SYDNEY: Marketers need to recognise that brands in the digital age should stand for values beyond just the functional delivery of a product or service, the president of the World Federation of Advertisers has warned.

In an address to the Global Marketer Conference 2014 in Sydney, Martin Riley said that, while there has never been a better time to be in marketing, it has also never been tougher for industry practitioners to succeed.

This is because one of the main challenges for brands is not just about how to reach and engage with modern digitally astute audiences, Riley argued, but more fundamentally to ensure they do not isolate themselves from public debate and are seen to conduct themselves responsibly.

"I truly believe that the most successful brands will transcend the functional delivery of a product or service and visibly, sincerely and constructively participate in society's struggle with itself," he said.

"Those efforts must be sincere," Riley added. "For in our age of transparency, words must be matched by action."

As globalisation and technology now allow consumers to have access to a wider circle of opinion and are empowered with more influence than ever before, he said the concept of "local" no longer existed.

Brands that operate across geographies need to be seen to be playing by the same rules and standards everywhere they operate, he warned.

"Any ill-thought through commercial, promotion, micro-site in Thailand or Peru can come back and bite you in the UK, NZ or Australia. Today, brands are only as strong as their weakest link."

In order to survive in this new digital world of instant conversation and information, Riley advised brands to ensure they committed to best industry practice, as outlined in initiatives such as the Responsible Marketing Pact, while also removing professional boundaries within their own organisations to make them more responsive.

Marketing, corporate communications, customer relationship management and other disciplines should be integrated, he said, and the collective skillset expanded if brands are to fulfil the role expected of them in the digital age.

"We're going to need to become more sensitive and by becoming better listeners, garner better insights. We're going to have to be more mindful of our responsibilities to society," Riley concluded.

Further reports from the conference and Martin Riley's speech will be added to Warc's Event Reports section.

Data sourced from the Global Marketer Conference; additional content by Warc staff