Marketing trends are always changing, and it's so important to stay relevant. What are the latest trends, and how does one stay abreast of them? Is it better to be an early adopter or to see which trends stick? To address these questions, we’re asking experienced CMOs and marketing executives to share their “Top 5 Marketing Trends That Leaders Need To Know.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Davis.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you share a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
Right out of college, I worked at Proctor & Gamble in soaps and detergents. Admittedly, I had limited experience with the category of dishwashing liquid or Scrubbing Bubbles, but it sparked my interest in consumer behavior. Until then, I had never considered that somebody could influence how I feel and make me act in specific ways, rational or irrational. It was at this time, that I became interested in the psychology of consumer behavior.
It amazed me that consumers had such strong emotional ties to products—they would pay more, travel further, wait longer, and recommend their favorite brands to their friends. This all grew into a fascination with how brands were or were not being actively managed to take advantage of these powerful benefits.
No one was really focused on brand strategy. They talked about advertising, logos, communications and promotions—but never about how brands can fundamentally shift a company’s growth trajectory. For me, it seemed the field was wide open to help companies figure this out.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you made when you were first starting?
About 15 years ago, I worked with Kellogg's on a new Pop-Tarts product, called Popsters, keying off the 100-calorie pack craze. It tested off the charts as consumers initially loved the idea in focus groups of getting the taste of Pop-Tarts without all the calories.
Walmart signed up immediately, and initially, sales did well but repeat business was poor, and this new innovation was out of circulation within two or three years. What we learned is that Pop-Tarts always has been and always will be viewed as a decadent, rich treat, which is why double stuff chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts tested and actually did the best in revenues (and continues to).
It was an important lesson, once again, of the importance of staying true to a brand’s purpose and promise, even when tempted to follow the trend/masses when innovating what’s next. Understand who you are and what you stand for.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful for?
There are so many people that have contributed to my professional and personal growth. But I can say that during my time at P&G I was fortunate to see the products come to life and meet the people along the journey.
From the manufacturing plant, watching people smiling proudly at what they were making to the sales teams and how they could explain the product yet never make it about the product itself. Instead, they'd think about how the consumer felt and what the consumer could do. Their influence shifted my frame of mind from something practical like the size of the box to a higher order of needs.
Relative to people that have influenced me professionally, the single individual I'm most grateful to is an old friend, named Carl, a former senior partner from Booz Allen. For reasons still unknown to me, he decided to take me under his wings and show me how to become a consultant and how to stay relevant.
He had a saying that has stuck with me all these years, “The more you swim with the pack, the more likely you are to get lost and disenchanted. The more you swim the other way and discover something you're passionate about, the more satisfaction you'll find as a consultant.” Here I am, 30 years later, and his advice still rings true to me.
Are you able to identify a ‘tipping point’ in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different?
During these early days of consulting, Carl also encouraged that when I had an idea or a passion about something new, I didn't need to interview everyone to test it out. Rather, if I interviewed a small group of representative executives to get their perspective, and combined that with my intrinsic experience, it was enough to begin forming a hypothesis of what was possible.
So, I started exploring the idea of brands and how they can help build businesses. From an initial 10 interviews, I published a short report, was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal for my perspective, and suddenly overnight, I became a national brand expert. Shortly after that, the American Marketing Association asked me to keynote its annual event and present the research from my WSJ story. I seized the opportunity and had six months to turn my research into a presentation and develop solid research to support it.
At the time, I was 30 years old, and I didn't sleep for a month before the talk, which I called Brand Asset Management. But I did it. There were about 500 people in the room, and it became the basis of my first book. There’s no doubt in my mind, that successfully getting through that presentation was the tipping point for my career in brand and marketing. I’ve never looked back since.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Prophet is relentlessly human-centered and focused. From a client's perspective, we are trying to get to the human truth that will guide our recommendations. And because we're so human-centered, we care deeply and passionately about our team. That helps us recruit and keep the brightest people.
Our team is passionate about finding that deep insight that leads to the right guidance for our clients. We stand for holding hands and partnering with others to help them achieve their goals. We're not in the project business. We see ourselves in a relationship business. It's different from other consulting firms, which often live from transaction to transaction.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
I'm a big fan of projects that help companies imagine a world where they can do something much bigger than they thought. My favorite kinds of projects take the idea of larger societal ideas that ladder up to very pragmatic recommendations.
I’m proud of our partnership with CVS Health. It has offered health care in its Minute Clinics for years, but its significant moves into home health have been so exciting. We've spent several years building the company's credibility to provide home health care. It will improve care outcomes for millions of Americans and reduce costs at the same time.
Prezzee, an Australian digital gifting card company is another client that comes to mind. It's much more than just giving someone a gift card to their favorite store or restaurant. These gifts are about creating deep and meaningful connection—it can be as simple as saying, "I'm thinking of you and sending you a cup of coffee. Starbucks will be there in 10 minutes." There are also opportunities to send video messages and interact as the recipient opens them. With all the disruptions that the pandemic played on our lives, taking these small moments to recognize each other and to connect cannot be overstated.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository, part of Feeding America is another organization that I hold close to my heart. I’ve personally been working with this organization for the past 12 years and have had the opportunity to serve on the board with an incredible community of people. Their mission goes beyond feeding a million Chicagoans yearly and helping food-insecure clients. We are now currently turning to the global challenge of how to end Hunger, with Chicago being the beta site. To do this, we are taking a more holistic view, looking at many systemic reasons–education, income, racial inequities, and prison reform, to name a few–that lead people to become food insecure. We know it's not the individual's fault–so how can we get at the underlying issues? We won't solve these problems in my lifetime, but I am convinced that we're on the path to create lasting change.
Being at the forefront of the marketing space and leading diverse teams, what resources or tools do you use to stay abreast of the ever-changing landscape?
I use a combination of sources to keep a pulse on the industry. I lean into my personal and professional network of about 50 CMOs and marketing leaders as constant reference points for what’s happening in the market. I also read CMO and marketing reports, books, and listen to dozens of podcasts, looking for themes, discrepancies, and cracks. I also write and teach a lot which allows me to study what is on the mind of today’s and tomorrow’s marketer as well as always have a pulse on “what’s next?”
My kids are a constant source of education—they lean hard into the future and see things I can barely visualize. My daughter is an actress in Brooklyn, and my sons are here in Chicago. One son is an architect. Another is a consultant. Each sees life from different perspectives and offers new insights that aren’t always present in my everyday life.
In your experience, is it possible to forecast upcoming trends? How does this process work?
Yes–and from large trends, predicting many different directions is possible. Years back, we worked with IBM Watson Health—and while it ultimately didn’t experience the success it should have, it showed me the power that AI and predictive analytics could have on larger societal issues, like putting an end to cancer.
Even though AI had been around forever, Watson Health for Oncology proved that predictive analytics could shift health outcomes, providing oncologists treatment recommendations that reached 90% confidence levels, which is unheard of in treating cancer.
While, as marketers, we were used to using AI to help us predict marketing trends, predictive consumer buying patterns and shopping habits, and what a marketer’s proper response should be, Watson Health showed me the potential power of cumulative data intelligence to impact high-stake societal issues. By showing the world what questions we could ask and what we could do to guide the AI toward better answers, it took us right down the path to ChatGPT.
In marketing, would you say it’s better to be an early adopter of trends or wait to see if they stick before allocating resources?
I'm a fan of being a first mover but doing it without pushing all your chips in at once. I am a big believer in testing, piloting, learning, adapting and then making the call to scale or kill the idea through smart market sensing. I love my clients that constantly look around the corner at what's next.
My friend Jon Bridges, the CMO at Chick-fil-A is always three years ahead of where marketing is going by studying the trends and a multitude of companies that live out of QSR. Jon is never afraid to go first as he has watched trends succeed (or fail) across dozens of other companies (and categories) before he has to hit the go button for Chick-fil-A.
What are some of the past trends that you embraced, and what results did you see?
Moving from data ponds to data lakes, always striving for a single view of customers. It's a goal marketers have chased for years, held back by inadequate tech infrastructure. The inability to integrate multiple data sources and tech stacks keeps CMOs up at night. However, the ones who can do it are using that data to build more relevant customer offers, experiences, value propositions and messaging, across the right channels, at just the right time.
Along these lines, typically, CMOs don't get to make infrastructure decisions. But I strongly believe the CMO should be the absolute voice of the customer. They should know and understand the customer better than anyone in the organization. When CMOs are involved in these decisions, they can figure out how to better meet the customers’ needs–how to communicate, customize and personalize.
Ten years ago, we often talked about how marketing and sales needed to form tighter bonds. Today, CMOs should focus on building a closer relationship with the CIO. They are often at odds, and there's no incentive to work together–which is why enormous data divides exist.
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
I'm in the midst of a familiar one–a frustrating situation that's pretty common. A company hired us to develop a brand strategy for an entire enterprise, working with the CEO, the CMO, the head of sales and head of communications. But there was little to no involvement with the business units and the product heads–the people who will ultimately implement the strategy.
It will almost always fail when you forget to involve all business units, product teams and geographic regions. It's a substantial financial suck, putting a wedge of distrust between the corporate center and those in the field. It’s a watch out for empowered CMOs who are focused on pushing things out from the center but forget to involve the business—this often leads to a massive disconnect.
What factors should leaders consider before jumping on a trend?
It's important to look beyond your category. TikTok is a good example. For the last few years, companies have wondered if they should be there, and if so, how? It was the same with Instagram or earlier, Facebook. And many companies will hang back and say, “No one in our category has figured out how to do this well.”
Instead, look at the innovators and trendsetters. What are Nike, Apple and Spotify doing? What aren't they doing? What can I learn from them? Should I partner with someone else or go it alone? As I mentioned with Jon earlier, find your 8-10 companies you admire most and study them as if you are getting an MBA and leverage those lessons learned and figure out how best to apply those lessons to your company.
Based on your experience and success, what are the top five marketing trends leaders should know about in 2023?
- CMOs should see themselves as growth integrators. Their sphere of influence is expanding. They must uncover new pockets and opportunities for growth. That requires a different language—the broader terms of business value—and ditching marketing buzzwords.
- CMOs must enrich the organization’s depth of customer understanding, leading to becoming the champion of brand-led, differentiated, personalized customer experiences. That takes more advanced analytics and leading the charge to integrate disintegrated ponds of data.
- CMOs need to defend their marketing budgets better. Economic uncertainty means many companies are basing budgets on fear, often spending more on demand marketing and less on brand initiatives. If they can, they should try and stick with the 60/40 rule.
- CMOs must integrate ESG into marketing. Environmental, social and governance policies are under scrutiny—everyone thinks companies should be more accountable. Intelligent marketers know these expectations directly impact brand value. It's time to put sustainability commitments on bottles and packaging, finding better ways to convey a brand's promises and actions.
- CMOs have to define their personal North Stars and declare their personal purpose statements. I love working with CMOs—they're usually the kind of people who like to combine art and science, strategy and creative. They're fun. But the last three years have sucked much of that fun out of their work life. They feel more like survivors than visionaries. It's time to update their own personal CMO Purpose Statement. What is their purpose in the organization? How can they add value? What can they promise their teams? It's the best way to reignite their passion.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
Bringing purpose to work. The happiest people are doing work they find meaning in—it sounds trite, but it's true. We spend most of our time at work. It's hard to find a perfect job in marketing. Some of every job will always feel transactional and mundane. But if you feel that 50% of your work fulfills your mission, that's huge. The more people follow their passion and purpose in the work world, the better the world will be.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Enjoyed this interview? Get more of the latest tips, insights, software recommendations, and expert advice from The CMO. Subscribe to our newsletter today!