“What’s Next?” is certainly a critical question on the mind of every marketer today, and Group M has found one way to answer this daunting, persistent challenge.
Earlier this month, WPP’s media group, comprised of Maxus, MEC, MediaCom and Mindshare, presented their third annual What’s Next event in New York and offered a fast-paced and often overwhelming look at “the undeniable and inevitable shift taking place in our business.” The day-and-a-half, invitation-only event for C-level executives not only surveyed a wide range of viewpoints from industry visionaries to passionate startup entrepreneurs, but also delved into the future of media and the potential for business transformation through data and technology.
According to Chris Copeland, Chief Executive Officer of GroupM Next, the company’s forward-looking media innovation unit, and a key champion of the What’s Next program, “We saw an opportunity to add value to our clients’ business by creating an event where they could network with their peers and discuss the future of advertising and technology. Agencies and holding companies do a lot of gatherings, but we did not see anything like what we envisioned; and three years later, we think it is still unique.”
So what is next? Day One of the conference suggested that technology is shaping media consumption, while brands are employing more resources to follow consumer behavior and find ways to relevantly engage with customers. Discussion of content was a unifying thread throughout the sessions, as was personalization. Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center for the Digital Future, USC Annenberg clearly stated: “The only thing that matters in this world is good content. Wherever it is, people will find it.”
Bob Lord, in his new role as CEO of AOL Networks, post-Razorfish, added, “Evaluating consumer behavior and matching it with content is key.” Carolyn Everson, VP, Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook shared, "If we delight our consumers, we are much more valuable to everyone in this audience. If we don’t, we are not as valuable.” Simon Fleming-Wood, CMO of Pandora, said: “It’s pretty clear that the future of radio is personalized, not AM/FM.”
Day Two outlined how innovation is largely about smart people making bold choices. WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell touched on this via video as he underscored the importance of talent to our industry: “There is a shortage in human capital. If you think there has been a talent war to date, stay tuned.” He also underscored the significance of all things digital by adding, “Of our $18 billion in revenue, almost half is coming from digital.”
A number of GroupM clients also shared insights. Andy Kaufmann, VP of Global eCommerce Marketing at Marriott, admitted that “the center of gravity is changing. Advertising is no longer about what we want to say, but what people want to hear. Everything we put in front of customers at each touchpoint must be integrated.” He also acknowledged that the travel space is a crowded one, and Marriott’s solution is to reinvent the future of travel globally by changing the stay experience to make it uncomplicated and unforgettable. Mobile check-ins and express lines are just as important as well-designed web experiences and optimized search.
Rob Master, Unilever’s Vice President of Media for the Americas and Europe, sees his role as driving brands to be closer to the consumer. Although he quips that fragmentation has made his job more interesting, he concedes that finding global platforms is essential to Unilever. “A key part of our brand and media strategy is insuring that our big brands scale globally with insights that cross borders.”
GroupM Next CEO Chris Copeland has an interesting perspective on this critical issue of media and marketing’s future. “I think every brand has to rephrase the question from “What’s Next?” to “How do I make ‘what’s next’ now for me?” It’s easy to prognosticate where the world is going, but if you think you can wait until it gets closer to start preparing, you’ll miss out. I don’t want brands to think time is on their side, but consumers are always moving faster and there is no better time for what’s next than right now.”
Copeland knows that What’s Next covers a lot of ground. “We talk TV in one breath and then audio adventure, audio apps and the brand opportunity in the next. Through it all, the key themes of how to create content, how to optimization your brand assets, and then how and where to disseminate them permeated the entire event. In a consumer choice world where devices and access dictate that brands must keep up, these topics are essential to get right. I was thrilled we had so many brands sharing solutions to them.”
So what has Chris Copeland determined in the 3-year evolution of this GroupM project? “The core mission of What’s Next has not changed,” he states. “What has changed in the last three years is the impact these discussions are having after the fact in the marketing organizations at major brands that attend. When we started, the conversations on the stage were either very tactical or very, very forward looking. Now, with the rate of consumer change spurred by technology adoption, the ideas being presented are almost immediately viable for implementation. Brands can go from asking what’s next to saying that’s now in unprecedented time.”
And now what’s next for What’s Next? Copeland says, “We are evaluating how we expand the ideas and experience of What’s Next to other parts of our GroupM world. We will be back next fall in New York and will certainly be working one on one with brands in the interim. As for global expansion, if the client enthusiasm we saw last week can translate to other locales, then it’s something we will look hard at making come to fruition.”
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