Effective or Extinct? (Kay Nash)
Marketers are in a ‘toestand’. Money is in short supply and the economy is groaning, although not quite as loudly as the CEO. Never before have marketers been under such pressure to deliver practical, tangible results and demonstrate the real effect they have on business growth and the bottom line.
Of course the solution to the dilemma lies in winning with the consumer. However, the reality of a post scarcity society is that consumers have so much choice, so much available information and so much power, that our traditional marketing and branding approaches are becoming increasingly ineffective. Marketing is being forced to face up to the facts and ask themselves if, how and where they are affecting the consumer positively and driving actual purchases. The answer is a frightening one. Marketers have very little influence over many of the most important drivers that influence customer opinions of, experiences with, and loyalty to brands and businesses.
Marketing’s four or six P’s has become a myth and marketing is now often only driving the low importance areas of the business. Little wonder that we are disappearing from the boardroom. One of marketing’s mistakes is that we’ve been creating artificial little boxes and pointing to the latest branding trend as the solution.
We tender solutions like ‘brand engagement,’ ‘you have to live your brand internally’ or ‘punt customer centricity,’ ‘you must segment your market so you can develop value propositions to enable focus’. Other regulars include ‘brand positioning,’ ‘the bull’s eye will give you the compass that guides everything’, or ‘brand experience that must be created at every brand connection.’ The problem with these approaches is that they all focus on the components and not on the connections.
So where does the solution lie? We see marketers and brand experts sticking to their comfort zones and this is potentially a recipe for extinction. Marketing and brand effectiveness is no longer an option. For those interested in evolving, here are seven practical considerations for avoiding extinction:
1. Recognise that your brand is part of a large and complex ecosystem.
An ecosystem is about interactions between different elements that strive to achieve a sustainable balance. In the same way, you need to map out your brands entire ecosystem and then overlay this with what the customer is trying to achieve as opposed to what you are trying to market. You must then ensure that all the brands priority connections are working and contributing positively to what the customer believes, perceives, experiences and, importantly, acts on.
A brand’s strength is directly proportional to the number and strengths of the connections within the entire business ecosystem from employees, to touch points, brand authenticity, communications, experiences etc. Businesses need to focus on informing and positively influencing all aspects of the marketing and business mix that matter to customers. Consider the increasingly important connection between your brand and the larger social ecosystem in which it operates.
2. Become directly involved in the critical drivers of customer experience, satisfaction and purchase.
Ask yourself; are you directly involved in informing product development, defining and measuring customer service delivery, pricing offerings, enhancing sales force strength, defining retail customer experiences, defining call centre scripts, analysing complaints for unmet customer needs and new business ideas?
As mentioned, marketing has become a function that primarily influences areas of the business that are on the lower end of importance in terms of driving business growth and effectiveness. This critical situation is exacerbated by the fact that marketer’s traditional tools are also becoming less and less effective in driving customer choice and behaviour.
Today’s consumer environment calls for a more interconnected approach, one that takes the entire ecosystem of the brand and customer into account and breaks down artificial separations that impair the organisations effectiveness and identifies those things that have the power to drive positive customer perceptions and behaviours. All these areas need to either fall directly under marketing’s responsibility or at least touch on their responsibilities so that marketers can inform and support them.
The best strategy and most creative advertising is no longer sufficient to create the kinds of customer relationships or significant impact expected of a marketer by CEO’s today.
3. Marketing has to deliver bottom line growth that’s measurable.
Marketers who are truly impacting on their organisation’s growth are those who are accountable for revenues and are aggressive in proving their strategies and showing their willingness to test brand and marketing effectiveness on a continual basis. They are disciplined planners, rigorous trackers and evaluators and they constantly look for areas to improve performance. They link the cause and effect of their efforts and make fact driven decisions.
At a recent conversation on the future of marketing within a large blue chip corporate, the CEO emphasised his opinion on marketing, “I will not accept marketing that cannot measure its impact.”
Globally there is a demand for marketing to measure its effectiveness professionally. Many marketing balanced score cards remain weak and insubstantial and only serve to drive hours of debate about who is really responsible for the end result. Marketing must directly affect business growth and be willing to measure its effectiveness in doing so. Every member of the marketing and brand ecosystem needs to be committed to enabling such measurement.
The first step is to create a culture of accountability and performance in marketing and branding which is supported by a formal measurement system. From there you need to ensure that your executive peers support marketing accountability as a priority.
4. Take risks, test and learn as you go.
If ever there was a time to move out of your comfort zone that time is now. Marketers need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Your environment is now defined by non-stop change and the past is no longer a way to accurately forecast future results. Rapid customer change and even faster competitive time to market means you don’t have to have the perfect strategy and the absolute answer. Test and learn, don’t rely on historical models.
Experiment with new initiatives, new ways of creating customers experiences. Explore new territories outside your personal and organisational comfort zone. Entrench yourself in new media, observe customers first hand, experiment with new ideas and see what happens.
Try new tactics on a smaller scale so you can prove your approach while minimising financial risks.
5. Create alignment, actively search for synergies and collaborate.
Face the fact that you cannot be effective all on your own and do everything as well as the best of the best. The dominant business model of this decade is partnering.
Our advice is to team up, partner for excellence internally and externally. Get the best partners you can afford and use all your suppliers and internal divisions in collaboration. It’s not news that cross divisional and multifunctional teams increase effectiveness but this is often not practiced. Because of the need for a holistic approach, marketing, more than any other function needs to champion partnership, collaboration and open source behaviour not only internally but in the wider market with customers, competitors and suppliers. Turn your partners into real role players and focus on making an impact by instilling a deep sense of what the customer needs.
Consider the enormous power of open innovation, collaborative cobranding, customer co-creation and alliances with people who are experts.
As an example, you can buy brilliant ideas from anywhere in the world on sites such as BootB, the new online marketplace for creative ideas. Think of yourself as a catalyst so you can maximise your brand and business effectiveness and strive to positively influence all aspects of the brand ecosystem.
6. Be sure that your brand and business are relevant and authentic.
Much has been written and said about this point and there is little to add other than to remind marketers of the importance of authenticity and relevance in marketing effectiveness.
As customer’s needs change more rapidly and new categories are born as a result, changing drivers of brand choice, remaining relevant becomes increasingly challenging. It is important to keep looking outwards.
Marketers are often focussed on their brand attributes within a particular category and don’t notice that the categories around them have changed. Is your category on its way out, being undermined or augmented or replaced or subsumed by a new, faster growing category?
So keep abreast with trends. This does not mean buying the Trendz report, it means truly unpacking
and understanding which trends are relevant to your business and brands and what the likely implications of these trends are going to be and by when. Become a good trend responder and build skills in your business and team to detect, evaluate and react to change.
When it comes to authenticity, it’s all about practicing what you preach. Being totally clear and honest about who you are and what you do best is at the heart of authenticity. When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers. Authentic brands feel right.
Customers have always sought authenticity, they simply have much more access to the facts now which means inauthenticity is recognised and shown up much faster and more easily than in the past. Start to address the authenticity of your brand, message, promise, behaviours and experiences
and recognise that authentic brands are in many ways reflective of the identity of the company culture. They embody the values and purpose of the company.
7. Get the CEO on board.
This is last but not least in the list. You need the CEO in your corner. You need to be able to demonstrate brand and marketing effectiveness and its value to the CEO.
Your plan needs to be concrete, factual and well supported by activities and actions that will drive business growth. Don’t wait for your CEO to go looking for the ‘new breed of marketer’. Be that person yourself.
Lay down the critical success factors for driving business growth through effective marketing and branding. Demonstrate what will affect customer needs and behaviours most in your ecosystem and what you can do to drive the success of these areas. Outline how you will measure and manage this and what you need from the business in order to deliver these things.
Make effectiveness your mantra and challenge your CEO until you have the right brand and business support that will ensure your brand does not become extinct in this rapidly changing and demanding market.
Kay Nash is the CEO of Yellowwood Future Architects – designers of brands, experiences and ideas that enable sustainable business growth. Kay has years of brand and marketing experience both in very senior marketer positions and in leading top branding companies both locally and in the UK.
Kay is focusing her efforts currently on building effective and practical brand solutions within businesses and aggressively driving the marketing agenda back to the boardroom. Kay is a fervent supporter of building local skills and creating new partnerships that can make South African marketers great.