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More than ever, marketers are hustling to capitalize on the latest trends and technologies to propel their businesses forward. Blogging Out Loud hosted a virtual roundtable this past week with several top marketing executives from the business ecosystem to discuss the current challenges, successes and the road ahead. The roundtable included: Cynthia Batterman, a well-respected marketer and consultant who has worked on leading consumer brands from M&Ms to Banquet and former President of North/South America at Nelsons, a leading natural products manufacturer; Kevin Berman, Director of North America Advertising and Marketing Services at Lenovo and former Director of Integrated Marketing at Sears; Joe Felbab, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Cable One and former VP of Marketing and Sales at Time Warner Cable; Nick Karamanos, formerly with ConAgra, and currently a Vice President at Mattel; and Philip Saifer, President of Vertical Marketing Network, who has worked with leading brands on the client and agency-side for 30 years.
Blogging Out Loud: Let’s start by touching on the current state of the marketing industry. Have the past few years been tough? Have your business and marketing communications changed over the past five years?
Cynthia Batterman: I think, in general, the past five years have been tough on everyone, whether you’re a business leader or consumer. Consumers have certainly reassessed their needs and are more cost-conscience. We’re doing more bargain hunting; we’re re-purposing and reusing. Becoming cheap is almost fashionable.
Joe Felbab: The primary reason it’s gotten more challenging is due to the economy. Consumers have less discretionary dollars to spend; consumers have cut back. Consumers have been forced to get smarter, and they are smarter. There’s more comparative shopping, more information via the Internet.
Nick Karamanos: Even if it hasn’t been tough, communications have changed. Our primary consumers are younger, so we’re still exceedingly reliant on TV. But TV is not the only tactic – or most heavily relied on tactic – that we use.
Kevin Berman: We’ve definitely had to be more flexible with budget planning. There’s always a concern that marketing spending will have to be reduced as the year goes on. The good news is there are some great tools that are allowing marketers to do great things with less money.
Philip Saifer: There has been an explosion of available marketing tactics during the past five years, maybe more changes than in the previous 25 years combined. The adoption of broadband Internet and the use of smart phones and personal devices like iPads has changed the way marketers share communications with consumers. At Vertical Marketing, we look to establish a roadmap that holistically integrates social media into go-to-market strategies for our clients.
BOL: What is more important when it comes to measuring results of your marketing efforts: qualitative or quantitative results?
CB: It’s all about quantitative. Branded products need to make sure they’re offering reduced prices and operating costs. More so than ever, budgets are tight.
JF: I think both are important in different ways. My team and I are more quantitative. We’re a direct response business, and as such we measure closely and we do a significant amount of testing. We do use qualitative research, but for the most part quantitative is really our focus.
KB: Definitely quantitative. We have to show that every dollar produces a return.
NK: It depends on the tactic. From a TV commercial perspective, when you have definable criteria, it’s still quantitative. On the other hand, there’s the mix of while it’s measurable, you’re not looking to drive business. You’re looking to have a conversation with your consumer that is more qualitative, but just as important.
PS: I agree with Joe and Nick: it shouldn’t be an either-or. Terms like ROI, lifetime consumer value and optimization all have relevance. But improving a brand’s effectiveness requires clarity in the strategic framework for all investments. Some portion of brand support funding can certainly be strictly quantitative based, while other portions drive brand conversations and relevancy with the target audience.
BOL: When dealing with an integrated marketing program, what aspect drives both the program and the creative? Does advertising, marketing or social media come first? Has your planning process changed in recent years?
NK: It comes down first to understanding the brand. Once we have, we establish legs in different tactical buckets, whether they be social or TV, etc. Planning has evolved more around a marketing theme, and a way to holistically capture that theme.
CB: A lot of people are anxious to jump on the social media bandwagon, but the fundamentals of marketing are still the same: we need to start our marketing campaigns with a well-defined strategy. If social media makes sense, then it makes sense. But, in my mind, the strategy should always drive the tactics.
KB: The process has changed in the sense that more media vehicles, like social, have become available, but the approach to integrated marketing shouldn’t change. There are all sorts of ways companies go about integrating. Whichever way a company chooses, there are now more vehicles that need to be integrated into that approach.
PS: Defining a clear-cut strategy should drive the creation of a vertically integrated marketing program. This aspect of effective marketing is as true today as it was in the past.
JF: I agree: marketing’s been pretty consistent for the last 15 to 20 years. But I think how we talk to customers has changed. The media vehicles we’ve used have changed, and our focus has moved away from traditional media to more nontraditional media.
BOL: How important is leveraging social media to the overall marketing strategy of your brands? Why?
NK: It’s important, and it goes back to having an ongoing conversation with our consumer that’s organic, natural and makes the brand better. It’s a great opportunity for the consumer to connect – and they have been connecting in a way in which they can provide important views. Having that ability to have that feedback and have that conversation only makes the brand better.
PS: We find social media tends to be the central hub for a great number of client programs, or at least an important component. I envision that the importance of social media marketing will continue to grow in importance.
BOL: In your opinion, what is the most effective way to reach Millennials?
JF: Social media, plus the Internet in general. They use the web to gather information, and they use social media to find out what their friends are using.
CB: If you’re going after Millennials, you can’t ignore social media. But social media is not the only type of media this consumer base is consuming.
NK: I think creating moments in time, whether they’re events – digital or physical – in which these folks can connect with their brand becomes important. Something that emotional enhances their connection to the brand.
BOL: How do you go about integrating “new thinking” in your marketing plans?
NK: I think the secret is hiring really good people, both inside the organization and out. We ask them: “Are we connecting our brand with consumers in the most authentic and organic way?” It’s about the people we have and the way we ask them to constantly challenge themselves.
KB: I definitely tap into the knowledge of agency partners for this. I have to keep reminding myself I may not be in the target audience and to keep an open mind as to the best way to reach that target.
CB: Part of that challenge is social, digital and online media, but it’s also the transparency of your brand. How do you communicate that consumers are part of the brand, whether it’s online or through some other mechanism?
PS: We no longer exist in an analog world. Inspirations are all around us and in high-definition. Information and content sources grow online each day and blogs like this one, render new thinking. People, competitors, news sources, new products, technologies, they all stimulate new thinking. The exchange of ideas encourages what I call “co-creation” more now than in the world of Don Draper.
BOL: Other than internal communications, trade publications and hard research, where do you turn for inspiration?
KB: Pop culture is a great source, however you consume it. What’s on TV, online, on Facebook and Twitter.
NK: We certainly look at whatever other folks have done with their brands. One I look at with admiration is Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World.” The multiple connections around the character, they way they use him to talk about the brand in a different way. It’s a fresh perspective.
CB: Inspiration is all around us; it’s just a matter of finding those things that you can apply to your own brand. Last year, JC Penny did a social media program where they allowed college students to design clothes, and they could win scholarships to continue their education. It was so great because it helped to change the image I had of the brand. It was a win-win-win.