The official theme of this year's IAB Mixx event in New York was advertising’s new world order, but it could just as easily have been how to grapple with chaos. In fact, in his opening remarks, Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the IAB, described the market as “a cauldron of innovation and chaos.”
Ditto Steve King, CEO of Publicis Media, who said the turning point marketers are facing could even be considered a fourth industrial revolution.
And, according to Lars Bastholm, global chief creative officer at Google, marketers have an obligation to create things consumers find useful, usable and delightful – but to not bombard them with messaging or we’ll end up with a truly crazed reality. He also advised marketers put away their business strategy books and start reading science fiction as writers of the latter are dreaming up the innovations engineers will read about and eventually build.
Karin Timpone, global marketing officer at Marriott International, too, cited the unprecedented era of change in which we find ourselves and advised scientists cultivate art and artists learn science in order to drive their brands and careers forward.
And Andrew Bosworth, vice president of ads and business platform at Facebook, told brands not to be bound by their identities today, but to rather see opportunity in change and glory in crisis.
But it was Bryan Wiener, executive chairman of 360i, who likely had one of the most quoted moments of the conference in citing Game of Thrones’ Lord Baelish and imploring marketers to, like Baelish, look at chaos as a ladder.
“That’s how you have to approach it,” Wiener said. “Your competitors do not have a manual any more than you do. Those of us who have the right partners and are organized effectively can gain market share more quickly. I believe if you choose the right agencies and manage them well, you can be instrumental in doing this.”
In other words, the market is in a state of flux, but there’s reason for optimism for marketers.
In fact, Wiener noted platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have arisen in recent years – and more will inevitably come, opening opportunities that don’t exist today.
“Consumer behavior will change. Platforms will rise and fall. I don’t think anyone is smart enough to understand what [platform will dominate] in six years,” Wiener said. “Marketing capabilities will emerge out of nowhere. In 2010, no one was talking about influencer marketing as mission critical. We have to talk about how we plan to adapt.”
Within this chaotic environment, savvy brands and marketers will figure out how to turn vulnerabilities into assets, like Dollar Shave Club did when it challenged the pre-existing distribution model for razors – prompting Unilever to pay $1bn for it.
“I’m a huge believer of the adage that marketers over the long term get the work they deserve and great clients get great work,” Wiener said. “I have no doubt the future will be messy, but the marketers that assemble the right teams and have the right frameworks are going to have amazing success.”
For her part, Deborah Wahl, senior vice president and CMO at McDonald's, agreed, “All of us as marketers are at a pivotal point in the industry.”
As a result, marketers have to listen to consumers or they will tune out, she said. At the same time, the shift of power in which consumers have gained control over messaging means brands and consumers can have a much more genuine relationship, she added.
“The shift has us grappling with a new world order – we have to think, plan and act differently,” Wahl said. “Small changes don’t work, old approaches can’t work. We need a new way.”
And that means putting consumers at the center of everything brands do, which has been McDonald’s goal in a number of recent changes — which, of course, includes all-day breakfast.
“It’s amazing what happens when you listen to people and respond – you become more relevant,” she added.
But change of any kind is no small feat for a brand mentioned once every two seconds online in the US.
“We need new labels to describe how to interact,” she said. “It’s not about screen, it’s about context…understanding the occasion makes all the difference in forging meaningful relationships.”