“State of the Union” address for Global Marketer Conference 2014, Sydney


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“Martin Riley, President of the World Federation of Advertisers & CMO Pernod Ricard opens the WFA Global Marketer Conference 2014 with President's Address”

There's never been a better time to be in marketing. Our ability to communicate and engage has never been so great.

But the standards we are held to, both by the public and our colleagues, have never been so tough.

We need to be data experts. We need to be accountable to the public and the CFO. We need to be aware of everything that is done in the name of our brand. And we need to be entertaining and engaging at the same time.

So while there's never been a better time to be in marketing, it's never been tougher to be a good marketer.

It will come as a surprise to no one that what's making everything both more exciting and more difficult is technology.

Technology gives us the platforms to be part of our consumers' lives, to earn a space on their newsfeed and the tools to reach, engage and entertain them.
But it also sets challenges for us. Challenges in understanding all these new platforms and what they can do for us as well as what they should do for us.

How can we and how should we integrate digital into a connected, coherent multi-media strategy and how it should complement marketing communications on traditional media?

Equally, the rise of technology challenges us because it provides those who regard all marketing with suspicion with new opportunities to blame it for some of society's most intractable problems, be it childhood overweight and obesity, alcohol-related harm or unsustainable consumption.

The WFA is currently talking to regulators in more than 50 countries about changes to the rules that govern what we are able do as marketers. Some of these will be for the better and provide greater clarity but a significant number represent challenges to our license to operate.

It also challenges us to think not just about how we can reach our target audiences but whether we should be using this programming slot, this creative execution, this technology platform or that message to do so.

The WFA has been working hard to address these challenges. Project Reconnect is an initiative which seeks to understand what is permissible and acceptable when it comes to connecting with people in the Digital Age. This is often a conundrum particularly evident when it comes to Generation Y consumers; more digital savvy, with different aspirations from their predecessors and arguably more demanding of ever more innovative and exciting brand experiences.

The WFA has also been working with members and local advertiser associations to demonstrate that the world's biggest brands can deliver the responsible advertising we all want to see across both traditional and new platforms. In Europe we've just tightened up the rules governing the EU Food Marketing Pledge placing voluntary limits on the foods we advertise to children.

Equally the Responsible Marketing Pact requires significant commitments from my own industry to ensure that alcohol marketing is not placed or designed in a way that will appeal to younger audiences.

In Australia, you have similar self-regulatory initiatives such as the Responsible Children's Marketing Initiative launched by the AANA, our hosts.

However, the real challenge of digital technology for marketers is much more fundamental still.

It challenges our traditional notion of what a brand is and what it means to consumers. The functional benefits that launched the first brands are now just a small part of the equation.

In the digital age, information is readily accessible to citizens who want to discover more about the brands they follow and admire, not just in their own countries but in every country where they operate.

In today's world, the concept of “local” doesn't exist anymore. A brand that operates across geographies needs to be seen to play by the same rules and standards everywhere.

Any ill-thought through commercial, promotion, micro-site in Thailand or Peru can come back and bite you in the UK, NZ or Australia. Today brands are only as strong as their weakest link.

So, just as platforms like Twitter and Facebook have helped topple governments as part of the Arab Spring, so too Wikileaks and Edward Snowden have shone an uncomfortable light on governments in the west. And brands are equally at their mercy.

Activists, not governments, are leading the push for change. Companies cannot isolate themselves from public debate and are now expected to take positions on all manner of issues, even if they are only tangentially related to their businesses.

We need to remove the walls between the marketers, who traditionally talk to consumers, and the corporate & public affairs people who deal with non-governmental organisations, the media and governments, because in the outside world their messages blur into one. Social media had made this all possible.

But activism is not solely about confrontation. Co-operation with companies is becoming increasingly important, not least because multinationals are concerned about environmental threats to their own future supplies of water, food and other raw materials. None of us alone can solve a problem so there are opportunities for companies to collaborate in ways they have never done before.


Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, told a recent conference: “If consumers don't like what they see, they're able to express it. The youth in emerging markets are more than happy to do so and they're an incredibly important force [...] My point is simple, you can get an irresponsible company out of business in a matter of a few seconds now”.

The truth is, in an age where everything is on show, every brand can have its own Tahrir Square or Wikileak moment.

In 2014, our communications are only as powerful as the company and brands we represent. We can't say without doing any more.

Again, the WFA has recognized this paradigm shift. It's latest Brand Purpose research (to be released on Thursday) reveals how marketers almost unanimously understand that their brands (and companies) need to stand for something more important than the functional delivery of the brand they represent.

They understand that their companies and brand need to stand for something more. 89% of marketers think that purpose needs to pervade the entire organization and have buy in from all business functions. The other 11% are clearly behind the times.

There is an increasing demand from regulators, civil society and, most importantly, people for brands to have a social conscience.

I truly believe that the most successful brands will transcend the functional delivery of a product or service and visibly, sincerely and constructively participate in society's struggle with itself.

Different companies will have different purposes. Critically though they are genuine efforts to add something to society. Those efforts must be sincere and seen to be sincere. For in our age of transparency, words must be matched by action.

Because so many new technologies have created two-way channels of communication, marketing is now the eyes and ears of the business. We see and we hear what people say to us in private focus groups and in the public forums of Twitter and Facebook.

We have to make the decision about how and where to respond to these conversations but our first task is to understand what the significance of what's being said as well as its implications for our brands.

In the Digital Age, we have to ask ourselves whether we really understand what we mean by brand conversations and how we participate in them? What skills are needed? How often do we talk and what's the balance between talking and listening? Critically, how do we stick to a meaningful and consistent message and tone of voice?

In the age of big data, successful marketers will need to be an equal measure of mad men, method men and math men (and women, of course!). And while big data will no doubt bring great opportunities, what are we doing now with the small data that already exists?

As marketers we need to expand our skillsets. We need to integrate CRM, sales, public affairs, PR and corporate communications as well as traditional marketing if we are to fulfill this new role in the digital age.

We need to build on our links with the other parts of our business so that we are better placed to highlight and change business decisions that expose our brands to risk.

These are huge and exciting challenges. So I finish where I started: There's probably never been a better time to be in marketing. But it's harder than ever before to be a good marketer. Even the best are really going to have to raise their game.

We're going to need to become more sensitive and by becoming better listeners, garner better insights. We're going to have to be more mindful of our responsibilities to society.

We must ask ourselves: do we have a brand point of view that can be shared with society?

And once were clear what we bring to the table, we must work tirelessly within our companies to match words with real action and genuine purpose.

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