Lessons from the Festival of Marketing



12 November 2019

Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at Unlimited Group, shares his top takeaways from the Festival of Marketing 2019.

For two days in October the marketing industry came together at Tobacco Dock to discuss, forecast and inspire. Across the headline stage, twelve other themed content stages and a number of jam-packed experience rooms, the industry’s leaders shared their experiences and visions of the future.

Shaping the future of the industry

As  you’d expect from a conference by and for marketers, there was a fair degree of navel gazing. Much of the debate focused on identifying the challenges the industry faces and providing inspirational calls for change, around three key themes:

1. The industry needs to redefine and better market itself

Dave Wheldon, CMO at RBS, flagged recent Deloitte research showing a mismatch between the degree to which marketers feel that they can influence business strategy (not much) and the degree to which their C-suite colleagues think they can (a great deal).

In his view, and that of Salesforce’s VP of marketing in the UK and Ireland, Ashling Kearns, marketers need, firstly to build up their self-confidence, and then get better at marketing marketing around their businesses. In her words, “We are the worst marketers of our own discipline and brand. Marketing is the only function that touches every other aspect within a company, has a true overview of the customer experience. It’s fairly unique.

2. Marketing needs to embrace not deny its scientific status

The Festival featured no end of impressive demos of martech – often AI-driven. While there will clearly always be a role for intuition, gut feel and “nous”, the prevailing view was definitely one of an industry needing to embrace its scientific status or risk a slow death. Jenni Romaniuk, Research Professor at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia Business School called on marketers to stop being seduced by case studies and quibbling over the fundamentals of marketing, asking them instead to demand more robust insight.

One of the main barriers to a fully insight-led approach has been the idea that science is the enemy of creativity. But many cited the ability to use data to improve the customer experience as a major source of competitive advantage. Tom Bird, of Oracle, attributed the success of the so-called FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) to their scientific approach to marketing.

3. Embrace the power of the weird, be braver, take risks

In today’s crowded and attention-sparse world it is getting harder and harder to be heard. Matt Garbutt, Creative Director at Greenlight, delivered a call to action to the industry to take more risks as the only way to break through the clutter and avoid the punters hitting the skip button. One example he entertainingly used throughout his presentation was the use of deliberate typos to draw attention. But there were plenty of examples from others, too:

  • Hannah Squirrel, Customer Director at Greggs, described how smaller budgets can actually be helpful by forcing marketers to think differently about how to cut through – something that Greggs have undeniably done amazingly well over the past year or two – vegan sausage roll anyone?
  • Lyndsey Woods described how Carlsberg have also grasped the nettle – publicly acknowledging the worst of public perceptions about their brand and demonstrating a commitment to change in the form of a total reformulation.
  • Emma Martell, Head of Social Content, showed how Virgin Trains have succeeded at “harnessing the power of weird on social” by leveraging everything from Will Ferrell to avocados!

Linking back to consumers

Clearly though, marketing does not exist in isolation but in a symbiosis with consumers. The themes outlined above describe how marketing will need to work in the future.

However, consumers will expect much more from the industry in terms of its ethics, its empathy and its efficiency. As Claudia Struzzo, Kingfisher, put it: “Marketing’s job is to advocate for the customer within the business and ensure their needs are understood and met.”

As marketers seek to up their game in the challenging business climate of 2020 and beyond, they will, of course, need to look both inwards at how they can improve, but also outwards at the consumer landscape.

We’ll leave you with these five key themes of consumer change and invite you to consider how you can blend these consumer needs with the themes of industry change we discussed earlier to provide the perfect consumer-focused marketing experience of 2020:

1. Consumers want and need to be able to trust what we as marketers say to them
2. Consumers want more empathy for their real lives and need
3. Personalisation needs to be about relevance & timeliness
4. Consumers want more human & conversational marketing
5. Consumers have a hatred of friction and a growing intolerance of mistakes or delays and are looking to businesses to save them time and effort and reduce inconvenience.


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