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TRENDSETTER: World Federation of Advertisers’ Stephan Loerke Recommends How Marketers Can Respond to Change

Stephan Loerke, Managing Director of the Brussels-based World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), recognizes that he leads the marketer organization during times of great challenge and great opportunity. Now in his 8th year with the WFA, after a career in marketing and product management at L'Oreal, he is taking stock of industry change and talking about new ways that his marketer constituency can move forward.

Next month, the association will also host its first event in China at a time when the Chinese government is setting a 5-year plan to migrate the country from an export-driven economy to one that is more consumption-driven. Marketing is one of the engines recognized as making this historic shift possible.

According to Loerke, today there are three fundamental and structural changes affecting how marketers operate. Given their magnitude, he refers to them as "seismic shifts."

The first is the Communications Revolution, which has not only resulted in 2 billion Internet users globally, but in an entirely new set of priorities for marketers. He also cites how mobile is growing at 8 million a month in China and 12 million a month in India. Ten years ago, the US population spent $600 billion on food and $2 billion on computers for a 300 to 1 ratio; now that ratio is one to one. The "conversation prism" or the connection point between marketers and consumers has changed dramatically.

The second change, according to Stephan Loerke, is a new global economic reordering. Certainly, China's fast rise to the second largest economy has made headlines. He feels, though, that it is only part of a larger trend. By 2020, the seven largest emerging economies will be bigger than the G7. Not only does this mean a rebalancing of the global economy, it also means that increasingly we’ll be experiencing a more interconnected world which calls for consistent global standards. A brand operating across geographies is "as strong as the weakest link" when any contradictions to new global standards can be so easily exposed.

Loerke's third macro-change underscores how brand communications must connect with many stakeholders -- not only consumers, but governments, other businesses, NGOs, shareholders, among other specific groups for specific products and services. This concept is intensified by social media conversations that are no longer the domain of the brand, but entirely the domain of the participants. He reminds us that consumers are not only citizens of the world, but citizens are also consumers.

Given this environment, he has formulated 5 recommendations for marketers:

  1. Engage with the total consumer experience, not just parts of it. All messaging and experiences should be consistent across all consumer touch points.
  2. Trust is a must. Recent research underscores that the corporate reputation of a company is as much influenced by perceived trustworthiness, honesty and transparency as it is by the quality of its goods and services.
  3. Be the Hero, not the Villain. For Loerke, this means detecting changing market expectations early, especially when they may involve a legislative threat. Marketers are often too late to rally for essential issues. It is critical today to enter conversations, especially with consumers, early in the process.
  4. Don’t talk about engagement, practice it. Although we have heard this for some time, marketers should constantly check that they are not talking at consumers, but being part of a two-way conversation.
  5. Privacy issues should be handled with care. This may herald one of the most exciting times for marketers with the promise of digital platforms to serve relevant apps and to better understand consumer aspirations. However, most consumers don’t fully understand the implications to their privacy. More education and more transparency is needed to build consumer trust.
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