Taco Bell CMO on digital marketing's 7 paradoxes

Taco Bell's marketing chief Marisa Thalberg says CMOs must overcome, or at least accept, seven key paradoxes if they hope to thrive in the modern marketing world.

Marketing technology Lumascape
Marketing technology Lumascape

PALM DESERT, Calif. — When Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg took the stage this week at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB) Annual Leadership Meeting she showed a graphic that depicts the growing complexity and chaos of the modern marketing technology landscape. More than 2,000 startups and legacy providers currently vie for a piece of that market, according to Terry Kawaji, founder and CEO of investment bank Luma Partners, which created the graphic Thalberg used in her presentation.

"I look at that [graphic], and I think there has never been a more amazing or more horrendous time to be a marketer," she said. The "digital and social media revolution" forced marketers to work on challenges and goals that often seem at apparent odds, according to Thalberg.

"Why do [marketers] feel sometimes paralyzed or just frustrated and confused?" Thalberg asked. "It's because we are operating in a Pandora's box of paradoxes."

The CMO then outlined seven paradoxes that she and many of her colleagues in digital marketing face today.

1) Brands need to create more content AND consumers feel bombarded by ads

Brands are told that they need to produce more content and promote it in more places than ever before, according to Thalberg. However, the majority of people say they "feel bombarded by too much advertising and consider it out of control."

This means marketers must navigate an increasingly varied media landscape, while producing appropriate content for the specific channels they target, she said.

2) Big brands are publishers AND advertisers

Brands increasingly become publishers when they create offerings such as Taco Bell's "taco emoji gif generator," a marketing initiative that resulted in the creation of a taco-specific emoji, according to Thalberg. However, brands are still advertisers, and their primary goals are to sell products or services. "It's not one or the other, we're actually both [publishers and advertisers]."

3) Brands need to be global AND local

Taco Bell and other global brands tell stories that must be global, because they are shared throughout the world, Thalberg says, but equally important local opportunities also exist. Brands need to tell stories with local relevance and global interest, according to Thalberg. Some campaigns may serve both purposes, but marketers should also specifically target local and global markets with different types of content.

4) Brands should focus on campaigns AND communicate constantly

Campaigns are the traditional method that brands use to tell their stories to the public, and they're just as relevant today as they were in the past, according to Thalberg. However, today's always-connected society also demands that brands maintain constant, 24/7 communication with their customers. "Ultimately, we need to tell more stories, but in the right ways and in the right places," Thalberg says

5) Marketing is an art AND a science

A familiar marketing paradox received a particularly vocal response from the attendees of IAB's annual event. "Marketing is art …," Thalberg said, pausing briefly so audience members could help her complete the statement in unison, "… and marketing is science."

"Are we all right brain and left brain now? Maybe," she said. However, while much of what catches consumer attention in advertising can be attributed to artistic creativity — the ads that make people laugh, cry or seek out more information — the mechanics and means by which ads reach consumers are increasingly scientific, according to Thalberg.

6) Great content is expensive AND organic

Creating compelling ads can be tremendously expensive, Thalberg said. "Great content creation can be elite, but great content creation can also be democratic."

The best ads aren't always the most expensive or professional ads, she said, and amateur, cheaply made videos and sketches can drive the same results as multimillion-dollar media campaigns. Great content is not exclusive to the "elite ruling class of high-end creative talent and the marketers who have the pockets to afford it," Thalberg said.

7) Marketers must inspire quick sales AND drive loyalty over time

Retail brands in fast-paced markets, such as Taco Bell, must pursue both short- and long-term growth and loyalty opportunities, according to Thalberg. "This is at the heart of the issue for us as marketers," Thalberg said. "The only way to win today is to recognize, … embrace and integrate these paradoxes in our digitally driven world."

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