The annual Digital & Social Media conference, run by the U.S. Association of National Advertisers (ANA), recently recorded its highest ever attendance. Held in San Diego, California, the event attracted more than 600 people from the digital marketing sector.
The tone and content of the conference was positive and forward-thinking. Speakers detailed the ways in which social and digital media channels are actively helping marketers do their jobs better. By becoming more responsive – through better use of data for quicker response. By becoming more individual – with greater precision in targeting. And by becoming more creative – with technology being harnessed to help deliver business transformation, not simply communications.
Topics dominating discussions included:
- Emerging technology, including virtual reality and chat-bots
- The importance of creating seamless conversations, with content integrated across different digital media touchpoints
- Digital media transparency
- The ways in which better use of data is helping brands target audiences, shape content, and measure performance
According to Gartner, marketing spend, particularly in the U.S. and the U.K., has been growing steadily since the global financial crisis. Growth in digital spend continues to outpace growth seen in traditional media. Gartner also reported that larger companies – those with revenues of more than US$5bn – are expected to spend an average of 13 percent of revenue on marketing this year. Indeed, 2017 will mark the third consecutive year of budget increases. Marketers are actively increasing their investments over the past year most strongly in their owned media web properties, digital commerce, and digital advertising.
But in addition to the good news – and when do industry get-togethers not like to dwell on the good news? – a motif underlying many of the presentations and discussions was change. There was a growing consensus that the pressure is now on marketers to put sufficient investment into digital channels to ensure that they become properly embraced within their businesses. This brings with it a responsibility to educate and train staff on existing and evolving digital media opportunities. It also requires marketers to lead the development within the business of those core skills and capabilities that reflect and anticipate the changing media consumption habits of their customers.
The FirmDecisions team was invited to attend the ANA’s CMO Roundtable. We heard repeatedly that advertisers are struggling both to resource their own teams appropriately and to hold onto talent within their organizations. During an in-session survey, 46% of senior marketers said they believe they are not properly prepared for the future. Meanwhile, 61% identified “training and bringing in experts” as immediate steps if they are to evolve their companies’ skillsets and capabilities.
Recruitment and retention of top talent is felt particularly acutely in the U.S. In a nation and a market that is so geographically dispersed, this is especially difficult for corporations whose head offices are based outside of digital media centers of excellence such as New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. And since that’s most corporations in the world’s biggest single consumer and digital advertising market, working with partners from digital and media agencies is doubly important to ensure continued innovation.
Now more than ever trusted relationships are key. A topic that came up time and again – in presentations from the stage and in conversations with delegates – is that trust can only be delivered when there is total transparency between advertisers and their agencies. It’s been a rocky few years on the transparency front. That said, we heard substantial evidence here that the ANA’s own transparency initiative has firmly rooted the issue high on advertisers’ agendas. This is particularly true for social and digital advertising activity.
Here is an industry that understands that the key to success is building fair and equitable contracts. Increasingly, advertisers understand that these contracts need to be written and structured so that they allow agencies the freedom to be creative and innovative. At the same time, they need to give advertisers the confidence that agencies are working in their best interests.