices, it would be great to include experts from a number of alternative marketing arenas that many believe will make a major impact in the very near future. One example is gaming: it’s a huge growth area in the future, and as it stands there is a massive void in understanding of the possibilities here. Devising effective ways for brands to participate in gaming environments is much trickier than just throwing a logo in a scene, and it would be very instructive to have a look at brands that are taking steps in the right direction here. The same could be said of other channels, such as mobile devices. The summit would have been a great venue for the mobile marketers to outline some of the trends emerging here, especially with the current hype surrounding video content. Discovering ways in which marketing communications can be delivered via mobile devices like cell phones is a hornet’s nest, yet it is clear that, given the central role that mobile devices play in our lives, marketers cannot ignore the medium. Other digital marketing issues need to be discussed as well, since it is becoming increasingly clear that digital marketing can no longer be an added-on component of marketing campaigns, but needs to be more strategically aligned with broader marketing efforts.

Other emerging practices that could be included in a future marketing platform include experiential marketing, word-of-mouth, branded content (there was a bit on this in London, but not enough), and a whole world of issues surrounding things like open-source branding, which will become more pressing in the future as technology continues to empower consumers and chip away at the mass media infrastructure on which the vast majority of advertising is built on. Many of these marketing approaches are in need of clarification regarding their efficacy and measurability and it would have been worthwhile to at least begin the discussion of how experts see their evolution. Similarly, marketers need to get their head around all the hype surrounding social media, Web 2.0 and social networks, since they are radically changing the way in which we use the internet, create, distribute and share content, and interact with each other. Rupert Murdoch, Yahoo! and Google are among the major players trying to get a handle on this, and this Summit could have used some insight into these changes.

The Summit was a good first step on the path, and we hope that upcoming events will invite participants from some of the important emerging marketing practices, reflecting more accurately the shifting landscape of media, marketing and communications.

Strategic Planner – Capital C
Chroma Inc.




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