GroundTruth CMO: ‘Most Brand Marketers Struggle with Marketing Vanity Metrics’

GroundTruth CMO: ‘Most Brand Marketers Struggle with Marketing Vanity Metrics’

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The role of a marketer changed drastically in 2023. Rather than being centered on brand, advertising, and digital marketing, brand marketers today are focusing more heavily on strategic areas, like marketing analytics, revenue growth, innovation, and market entry strategy. Surveys show that while firms are slowing their investments in customer relationship management systems, brand building, and customer experience, marketing spending on mobile tactics is still on the rise — increasing by as much as 80% over the next five years.

It’s a chaotic shift that’s been experienced first-hand by Brandon Rhoten, previously in his roles as a marketing executive at companies like Wendy’s, Papa John’s, and Potbelly Sandwich Shops, and now as chief marketing officer at GroundTruth. During his time at Wendy’s, Rhoten led the brand’s advertising and media efforts, including its award-winning Snarky Social strategy, and oversaw billions of dollars in global media investment. Now he’s on the other side, working with GroundTruth to expand the company’s location-based advertising objectives through partnerships with some of the country’s largest brands.

Street Fight recently connected with Rhoten to get his take on the state of brand marketing in 2023, including the struggle many marketers face when it comes to vanity metrics and where location-based marketing fits into the broader martech ecosystem. Here’s what he had to say.

Q. You have an interesting background, being on both sides of the marketing ecosystem. How has your experience with companies like Wendy’s and Papa John’s lent itself to what you’re doing now at GroundTruth? 

A. Being responsible for delivering real traffic to a business gives you a perspective I’m not sure many in media have — it’s why most CMOs struggle with marketing vanity metrics and instead focus on the indicators they know have a direct correlation to traffic and check growth in their businesses. It’s why I struggled to sit through most media presentations myself — it drove me nuts to have such a disconnect between what we were trying to accomplish and what a media partner was attempting to sell my team. 

You quickly have to learn what matters, what something that is starting to work looks like, and have the experience to understand what has the best odds of success. Basically, my experience running large marketing departments and media budgets lets me think like the businesses that need to put real “points on the board” think versus a media partner that’s just trying to spend your money on impressions.

Q. How have the needs of brand advertisers changed since you’ve been working in the industry, and what is GroundTruth doing to address those evolving demands? 

A. Early in my career, most marketing departments were seen as the art club. You make the pretty fun stuff but leave the real work of growing the business to the rest of us, sort of thing. These were the days of huge TV buys, Super Bowl spots, and even the early days of digital and social when it was all about likes and reach. 

Today, I’m proud to say marketing is the primary driver of business growth for many brands. Because we’ve embraced full-funnel marketing tactics, integrated digital into the overall media ecosystem, blended organic and paid almost seamlessly, and now can easily measure things that matter like foot traffic driven by media. Marketing is a revenue driver, and we still get to make the pretty fun stuff on top of it. It’s an awesome time to be a marketer.

Q. GroundTruth was an early player in the location marketing space, but it seems like a lot of the hype around that has died down in the past few years. What’s your take on the state of location-based marketing and advertising today?

A. For GroundTruth, we’ve moved to real-world behavior-based advertising. Because we’re able to both build ideal audiences based on people’s behavior and measure if they respond in the real-world. Location is a signal among many that lets us better target and close the loop for brands that want to drive a real business result. 

Good marketers have a deep toolbox today. Partners like us let marketers learn quickly, drive specific and measurable behaviors like foot traffic among an ideal target, learn quickly what works, then scale to other media partners to keep the growth coming.

Q. What do you see as the Next Big Thing coming down the pipeline, as far as brand marketing is concerned? What are brands all going to be asking about at this time next year? 

A. I think automation of things like iterative testing is going to be the next big thing. Sure, we have versions of this now, but when you add in new technology like AI it makes zero sense to set and forget any program. If we can continuously optimize creative, media specifics like audiences and tactics, and expand how we verify the impact marketing has on the real business, marketers can spend more time on fun stuff like creative and new ways to leverage media partners.

Q. How about you personally. What do you hope to be working on at this time next year, and what do you hope to have accomplished in your role as CMO at GroundTruth? 

A. I want GroundTruth to be seen as the media partner that helps you deliver real business results. We’re not there to spend your money on impressions, or to help you win a Lion. Our job is to grow your business, so marketing is seen as an essential investment for more brands. The products we build, who we work with, and how we partner should make this clear.

Do you know of a new hire or an executive that’s shaking up business in the adtech, martech, e-commerce, localized marketing, or location intelligence space? Shoot us an email at [email protected].

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.