The evolution of the role of the marketer – and what that means for the future of the industry

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The role of the marketer has changed almost unrecognisably over the last four decades. As technology has progressed and our tools have advanced, we have a greater understanding of our audiences and how our messages are landing with them. This can and does drive increased performance for both the media and, ultimately, the brand. However, it also adds many layers of complexity to the marketer’s role: today’s marketer not only needs to be able to tell great stories, they need to be able to understand data, numbers and technology – or surround themselves with people who do.

The 1980s: WHAT to say?

The 80s were perhaps the last time that advertising resembled the fabled ‘Mad Men’ era. In the ‘brand positioning’ decade, marketers had the freedom to be creative and tell stories that would catch the audience’s attention, cutting through the noise to drive loyalty and recognition. There were far fewer channels to orchestrate; TV ruled the day, with out of home and radio jostling for position as well. Direct marketing had started to emerge, but was in its infancy. Most importantly, communication largely ran one way – from brand to consumer – meaning that the brand, and the marketer, held the power over messaging and could decide whatstories to tell.

The 1990s: WHEN and WHERE to place ads?

The 1980s became the 1990s, which were something of a watershed moment for the advertising industry. Why? Because it was the decade that saw the very first digital advertising: US communications giant AT&T placed the first digital banner on hotwired.com – Wired Magazine’s online platform – in 1994. What’s more, the proliferation of cable TV and the increased length of ad breaks (up from nine minutes per hour to nineteen). The advertising landscape had become rapidly more complex, and the marketer’s role had changed forever.

This plethora of ad spaces had an important implication: it meant that the marketer could – and indeed needed to – optimise their media planning and buying strategies so that they were reaching their audiences in the optimal time and place. Whenandwhereto place ads were the key questions of the day: this meant adding more skills to the arsenal, such as the ability to understand and act upon ‘web analytics’ – the precursor to digital marketing optimisation.

The 2000s: HOW much?

If the 1990s was the birth of the digital advert, the 2000s were the decade that procurement-driven marketing was born. It was then that procurement processes were introduced to marketing, leading to increased control of – and therefore more focus on – pricing and effectiveness. This is undoubtedly intrinsically linked to the rise of the media buying houses – off-shoots from the creative agencies who were channelling their media planning and buying capabilities into separate entities. These entities would buy up huge amounts of inventory and sell it on to their clients, driving down prices. Procurement professionals were brought in to ensure that brands were getting the best deal from their agencies, resulting in pitches that were run on excel sheets rather than judged on relationships and strategy. The pressure on marketers and agencies to keep asking ‘howmuch?’ was intense, and has arguably not eased since.

The 2010s: WHO are we reaching?

The 2010s is the decade of the data-driven marketer. The most important marketing trends of the decade – data and technology – have transformed the practice of marketing. Modern tools allow marketers to understand their consumers like never before, optimising for their behaviour and preferences in real time and watching money come in in a way that is beyond the

80s marketer’s wildest dreams. However, it hasn’t all been positive: transparency has decreased, leading to a crisis of trust between brands and their agencies, and there are grave concerns around data ownership and regulation – as some of the tech giants have discovered to their detriment.

Who to reach – the individual – is now the priority, often at the expense of the mass-media, storytelling approach of the 1980s that built the strong brands of today. The focus has shifted to performance for each and every ad dollar and the cost per acquisition, rather than telling a brand story that leads to loyalty and trust. As we learned at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference last month, direct to consumer(DTC/D2C) brands are winning at the performance game, and more traditional brands can learn a lot from them. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact of the end destination – brand and business growth. Data and transparency are only the vehicles to get us there and are not the destination itself.

The 2020s: what should we be asking ourselves?

What does all this mean for the marketer as we approach the 2020s? Will there be a new paradigm? At ECI Media Management, we believe that marketers are now like the conductor of an orchestra: the instruments are in place, and the CMO is the conductor who is responsible for leading them to create the great symphony. An effective media strategy needs to ask ‘WHAT should we say?’, ‘WHERE and WHEN should we say it?’, ‘HOW much should it cost?’ and ‘WHO are we saying it to?’ in order to secure the highest ROI.

Marketers must define KPIs based on a clear marketing objective linked to business growth, so that all stakeholders, brand owners, media planners and buyers, procurement leads and tech and data experts share the same language and have one version of the truth to work towards. The theme of this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing was ‘driving growth’, and ANA CEO Bob Leodice, opened the conference with a rallying cry: it is within the power of CMOs to recover growth, particularly with so many tools, skills and technology at their fingertips. Harnessing the lessons of the last three decades – telling a brand story, optimising time and placement, achieving the best cost and using data to understand the consumer is surely the way to do this.

ECI Media Management can help marketers conduct the orchestra and position themselves for success. We forensically audit and benchmark all media activity, including (and uniquely) programmatic investments, to drive higher media value and increase the impact of media on business performance.  As well as helping to manage media agency partners, we can offer advice to marketers looking to increase control by bringing more agency services in-house. Along with our other services– financial compliance audit, pitch management and contract consultancy –  we can ensure that the modern marketer has all the tools at their disposal for success and growth in the 2020s and beyond.

Thumbnail image: Shutterstock

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