WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell Is Worried About Marketing

“I must admit to being rather worried about what’s happening,” WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell said at a book launch event for Does It Work? 10 Principles for Delivering True Business Value in Digital Marketing. “Marketing doesn’t have the prominence it should” in terms of being taken seriously as a revenue generator.

Sorrell noted that with so much focused on how much consumers and their behaviors have changed, changes in business aren’t getting as much attention. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, consumers haven’t changed as vastly as corporations have, he said. “Businesses are now totally focused on quarterly results,” Sorrell said, adding that this often leads to bad decisions. “You can’t cut your way to success.”

This focus doesn’t surprise Sorrell considering the circumstances. Two examples: Disrupters like Uber are displacing traditional businesses; and C-level turnover is rampant. It’s the perfect storm of these circumstances that has led to today’s focus on quarterly earnings, he said.

It also leads to clients wanting more for less. “I have no issue with that,” Sorrell said, with the caveat that clients then need to work constructively with their agencies to find a mutually beneficial outcome. He added that clients also need to be comfortable looking at what’s ahead and taking action based on that. “They need to stop looking at their shoes and look at the horizon.”

Sorrell talked about four areas WPP focuses on to be successful that any marketer could adapt in their own business. Number one is talent: “You have to have the best talent,” he said. “It’s a differentiator.” But you also need to invest in technology, data, and content.

Beyond that, success is about maintaining forward momentum. “We’re trying to get traditional [marketing] to be more digital, and get digital to be super-digital,” he said, adding that doing so will help to build more awareness of the value of marketing.

Showing value through results

Sorrell was setting the stage for authors Shane Atchison, global CEO, and Jason Burby, president Americas, of WPP agency Possible, to discuss Does It Work? The new book, which includes a forward by Sorrell, outlines 10 ways to show the value of marketing that Sorrell discussed in his welcome remarks.

In discussing the genesis of Does It Work? Atchison explained that marketers today need to be accountable and measure what matters. “It’s rare to see a hypothesis in a creative brief,” he said. Atchison also emphasized the importance of goals in marketing, for accountability and for showing marketing’s value—as well as to have a point of reference for success. “If you don’t have variance to a goal, you don’t have a goal,” he said.

Burby added that marketers should be speaking to their customers as individuals, not as a broad group. “Very few organizations are doing personalization,” he said. And then added, “One size fits no one.” That phrase is one of the 10 principles from the book. 

They are:

Business goals are everything. Enough said.

A collective vision. Teams need to work in a unified manner. Not doing so isn’t just a bad business practice, it could lead to costly errors.

Data inspires creativity. Used correctly data supports creativity, versus stifling it.

Finding unicorns. Hire and nurture top talent.

Culture predicts success and failure. Ensure yours encourages success.

Measure what matters. Likes are nice; purchases are what matter.

What it’s worth. Use relative-value model to spend marketing budgets wisely.

Never stop improving. Hypothesize, test, measure, and optimize.

One size fits no one. Personalize communications, target wisely, be relevant and contextual. Treat valued customers like you know them.

Framework for innovation. Keep moving forward and innovating or watch competitors pass you by and customers move on. 

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