Consumers are inundated with information and options. Their inboxes are full, their phones and watches are too smart for their own good, their news feeds are clogged with selfies and grandstanding, and they can buy anything they want from wherever they want. How would such a consumer environment sound to a marketer 40 years ago? Ten years ago? Implausible perhaps.
But today, marketers face the monumental challenge of breaking through the noise to not only reach these consumers, but also engage them with relevant messages and content. Marketers are each other’s best allies in this digital age, and who better to glean insight from than exemplary new talent.
Here, the winners of the Marketing EDGE Rising Star awards share their advice on what it takes to market amid today’s constant digital deluge.
What do you think is the biggest difference between your generation of marketers and your predecessors’?
“The generation of marketers before mine had a more finite set of media options available to them to reach consumers. My generation grew up during the expansion of cable TV, niche magazines by the hundreds, and the formative years of the Internet. As a professional in today’s market, the sky is truly the limit on what’s possible. Consumers have the power to determine how and in what ways they want to consume media, and set a unique tolerance level for engaging with advertising.” – Louis Cohen, SVP, digital marketing, Citi Cards.
“We’re no longer in the marketing age when we can market at people. Today, people are actively willing and able to resist marketing messages. [They] fast-forward through commercials, close pop-up windows, ignore banner ads, etc. Today, we’re moving from impressions as measurement to more of the engagement metrics; seeing how our customers are interacting and conversing with us as a brand.” – Amina Dilawari, director of marketing strategy and planning, ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“When brands and general audiences think of the phrase[direct response], they’re often thinking 30 years back. I think people are starting to realize, though, that you don’t have to give up those beautiful TV spots or that creative to have DR marketing that is accountable, and deeply focused on analytics and ROI. We live at the intersection of these things. They don’t have to exist separately.” – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO, Hawthorne Direct.
“This generation of marketers must reach a different type of consumer. When we compete for the consumer’s attention, we aren’t just competing with other, similar brands; we are completing with every distraction in the consumer’s world. To gain consumer mind share, we need to reach them in ways they can relate to, with relevant, genuine content of interest. Because marketing needs to reach consumers on their own terms, talented marketers must understand individuals and design specifically for them. Marketing is becoming increasingly cross-disciplinary.” – Lisa Radding, director of research and product development, Ethnic Technologies.
“I don’t think that there’s much difference between generations of marketers. The evolution is more around the channels and technologies that we’re using today. Just like we do today, past generations of marketers needed to leverage research, data, and analytics for insights to be able to deeply understand their customers. [Marketers have always had] to be able to tell a compelling story with the right messaging and content. The biggest difference today is the new channels where research, messages, and transactions are taking place.” – Andrea Steele, manager of omnichannel capabilities, Unilever.
What major shifts in the marketing industry do you see being telegraphed now?
“Dynamic personalization at all touchpoints of media appears possible now more than ever. It feels possible for the right message to be served at the right time, and in the most meaningful ways to an individual consumer. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer because we can develop advertising that is meaningful to more people, and more valuable to brands.”- Cohen.
“Content marketing. Marketers are continuing to leverage the importance of content to build trust and generate loyalty among their customers. Content marketing is becoming more targeted and personal. Marketing spend is going to go to more native advertising versus traditional advertising, and marketers are focusing more on publication and distribution of this content to leverage their brand than ever before.” – Dilawari.
“I think we’ll be moving away from this age of mass consumerism in favor of more sharable technology and green technology. People may not be as interested in multiple cars, for example. They may start leaning more toward services like Uber or Zipcar. The entire landscape of marketing will have to change. We’ll have to smarter about everything.” – Hawthorne-Castro.
We have the data and data expertise to make more informed marketing decisions based on who our customers are, how they behave, and what they need. With this information about our customers, and potential customers, and with the additional data available about our product offerings, we have the ability to create more content-driven marketing initiatives. These are the initiatives that ‘go viral,’ developing product and brand mindshare.” – Radding.
“The consumer is in control. We need to stop believing that we can control every touchpoint around our brands. The consumer is asserting increased control over everything from the messages and content that are being created around our brands to the actual products themselves (with the rise of technology like 3D printing). Brands need to find a way to embrace and harness user generated content, and engage in always-on, two-way dialogue with consumers.” – Steele.
What skills do you think benefitted you the most on your way to this point as a marketer?
“I grew up with computers in my home, and went to college at Carnegie Mellon University, where everyone was required to learn simple HTML and take a class in C++. Learning the basics of computer science, even as a business student, enabled me to be tremendously more successful as a digital marketer. These classes and others taught me how to understand logic models, analytics, statistics, and how to work smarter with those who can code the ideas I come up with.” – Cohen.
“I task myself with staying up-to-date, not only on marketing and technology and nonprofit trends, but also trends in culture. We’re a more diverse nation, connected nation, and understanding the bigger picture is the best way to create meaningful insights—the backbone of good marketing.” – Dilawari.
“The skills that served me best were my clear focus, determination, vision, communication, and—while being good at details—having my eye on the bigger picture.” – Hawthorne-Castro.
“I’m a linguist and onomastician; I enable marketers. I apply my expertise and interest —linguistics, onomastics—to an industry initiative, multicultural marketing.” – Radding.
“I didn’t have an educational background in marketing, so I wanted to use my first few years in the field to understand multiple facets of the industry. That’s why I benefitted so much from Marketing EDGE’s Next Generation Leaders program. I had the opportunity to rotate between four diverse companies in one year and develop a wide range of skills including analytics, research, strategy development, new business, and account management.” – Steele.
What skills should aspiring marketers be working on now?
“I’d recommend everyone take a class in computer science, and try to code [at least] enough to know what you’re looking at. Understanding how to derive insights from data, via analytics, is essential to any marketer in today’s workforce.” – Cohen.
“Aspiring marketers should work on their digital self and personal brand presence. [Today], a person’s online presence can be a huge factor on whether they land a job. There’s a value to your personal brand story, and if you’re able to build your own brand, a prospective employer will have the confidence that you can help build theirs.” – Dilawari.
“Focus on technology, analytics, and accountability. You have to be able to demonstrate ROI. Focus on creative, as well, but also consider what’s going to make the world a better place.” – Hawthorne-Castro.
“I recommend that aspiring marketers become familiar with large data sets and learn how to manipulate data to see patterns and trends. As data increasingly drives marketing decisions and content marketing initiatives, successful marketers will need to be comfortable in data analytics.” – Radding.
“I recommend flexing your right and left brain and getting a range of experiences via internships that will help you decide what direction you’re most passionate about and what career path you ultimately want to pursue.” – Steele.
What has been your greatest challenge as a young marketer in the digital age, and how are you meeting this challenge?
“Big ideas don’t always get heard, nor shared. For me, the challenge is finding the right outlets and more meaningful ways to influence the industry I work in. I am fortunate to be invited to share my thoughts at several conferences and industry forums, but meaningful impact comes with smaller conversations, not larger ones.” – Cohen.
“Once you put a campaign out in the digital arena, you can see your impact almost immediately without the need to wait for reports and metrics to come in. With this comes a responsibility to update or optimize quickly if needed, but without a process to do so, companies are rarely able to capitalize on opportunities, or address problems. At ALSAC/St. Jude, we are attempting to meet this challenge directly by working to anticipate scenarios and develop responses and actions in advance so we can respond quickly, but more important, respond effectively.” – Dilawari.
“It’s both positive and negative. We’re still tied to our heritage [at Hawthorne Direct]. It’s really more of a branding and perception thing that direct response needs to address as an industry. We’re meeting this challenge by keeping the focus on finance and ROI. We attribute everything that’s coming back to the brand.” – Hawthorne-Castro.
“In the digital age, marketing needs to be relatable and exciting for its own value, apart from the value of the product being pushed. My challenge is to help marketers understand and execute this vision. I’ve needed to assemble a team with non-marketing-centric backgrounds who apply their knowledge to advance marketing initiatives.” – Radding.
“The speed of change is the most difficult thing currently facing all marketers in the digital age. As soon as you think you’ve mastered how a social platform, search algorithm, retailer site, or mobile technology works, the puck moves. You have to be an evergreen student to succeed, constantly keeping a pulse on new technologies and capabilities, and understanding what’s relevant to prioritize for your business.” – Steele.
Any other thoughts on what it takes to succeed as a young marketer in 2015.
“Never stop learning, and recognize that you can always learn something new. No matter how much experience you gain, there are others who can help you do more, better, faster, or more efficiently. Then, when you’re the expert in the room, be generous with your knowledge.” – Cohen.
“I think we’ve reached one of the most collaborative eras in marketing. Operating alone for individual recognition no longer works and it shouldn’t work. It takes a team of individuals coming together with a diverse range of perspectives to bring a campaign to life. My advice to young marketers today would be to bring their perspectives to the table, be willing to listen to other voices, and work collaboratively.” – Dilawari.
“I think its important to bring in youth and young minds into the company. It’s a fast-paced world, and you need the youth to keep the organization fresh. It’s also important for young marketers to be proactive in looking for mentors. Mentors aren’t just given to you, you have to seek them out.” – Hawthorne-Castro.
“Technology is changing marketing, and every other industry, at an increasingly accelerated rate. Successful marketers have to constantly learn and adapt as the industry progresses. Be willing and prepared to change.” – Radding.
“Don’t just take value, create it. The most successful young marketers I’ve met and mentored are those who identified something that was not working—a process, a technology, a strategy—and improved it, usually without being asked.” – Steele.