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Ask the Future 50: what is marketing’s biggest problem, and how do you fix it?

The Drum's Future 50 list of the best new marketers has been announced.

This week, we announced the Future 50 for 2020, our list of the best new brand-side talent from across the industry. But while celebrating the milestones our phenomenal 50 have already achieved in their careers, we also wanted to pick the brains of these marketing leaders of tomorrow.

We’ve already asked them about the qualities required of the marketer of the future. Now, we ask...

What is the greatest problem facing marketing today, and how would you go about fixing it?

William Harvey, global digital innovation manager, Diageo

Playing it safe. Allowing legacy, process and form filling restricts and hinders innovation and the change that is needed. Innovation is hard, whether it’s technology-led or just an innovative approach to solving an analogue problem. Playing it safe can sometimes be riskier than a leap of faith. Just because it was done that way before doesn’t mean it’s the right way to do it now. We should see the pandemic as a reset and should question and challenge the way things were before, putting a mirror up and asking: ‘Is this the best way, or can we do it better?’

Xavier White, CSR and inovation markeing manager, Verizon

We all know it’s harmful to show antiquated stereotypes in advertising, but still, lots of brands are only placing their adverts with mainstream publishers, often driving diverse channels into bankruptcy. Additionally, brand protection sometimes prevents adverts from being placed on LGBT+ websites because algorithms think ‘gay’ should be on the deny list. It’s not enough to show diverse representation. It’s about putting your money where your mouth is and supporting diverse media. In the B2B world this is harder to tackle, but corporations can still provide volunteer consultation and mentoring to diverse outlets to help them in other ways.

Thomas Coxhead, head of digital marketing, Defected Records

Everything looks and sounds the same. One thing I’ve always tried to do in my career is to stand out from the crowd. When everyone is looking right, I look left and aim to make a difference by doing something new and innovative. Defected is an amazing brand, but it’s vital to create unique content and messaging that engages your core audience while also bringing in new people that had no idea they needed this brand in their lives. I’m very proud of the online community we have and the continued growth is phenomenal.

Erin Abernathy, brand marketing lead, Feather

I think one of the biggest problems the industry faces is over-dependence on Facebook and Instagram. Of course, these platforms are pretty much a must-have in the DTC world, but focusing on other, owned channels such as email, social, partnerships and viral programs that can drive awareness and conversion (and that you actually have control over as a brand) are key.

Tara Manning, senior CRM and loyalty manager, Costa Coffee

The greatest problem facing the marketing industry today is the impact of the global pandemic. Consumer behaviour has changed swiftly and drastically with many new behaviours likely to become permanent. Marketing has always hinged on our ability to anticipate, meet and exceed consumer expectations. Unable to rely on previously established patterns and norms, it’s crucial to leverage rich loyalty data to gain new consumer understanding – and double-down on digital transformation to give consumers what they want in the ‘new normal’.

Jonathan Prince, brand manager, Earth’s Own

As methods of communicating to consumers become increasingly sophisticated and effective in weaving into the life of a consumer – it becomes even more the responsibility of brand leaders to ensure the messages and products they are offering to consumers will help them, and wider society, as regulatory authorities will find it harder to manage as technology advances. The greatest problem, and therefore opportunity that faces future marketers, is how can you take an ethical stance and ensure your brand is a force for good for consumers.

Miki Kim, assistant vice-president of PR and brand marketing, Pomelo Fashion

One of the biggest challenges is making marketing feel personal. We’ve seen, with the rise of social media marketing and influencer marketing, that this is often what resonates with audiences the most. While brands naturally must appeal to a wide audience, it’s important for them to retain what makes them unique, and for marketers to be able to communicate and position this effectively. I also think it’s important for marketers to celebrate inclusivity and diversity through their campaigns.

Yingying Ye, e-clienteling and business development analyst, Louis Vuitton

I think we should provide more opportunities for young talent with different backgrounds. I saw so many young graduates struggling to find positions in marketing when I was struggling myself a couple of years ago. Many of them are forced to change direction for their career planning, which is a huge loss for the industry. If I have a chance, I would be more than willing to provide mentorship help to anyone with great passion who wants to enter the industry!

Jaina Shah, campaigns manager, Reach

Diversity of thought. The importance of communicating with people from different races, religions and backgrounds is more vital today than ever. We are living in a massively diverse society which is going to become even more diverse, and

unless we can understand these audiences and their needs and values, we cannot progress successfully. I think this can be fixed, but to do this we need more diverse voices in meetings and also at decision-maker level. By working together, we can create campaigns that resonate with more of our consumers: for example, the black hair market, or Diwali, or Eid.

Harriet Elvin, digital marketing lead, Canon

Did you watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix? Horrifying. I think the extreme consumption of social media, layered with vulnerable and easily-influenced audiences, fake content and aggressive engagement strategies by social media companies poses a huge ethical conundrum to every marketer.

How do we find a way towards ethical marketing practices in the social media space? Will it ever be possible to market effectively without depending on what might be considered invasive data collection and use? I think about it a lot and I wouldn’t even know where to begin to fix it. It would require collective thinking and action.

Belicia Lim, marketing manager, You Technologies

Unfortunately, there is still an over-reliance on the traditional playbook of marketing, and general resistance to change. Many brands are shy to the idea of starting conversations on underlying societal issues due to the risks involved. Companies have the power and voice to initiate change for the right reasons – they just need to be bold to take the first step. This is something that I wish to drive in my capacity as a communications specialist and marketer. Hopefully my industry peers will feel empowered to do so as well!

Dhiren Karnani, marketing manager, KFC UK and Ireland

Marketing needs to lead on how businesses adapt to changing consumer needs and leverage this to find value and growth. Which would mean being responsible for tech innovation and evolution, consumer experience, customer service, product delivery and the like. Not to mention, this needs to be done alongside driving communications in a highly fragmented world, with new channels requiring different approaches. As a new marketing leader, it’s my responsibility to champion disruptive growth through the work my team and I deliver and continue to push for a seat at the decision-making table.

Anushka Bharvani, senior global marketing manager, Unilever Asia

I believe marketers only have one chance to land a brand’s purpose. And when it is approached opportunistically, just to deliver on targets rather than authentically defining what is true to the brand, the impact on consumer trust is obvious. As more brands join the purpose revolution, it is important that marketers look inwards and reflect on their brand’s values and beliefs to define an honest and authentic purpose that consumers would feel proud to be associated with.

Hannah Johnson, marketing executive, The Times and The Sunday Times

I think a big problem in the marketing industry is pinpointing exactly who you’re talking to. In a world undergoing constant change, brands need to be relevant and know their target audience to ensure that we are speaking to the right people through the right channel, and therefore driving value as opposed to volume.

Jade Thomas, head of marketing, Yapily

Earning attention. With millions of pieces of content created every minute, brands are not only competing with their direct competition, but every possible brand out there. I believe that by finding ways to connect with customers, on their terms, and shifting the focus on to pull strategies rather than a constant push to the customer is how we need to fix this.

Nicole Carbone, brand manager, Athenahealth

From my current vantage point, the greatest problem facing the marketing industry is that consumers are drinking information from a fire hydrant at all times, making it extremely difficult to catch someone’s attention long enough to convey a message that resonates and can be trusted. Brands with superior offerings and a clear sense of purpose and strategy will be the ones to cut through. I feel confident that the work I am currently doing and will continue to do will help break through that noise.

Meredith Ruskin, director, global brands strategy and planning, AB InBev

I believe the marketing industry has a trust problem. Too often, consumers feel like marketing is trying to sell them on something they don’t want or trick them into buying something they don’t need. Ultimately, I want to put work into the world that’s fundamentally honest – by creating products that delight, messages that are relevant to someone’s unique lived experience, and services that add tangible value to people’s lives.

Anthony Marlow, marketing manager, Save the Children

Public perception of marketing. At best, attitudes towards marketing tend to be apathetic. At worst, they’re hostile. The public understands marketing like never before, which often feeds into scepticism and distrust. A bleak picture. However, it really highlights the importance of brands being genuine, in both their marketing communications and broader actions. The marketing industry is unlikely to ever be well-loved, but I believe brands can make positive steps by being consistent and true to their brand identity. Whether that’s a tongue-in-cheek brand like Paddy Power or belief-driven brand like Patagonia. Otherwise, your audience sees straight through the marketing.

You can see the full list of our fantastic Future 50 and read about just why we think they’re the future of the industry here.

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