Survey Findings: Marketing Executives Squeezed to Please

Marketing executives are like canaries in the coal mine. Just one whiff and they can tell a market about to collapse from one that’s rich with opportunity. This week, the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) and Anderson Analytics issued findings of a 2,000 member survey of Top Marketing Trends. While there was a trend toward optimism, the most consistent theme was the need to prove that marketing delivers any bottom line value to business. 
“While more marketers are optimistic about the future prospect of growth, marketers are still feeling the pressure of a tough economic cycle with the need to prove a return on their marketing investments,” said Tom H.C. Anderson, Managing Partner of Anderson Analytics. 
American business is in a perilous struggle to innovate. The creative brain trust in corporate America has traditionally been housed in marketing departments. But recent trends reveal a shift. Departments such as design and product strategy are taking on roles that marketers used to play. Consider that Chicago-based Kraft Foods has a department devoted to innovation. They’ve begun engaging customers to help spur new ideas. This kind of communication would ordinarily be considered marketing. But today, the creative action is percolating elsewhere.
I recently attended Northwestern University’s Kellogg School Annual Marketing Conference. The energy and enthusiasm of the marketing MBAs running the event was inspiring. But reading these MENG survey results and reflecting back on those marketing executives in training made me wonder if they realize what they’re signing up for. ROI (return-on-investment) pressure means a bean counting job, not a career in creative strategy. 
Call it what you want—innovation or marketing. The truth of the matter is that American business desperately needs to rethink how it relates to consumers. The rise of social networks has profoundly altered the culture. These times demand experimentation and a spirit of adventure. 
ROI is about retrenchment. Security in numbers. It’s a cover-your-ass approach that leads to a protectionist business culture—not innovation. To be sure, I am not advocating some sort of creative free-for-all in American business. Rather, I’m hoping that the bean counters find solace in the numbers, and leave the pursuit of new markets, creative engagement of audiences and out-and-out ingenuity to the people with the most insight. That is, those with an ear to the ground, an eye on the horizon and a story to tell about the future.
Top Five Findings:
1. 66% of marketers are more optimistic about business opportunity in 2010, 28% view 2010 similarly to 2009, and only 6% are less optimistic about the outlook.  Compared to last year’s survey findings, marketers are: More likely to increase marketing budget; Less likely to reduce staff and more likely to hire incremental staff; and more likely to increase spending on innovation and R&D.
2. “Marketing ROI” moved from the third most important marketing concept in last year’s survey to the number one spot in this year’s survey, followed by “Customer Retention” and “Brand Loyalty.”
3. Social media remains hot with 70% of marketers planning new social media initiatives in 2010. Interestingly, “social media”, “twitter” and “social networking” ranked as the top “buzz words marketers are most tired of hearing.” Regarding companies’ presence on social media sites, large companies are more likely to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and MySpace while smaller companies rely more on LinkedIn.
4. Overall marketing executives are more likely to rely on internal employees for their social media initiatives than any outside firms. Companies that are going outside for help with social media strategy and implementation are much more likely to look to social media consultants–and to a lesser degree, interactive agencies–than to advertising agencies or public relations firms.
5. Not surprisingly, China was still ranked as the top geographic opportunity for growth, followed by India, Latin America and Brazil. And among the various target demographics, MENG members still feel that Boomers represent the best opportunity for customer targeting, followed by women and Hispanics. The overall importance of different demographics has not changed significantly since last year’s survey.