David Wheldon’s 5-Point Advice For Marketers

For anyone reading the trade press and even some of the mainstream media, it is increasingly evident that marketers are dealing with testing times. Every opportunity that technology opens up comes with as many, and more, challenges every day. According to David Wheldon, WFA President and CMO of RBS, “marketers could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed.”

At the ongoing Global Marketer Week, organized by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) in Toronto, Mr Wheldon offered a five-point advice to marketers on how to continue building successful brands in what has become, an “overwhelming” world. The WFA represents nearly 90 percent of total global marketing spend.

“New challenges appear to emerge every day – new platforms, new concerns about brand safety and new issues with our agency partners. In what may feel like ‘end of days’, we should remind ourselves at every step of the way to keep things simple. We are employed to build great brands and the principles of doing that haven’t fundamentally changed,” Mr Wheldon said.

His five point advice for this begins with protecting the brand. “We live in a world of populist, partisan politics, fake news and alternative facts. That’s not an easy place for brands. If marketers want to select just one aspect of programmatic to understand, then brand safety should be it,” he stated.

He reminded that brand safety not only means ensuring that the ad isn’t a pre-roll to an extremist video but also that it is not center stage on divisive content that makes a brand appear taking sides. Employing the right tools and processes to ensure that potential buyers, and not bots, are viewing the ads is also part of this.

The second advice is to build the brand on the basis of business impact. “Find metrics that have a direct link to business outcomes. That might mean even reverting to ‘old fashioned’ brand metrics but the reason we still measure these things is that they have been proven to make a difference.”

A credible marketer will need to be much more focused on outcomes rather than delivery. Likes, followers and views are interesting but shouldn’t drive approach, unless and until they have been proven to deliver a return on objectives.

Rebuilding trust with agency partners was this third advice. He asserted that if there were no agencies, marketers would have to invent them. “Agencies bring huge value to us as marketers but clearly not everything is right in the relationship. WFA has long advocated greater media transparency globally. The Association of National Advertisers’ report last year brought the issue to a head. There is clearly a lot of work to do to rebuild trust between clients and agencies.”

He also said that the digital ecosystem, which is seeing the salami-slicing of budgets through the ad tech supply chain, needs to be less opaque and open for all. Every participant should be able to prove the value they add to the people who pay them – the marketers.

Not surprisingly, the fourth point in this advice was to deserve people’s attention. For all the technology at our disposal us today, there’s no substitute for creativity. The great campaigns of the past worked not because the environment was less competitive but because they were truly creative.

“Today too many brands are churning out content to the detriment of creativity. The pity is that it doesn’t have to be that way. There are more smart people in our industry than ever before. The danger is that too much poor-quality content, poorly placed and delivered in irritating formats is just turning people away,” he remarked.

Around 11 percent of the global internet population now blocks ads. Adblocking is seeing 30 percent year-on-year growth. A brand’s online audience is shrinking rather than growing. “The much-touted promise for our industry was that targeting would enable brands to reach people in a timely, relevant and welcome fashion. Instead, we are annoying people. But the good news is that great content will always find its way to consumers,” Mr Wheldon said.

His last but perhaps the most important advice for all times is to put people first. “We might care about our brands and products but consumers don’t. Not only do they not care about brands, they often blame them for some of society’s problems — be it obesity, binge-drinking, indebtedness, gambling, over-consumption… We need to be self-aware and humble.”

Marketers need to be mindful of the behavior they seek to encourage through marketing. The industry must remember that great brand marketing works by building connections that appeal to our very human and enduring needs. “For all the talk of all the challenges we face, the hardest thing is to keep things simple. But if you can do that then there has never been a better time to be in marketing,” Mr Wheldon concluded.

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