What keeps marketers up at night?

We asked industry leaders about key issues and how they're addressing them. Here are some themes that emerged.
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This story appears in the December/January 2015 issue of strategy

Strategy recently ran a series in our daily online newsletter asking marketing leaders across Canada: What are the things of marketing nightmares and how are they addressing them? Here are a few themes that emerged.

Finding and retaining talent

“The top of the food chain of problems is talent and talent acquisition,” says Tony Matta, CMO at Kraft Canada. “The trade of marketing has contracted to a point where folks are not growing up through organizations the way they used to and getting the kind of skills you’d expect them to have for the levels you’d expect to recruit for.” He gives the examples of two positions he had been hiring for: marketing directors for Kraft Peanut Butter and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, which he struggled to fill. “At a director level, you’re looking for someone who has a mastery of the P&L, marketing communications [and] agency relationship management.” But he says marketing organizations have scaled back the training for these practices, offshoring some of the critical marcom work, resulting in a shrunken skills market.

David Bigioni, VP marketing, Molson Coors Canada, responsible for scale, media, social, digital and PR, echoes this statement, saying brands should reinvest in training opportunities for staff, adding that as a Canadian company, it’s the responsibility of brands to train their staff properly.

“I think when you’re in a period of transformation, everything can feel so mission critical, there is nothing that can fail,” he says. “When you put yourself in that situation you’re not creating an opportunity for young people to learn. So we’ve tried to give young marketers projects that challenge their abilities to understand the P&L, that bring them into our supply chain and customer world, versus just solely focusing on marketing communications development and managing those projects.”

Over at Natrel, beyond bilingualism being a serious concern for the Quebec brand, VP marketing Caroline Losson adds keeping millennial staff engaged and happy has become increasingly difficult. “Sometimes people who are really talented want to move fast, and I’m not always able to provide them with the fast-pace career growth they’re looking for,” she says. “The younger generation is quite demanding – which is fine! They bring great things to the table, but it’s not always easy to fit that into an established organization.

“We do try and keep them engaged by making our marketing activities interesting. You want those really bright young people to be on your team so they’ll fuel you with their bright ideas, but the reality is you can’t always execute against everything [they bring forward].”

The big problem with data

For Stéphane Bérubé, CMO at L’Oréal, tracking and analyzing data without a single unique form of measurement is a huge challenge, and he still doesn’t have a solution for it. “We know we have to do video, we know we have to invest in search and social and that TV’s not dead,” he says. “But since we don’t have a real sense of measurement [we don't know] how to move into this new world of reaching the multi-screen consumer in an efficient way and making sure every dollar we invest brings back ROI.”

Additionally, Natrel’s Losson says she’s tired of data for data’s sake.

“I want analysis, opportunities, understanding of the data,” she says. “So I’m putting a lot of pressure and focus on that [deeper understanding]. I just restructured the department to create a business intelligence team, whose purpose is specifically to do consumer, competitive and category mining.

“[I say to the team] ‘Don’t tell me that 52% of the Toronto population is South Asian.’ What I want to know is, ‘Do they consume dairy? What dairy do they consume? What is their family [origins]? How do they consume it? Where do they buy it? Why is it important for them? How do they use it? Who purchases it?’”

Keeping up with the pace of change

Losson, Christine Kalvenes, CMO at PepsiCo, and Andrew Zimakas, CMO at Tangerine, highlighted the pace of change as a huge challenge for brands. With technology evolving and consumer tastes changing a mile a minute, it can be hard to keep up.

“We’re seeing…massive fragmentation of product launches and more and more niche ideas being demanded from the marketplace,” says Kalvenes. “And when you’re a large company, trying to drive and grow scale across your product lineup can create challenges. So sometimes I worry [that] we are going to miss opportunities. Are we going to be able to capitalize on a niche opportunity to grow something big or is that just a niche opportunity that’s going to come and go?”

She says PepsiCo has the added benefit of being able to look globally for big ideas that fit those niche opportunities, pointing to a new cracker brand, Twistos Baked Snack Bites, which came from Latin America. Though it’s a smaller brand for the company, it had consumer demand. And because it could pull the innovation from a global level, there wasn’t the same cost concern as if it developed the product locally.

Finding the focus to concentrate on those wins is also a challenge. “There’s an addictive pace [to] technology,” says Zimakas. “There is an expectation on the part of marketing executives that we’ll be nimble, we’ll execute quickly, we’ll take advantage [of opportunities] in a tactical way on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, even minute-to-minute basis.

“I think the busyness of today requires a conscious effort to take the time to make sure we’re being thoughtful and strategic,” he adds. “It’s so easy to prioritize everything these days. What’s hard is trying to focus on those few things you know are going to work well. What’s required is taking the time to reflect on where we’ve been in order to figure out where we’re going.”

Want to read what else is keeping these marketers awake at night and how they’re dealing with these issues? Head here for more.

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