''Everything Will Be Digital,'' Says Microsoft CEO
PHOENIX -- The overall theme of this year's Association of National Advertisers (ANA) conference, bringing together 1,200 marketers and advertisers, centered on transformation. In the Web 2.0 era, technological advancements have forced the role of the marketer to change -- fast. One presenter after another regaled the audience with examples of how, with each new development, consumers have been ready for the next innovation and what they've come to expect from marketing -- and marketers.
In the conference's first session, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer envisioned a future in which, while watching the PGA championship game, he could communicate to his colleague, Microsoft founder Bill Gates simply by saying to the TV, "Hey, Bill, did you see that shot?" Voice recognition technology would pick that message up, GPS would locate Gates, and the Internet telephony wired into the system would connect a call and convey Ballmer's message. Bill would then respond, "Yeah, and did you notice it was a Nike ball?" Gates's reponse would trigger an interactive shopping interface to pop up on both their screens, allowing either of them, in real time, to purchase a set of similar golf balls through the TV.
Soon, according to Ballmer, "everything will be digital," and, in that world, there is no limit to innovation. Technology will provide boundless possibilities and the only thing marketers need to focus on is human talent. Customer insight will be bursting at the seams -- and the more marketers understand about manipulating that information, the more targeted, relevant, and effective their messages will be.
When technology becomes ubiquitous, the differentiator will be creativity. According to many of the ANA presenters, a strong, innovative, and creative strategy is, and will be, key to the future of brand success. Therefore, companies have to move past the handicap of being "overanalytical," said Bob Lachky, senior vice president of Anheuser-Busch, the St. Louis-based maker of Budweiser and other beers. "At some point you just have to go, 'Make room for creativity.... Nurture your mavericks.' "
And yet, amid all the changes in delivery media, companies must stay true to their brand, Lachky says. Focus on the meaning of the brand everyday, he told the audience, because if companies can't grasp that core message, marketers certainly can't expect consumers to. "Create your own characters," he added, and don't lose sight of them. For example, when you employ a celebrity to deliver your message, that star "must be subservient to your brand," he said.
Even for corporations with a strong identity, such as McDonald's, it is essential never to forget the premise of the brand. McDonald's has been experiencing a revival of late, with healthier food choices and increased focus on nutritional content, according to Mary Dillon, the company's chief marketing officer. The Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast-food chain currently serves an estimated 52 million customers daily worldwide and recently announced that it expects to surpass analyst predictions for third-quarter earnings (to be released on October 19), according to USAToday.com. But the company has suffered its share of bad times. "We took our eyes off the fries, so to speak," Dillon said, adding that the company had failed to execute on the basics, such as customer service, that were essential to the McDonald's brand.
Companies that have stayed true to their brand include Milwaukee-based motorcycle retailer Harley-Davidson, said Chuck Brymer, chief executive officer of DDB, a New York City-based advertising agency. The Harley-Davidson brand embodies the concept of personal freedom -- and by staying true to that central concept, the company has developed a following that "lives and breathes Harley," Brymer told the ANA audience.
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