“Its complexity is extremely challenging… particularly as you’re trying to change the engines on the aeroplane while you’re flying,” is how WPP’s chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell described the situation facing today’s marketing leaders at the Changing Media Summit last month.
It’s a description that will strike a chord with many. From cyber security and data management, to agency collaboration, a volatile advertising ecosystem and dramatic shifts in media consumption habits; marketers continue to live at the forefront of change.
At Bloomberg Media we’ve had a unique overview of these challenges as part of a global partnership with The Marketing Society. In one highly productive 24-hour day at the end of 2015, we followed the sun from Asia-Pacific and the Middle East to Europe and the US, interviewing 26 senior marketers across four continents.
The result is the Marketing Society’s 24 Hour Global Conversation, published this month.
Each marketing leader brought their own emphasis, of course, but what was most striking – as is so often the case in international business – were the number of shared experiences and common trends.
The one challenge we found united marketers the most centred on the amount of data they now have at their fingertips. We all understand why the digitisation of business has led to the phenomenon of big data – with an explosion in datasets from both internal and external sources.
In practical terms this has led marketers around the world to become obsessed with re-evaluating their structures, partnerships and talent (while keeping that metaphorical plane in the air). No one is convinced they have it all in hand just yet, and there’s plenty of interest in what peers are doing.
“Healthy paranoia,” is how Sorrell sees it. And behind much of the soul searching this year is the pressing need to be able to turn this onslaught of data into actionable insights, and at speed.
As the UK’s Dominic Grounsell, global marketing director of foreign exchange specialist Travelex, said: “The opportunity for our business this year is the transformation around our infrastructure, our people, our culture, our processes and our risk appetite. It’s about creating a business that’s much more orientated towards the consumer.”
On the other side of the planet, seven hours earlier, Ruth Rowan, marketing leader of the global IT services group, Dimension Data, noted: “When everything is connected, anything is possible. It gives us a huge opportunity to gather data, to communicate differently, to have immediate contact with them wherever in the world they are, whatever help they need.”
Unsurprisingly, cyber crime is a growing concern and data breaches such as that experienced by TalkTalk last year led Aviva’s CMO Pete Markey (formerly of the Post Office) to reflect on the “harsh reality of the world we’re now in”. He said the speed at which a brand’s value can now be eroded meant maintaining a “360 degree” perspective is among a marketer’s biggest challenges.
Another sentiment to come through in our interviews was the sense of anticipation among some businesses. While those in the media business may find it quaint to talk about the “digital revolution”, in reality the impact of digitalisation in many sectors has yet to be truly realised.
Vincent Gillet, the former VP global marketing at Nissan’s Infiniti, for example, believes few marketers in the automotive space have yet to really embrace the changes that are sure to come.
He said: “The day the Airbnb of cars does come along, it will be interesting to see how that might affect us. Uber is disrupting mobility, of course, and also, arguably, the access economy – as opposed to the ownership economy. We see no problem sending lots of cars to Uber. We’ve been very proactive in the area, unlike other car companies.”
Increasingly it is the intangible assets that marketers need to invest in and protect. As Wayne Arnold, co–founder and global CEO of marketing agency MullenLowe Profero, noted, when you’re operating in world where Amazon is the biggest retailer, yet doesn’t own any stores, you know the rules have fundamentally changed.
The 24 Hour Global Conversation has been a fascinating project to be involved in, and will form the foundation for many topics The Marketing Society plans to explore in further depth throughout the second half of the year.
And for those in the business of trying to fix engines mid-flight, perhaps there’s some reassurance to be had in the common belief that a business world fuelled by data, and undergoing disruption, plays well to the strengths of marketing’s polymaths.
“2016 is going to be the year of the marketer,” said Darren Woolley, the global CEO of Australia’s marketing consultancy, TrinityP3. “I believe we will see marketing come back to the forefront of business following the realisation it is essential to capturing and engaging customers’ attention and ad dollars.”
The Drum readers can download The Marketing Society’s 24 Hour Global Conversation for free here.
Arif Durrani is Bloomberg Media’s commercial editor for Europe, Middle East & Africa