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Marketers confess: The one thing I'd change about the industry

Marketers confess: The one thing I'd change about the industry Chloe Della Costa
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When you spend a long time putting your heart and soul into an industry, it's only natural you'll have some criticisms. Marketers know that sometimes the best contributions they make are helping to change things for the better. And that shows passion and commitment. Eleven such passionate players in the industry shared their responses to the question, "If you could change one thing about the marketing industry, what would it be?"

Client attitudes and expectations

Kent Lewis, president and founder, Anvil Media

If I could change one thing about the marketing industry, it would be client attitudes and expectations. I've spent over 20 years working at agencies, and I've found it increasingly difficult to delight and elevate clients. All the research I've seen and discussions I've had with clients and prospects indicate brands want agency "partners" that truly understand their business. Unfortunately, I've found those very same clients make it exceedingly difficult for agencies to be successful partners. Agencies are held to unrealistic standards and are often the focus of blame for lackluster results, despite the collective responsibility. Even when a "partner" status is achieved, changes on the client side (employee turnover, office politics, etc.) often lead to termination of the relationship, sometimes without explanation or justification. When clients truly embrace "partnership" status with agencies, the agency should be held to the same standard as employees, which includes the same level of support, respect, and, when appropriate, constructive feedback. Brands that take this approach will get exponentially more value from agency partners. This seems straightforward, but I've found it an increasingly rare client trait.

Less "squirrel!" syndrome

Tom Edwards, chief digital officer, agency, Epsilon

My day job entails working with new and emerging technology. Those in our industry are always looking for the latest shiny object to add to their ever growing ecosystem of new tech. I see agencies jump on the latest and greatest and immediately move to doing something on a platform without considering how it should integrate into a larger strategic plan or setting realistic expectations for the type of value that can be created with experimental campaigns. "Squirrel!" syndrome is very real in our industry, and it can have a negative impact on client relationships. The key is to carefully consider the merits of the new tech and how it aligns with the essence and goals of the brand and to set realistic expectations so clients do not become apprehensive about investing in emerging tech that can actually enhance their business. 

Playing the long game

Roy Rosenfeld, CEO, Stands

If I could change one thing about the industry, it would be to increase the focus on an amazing user experience and reduce short-term thinking aimed at turning a quick profit.

We need to be playing the long game. Quick fixes and fast profits are appealing, but the systemic focus on short-term profits is the kind of short-sightedness that kept fraud rampant for so long, what turns blind eyes to malware, what drives poor user experiences. Now our system is rife with fraud; consumers' privacy and experience is so routinely violated that they have turned to blockers to balance it out. That is bad for consumers, bad for marketers, bad for publishers, bad for the whole industry. 

If I could change one thing about the industry, it would be to refocus our value proposition on a long-term scale. There are no quick fixes, but there are long-term risks to the current thinking that are already playing out. Everyone stands to benefit from a more balanced system that puts greater value on consumer's privacy, control, and experience. Money is sure to follow, even if profits aren't immediate.

Marketing should be inclusive

Scott Gatz, CEO, Q.Digital

It's wise to target certain demographics, but sometimes marketers need to look beyond the numbers and segments that "just work for us." Being myopic, they sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Consumer-packaged goods, for example, want to get heads of households -- in other words, the people who buy foodstuff and cleaning products. They assume this means women in a certain age bracket. But, they should be reminded, there ain't no women in a two-man household. Now that marriage equality is a nationwide reality, marketers shouldn't need reminders that these folks exist. Likewise, an entertainment brand (which will remain anonymous) wants to target 45-year-old women. We remind them that all ages of gay men are their loyal viewers, too. Marketers that can break out of the box will find an easy way to increase market share.

Stop ignoring the user experience

Justin Choi, CEO, Nativo

The notion that a bad advertising user experience has no long term impact on the advertiser and publisher needs to change. We've seen the ultimate consumer feedback to the state of interruptive advertising with the rise of banner blindness and ad blocking. Building a more balanced digital ecosystem, one that factors in engagement with better user experiences of digital ads, will lead to improved upper funnel KPIs for marketers and a more sustainable revenue stream for publishers.

Promoting the greater good

Jay Friedman, COO, Goodway Group

Our industry would be two to three years further ahead if we all took seriously our responsibility to the greater good of our industry as a whole rather than solely to growing our company. Not dissimilar from our political election process in the U.S., companies too often focus on negatively selling against other parts of the industry to promote themselves. Nowhere is this more clear than in the fraud/viewability arena right now, with companies going for shocking headlines that will benefit them in the short term rather than industry-building communications with an eye toward our collective future. I've been around this industry long enough to see a few different waves of these types come and go, and they never succeed. Yet it sets us all back slightly each time it occurs.

Slowing down to speed up

Scott Fiaschetti, VP, insights and strategy, Questus

Let's all just slow down for a moment! To be even remotely successful in this "agile," "always-in-beta" industry, you have to embrace constant change. Think back to what you were doing five, even two years ago: It's probably completely different from what you're doing now. As an industry, we're always racing toward the next new thing and adapting to increasingly shorter timelines. We often don't have the opportunity to pause and think -- the irony being that, that is what we are paid to do...think! It makes sense that we all want to get to the "cool" part as soon as possible. We are in a visual industry and everyone wants to see the proposed strategies realized as digital or physical expressions, but we have to help clients realize that we can't skimp on the initial strategic planning. Strategy establishes the foundation for success by defining the core insights that lead to great creative and provides the roadmap for getting there. I find that slowing down in the early stages of planning allows us to move faster and more efficiently in a project's later stages. We all want to do great work; sometimes we just need a moment to think it through.

Supporting real innovation

John Giuliani, CEO, Conversant

The one thing I would change about the industry is that there are too many companies focused on "exits" or liquidity events and not enough focused on bringing truly new innovation to aid marketers. I refer to some of these outfits as "value leechers." They wait for someone else to innovate and then approach marketers to create doubt and confusion around the innovative companies who are bringing new methods and technologies to market, the value creators. Generally, there is a great deal of marketing hype and false promises being thrown around as well as self-boasting. Marketers are constantly doubting themselves and making changes to their initiatives instead of building with a vision. We are all to blame -- marketers and ad tech providers of all ilk. I've seen past clients return when they realize that what they've been promised just isn't reality. It causes us all to lose valuable time and productivity. Our goals need to be aligned to make a marketer's job easier, more effective, and efficient. Goal alignment will also allow marketers to capture the true promise of online marketing, which is control of their budgets and growing closer to their consumers through one-to-one, personalized messaging.

Increased focus on data

Stephen Gill, CEO, Tiller

Marketers need to intensify their focus on data to stay agile. When marketers discover a strategy that's working, they should act quickly to do more of it. If certain campaigns aren't performing, a smart marketer should reallocate budgets, rather than remain locked to their original marketing plan. In a dynamic industry full of new opportunities, a successful marketing campaign depends on your willingness to take risks and try emerging platforms.

The agency review process

Reid Carr, president and CEO, Red Door Interactive

I would change the agency review process. I think that at least every agency knows that it is a generally flawed system where clients tend to ask the same questions from pitch to pitch, agencies are prepared with carefully positioned answers, and they've scripted their performance down to the clothes everyone is going to wear. Ultimately the whole system is a funny little game largely built to diffuse blame and decision-making among a broad group. Or, alternatively, they try to insulate the brand from risk. I doubt they interview prospective employees using this format.

This widely standardized process, by the way, has not improved the success rate of client/agency relationships (though, I would say that some are better at it than others). The duration of client/agency relationships has gotten worse over the years, not better. If you want to really know how flawed this system is, brands should watch widely available videos or read blogs from consultants who teach agencies how to pitch business. They tend to focus their trainings on the rules of this game and how to break them in your favor.

Now, the real irony of this...I am writing this response while on a flight to San Francisco to go pitch some business. It is part of the gig.

Not a thing

Jim Nichols, VP marketing, Apsalar

Nothing. Twenty or so years ago, my wish was for an industry that was more dynamic and innovative. A field that treated individuals as persons with ideas and opinions rather than simply as gaping maws into which we drop processed food. That wish came true. I love -- adore -- this world where core tenets are turned on their ears every 10 minutes. Where brands must constantly experiment to figure out how to create meaning. That good user reviews of a new cellphone mean more than $30 million of Prime. I love peculiar Ruffles flavors that come from customers. That an institution like Vogue -- the ultimate top-down brand for decades -- transformed itself into a community. I love the explosion of genuine creativity we're seeing in digital. I love Purina #PetsatWork and #Paypalit on Instagram and Always' "Like a Girl" and Foot Locker's "Horse with Harden." No field is perfect, but ours is pretty darned amazing.

 

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