I was chatting recently with a friend who is the CMO of a leading CPG (consumer packaged good) food brand, and he mentioned that much of the training he received when starting out has been turned upside down in today’s marketing practice. Specifically, getting the execution exactly correct is no longer highly valued, yet it’s hard for seasoned marketers not to notice the flaws when they were trained to spot and avoid them.
One example comes from packaging graphics changes for CPG products. These changes are costly, and the smallest of errors can be extremely expensive. My friend’s comment was that in the past, they would change over an entire product line, discarding old product.
Now all changes are rolling changes, as the inventory is deleted. Consequently, there may be several different approaches on-shelf while a line is in transition. For instance, these two Earth’s Best baby food label designs were stocked beside each other on-shelf for over a month:
What these changes say about the future of marketing
In analyzing these changes, it seems that my friend’s observation represents the generation gap I have noted before between Millennials and older generations. In summary: Millennials dislike seemingly nitpicky Powerpoint slide formatting edits, and instead desire more meaningful, content-rich work. Meanwhile, Baby Boomer and older Gen X marketers were trained to make sure their written communication was triple checked to avoid misunderstanding and potential errors.
This isn’t to suggest that current marketing practices lack attention to detail or are error-ridden, rather that the pace and rhythm of marketing communications have fundamentally altered. This change is coupled with generational differences in perspective about what is meaningful and important.
Traditional detail-focused training related to a greater focus on mass communication of mostly static messages to a large-scale audience. This is in marked contrasted with how the marketing world is changing to a more dynamic exchange between brands and customers (e.g., on a firm’s Facebook page) and to the “test and modify” approaches that have become common in large-scale direct marketing. Anita Puri, Chief Marketing Officer at Ounce of Prevention Fund adds:
"CPG companies are starting to get more comfortable with this notion of ‘test and learn and modify’ in public. Digital channels have forced them to. Brands need to be relevant, that hasn't changed. But brands can be left behind if they're not engaging in conversations about what's happening now. Look at the success Oreo has had in the past year. In our 24/7 social world - consumers expect quick reactions - sometimes that means hours, sometimes the next day... it can't be weeks or months. That forces brands to move more quickly, in all forms of marketing and be okay with 80% perfection."
The new rhythm in marketing today involves flexibility and dynamic response to the market. Marketers quickly learn if their current approach is working—and make optimizations just as quickly. In this environment of constant change, there might not be time to triple-check for typos or intricately craft new packaging rollouts. In some sense, it’s time to forget about what you were taught and adapt to the new rhythm—before it leaves you behind.