my turn


The Farther Up The Ladder, The Farther Behind The Eight Ball For Marketers

Deanie Elsner, former EVP and CMO of Kraft Foods Group, made a compelling statement about the state of marketing. And she made the point that top marketers and even CEOs are a potential ball and chain, keeping a company stuck in a state of perennial indecision. Her presentation at Tapad's Unify Tech 2015 conference in New York got into a lot of marketing must-dos. Who understands the dizzying changes in the digital space, making up 50% of all media consumption, over half of which is on mobile? Not too many people, and fewer as you get up to a company’s C-suite region. And few understand digital as a holistic program mixing data with coordinated brand strategy. “When you ask marketers to define digital strategy, they will give you ‘random acts of digital,’ rather than an holistic strategy informed by data, with KPIs and data points that prove success.”

That hurts, but she's clearly right. Anyone who has tried to learn French after age 40 gets this completely. A lot of CMOs and above come from another country, where there is still a monarchy and reinvention of methods is about as encouraged as such things are at, say, the Vatican. “That alone is the explanation of why the marketing models are broken. And companies that don't reinvent the models will be irrelevant.”



The consumer, customer and communications landscape is changing seismically. And who's driving those changes? Millennials and Hispanic consumers. The former is today's new mainstream — 5% bigger in numbers than the Boomers who preceded them by a couple of generations. Elsner noted that they just think differently about brands. And, by the way, they will be here for at least the next 30 years. And they are going to be more and more represented by Hispanics. 

What about how digital media is changing all of this? Actually, henceforth I'll just call it media. At this point calling it digital shows my age. Elsner, who also called herself out as being way over 40 (she doesn't look a day over 47, and I can say that because I don't look a day over 56), says that today's media means consumers exert unheard-of power over brand behavior.

“Marketers are confused, paralyzed and scared to make a move,” she notes. Besides the dizzying technology pantheon, there’s the one-way communications perspective on advertising that doesn’t die easily. Today’s consumers are having a conversation with you; they are deciding everything and the marketer has to chase it with tools not built to chase. The consumer is the new CEO, setting agenda for the products they want. And most CMOs may not quite understand that. “Your smartest person is your most junior talent. The most dangerous, potentially, is the current CEO, because what they know doesn't exist any more,” she says.

Consumers decide whether to shop, and they can find out who's charging less than you, and where they can get exactly what they want. Nothing's on the marketer's terms any more. "If you aren't following this consumer and the changes in how they are purchasing products, and their rapid digital adoption, you are losing ROI.” 

The problem is that marketers don't acknowledge the right problem, says Elsner, arguing that if you ask a marketer today if they have an ad tech problem, for example, they would probably say no. The problem, as they see it, is a growth problem. Not an advertising technology problem.

4 comments about "The Farther Up The Ladder, The Farther Behind The Eight Ball For Marketers ".
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  1. John Senall from Mobile First Media, June 19, 2015 at 8:34 a.m.

    Excellent article, Karl. Except Esner has one thing very wrong. She states that "Your smartest person is your most junior talent." That is a big assumption without merit. The smartest person COULD be an individual who is young, middle aged or the oldest person in the room (even age 75 or 85 possibly). It depends on who has the most knowledge about multi-audiences, multi-demographic communication and marketing preferences, how to integrate approaches to reach the consumers that matter to a particular company using the most appropriate media mix, how to measure it in a best-in-class way, and how to constantly be reading up and being willing to learn, grow and change to ensure we don't stay stuck on old ways, and we don't make exaggerated assumptions about any niche audience, its interests, or communication desires. The smatest person is the one who has contextual history of audiences, habits and changes, and why it matters. It typically is not the youngest person in any room. I find the youngest in a room usually make assumptions based on the latest trends for the youngest audiences, and mis-read industry changes to apply to all age groups and miss the critcal subtle or not subtle differences in demographics and psychographics. We can't ever do that, because it will ensure failure. It ensures we will not meet the needs and communication zones of some of our most valued and important consumers. And it assumes we live in a world where young people have somehow jumped over 20-30 years of life experience needed to truly understand what makes humans tick, why people are often different, and why they choose or do not choose to do certain things.

  2. John Senall from Mobile First Media, June 19, 2015 at 8:41 a.m.

    The short way of saying what I just said is this: The smartest person in marketing and communications is the one who listens to the youngest person in the room, and listens to the others in the room, and knows enough to weigh the advice from all and to choose the best options for a given situation at a given time. Not to assume he or she (as the top leader) knows more than all the people in the room, regardless of their ages. And especially not to assume that the youngest person in the room is by default, the smartest. And that the oldest person in the room, is by default, the most behind the eight ball. 

  3. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost, June 19, 2015 at 11:02 a.m.

    John, thanks for the comment. remember that movie from the sixties, (you probably don't, which is ironic in this context) "Wild in the Streets"? it was a dystopian look at youth obsession, in which youth is seen as the sole repository not only of beauty, but wisdom. The president is a teenager, but his advisors are even younger, as I recall. There is a little of that going on. But age should be  irrelevent to the discussion, in any case. It's about the kind of wisdom that is worth a fortune if you can find it. And, honeslty, that brings me to another (off) topic discussion: we under-value, in higher education, the kinds of academic disciplines that encourage intellectual synthesis (dare I say the "h" word? We encourage prospective students, rather, to go into analytical studies and scoff at pretty much anything else, relegating these other scholarship journeys to 'hobby' academics, like the totemic basket weaving major. Marketing is ultimately the study of human behavior, and really that doesn't change all that much, and does not adhere to Moore's law, needless to say.      

  4. John Senall from Mobile First Media, June 19, 2015 at 9:10 p.m.

    Excellent summary. Thanks for the article and post-discussion. You are right--If we grow just a generation of doers of x,y,z and do not allow enough time for students to ponder, consider context, or behavior vast differences within typical "grouped" demos (e.g "seniors," "millennials," Gen-Xers," "Boomers," etc.), we are helping create top skilled people, but not nurturing leaders half as much. It is hard to work things into a higher education curriculum but your point should be read by the experts who can work on that. They are all intelligent folks, and occasionally even the smartest in a room. :-) 

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