In these recessionary times, the demands on marketing directors to be accountable for return on investment are greater than ever.
However, this can have a dangerous impact. In many large businesses there is a tendency to seek certainty and to avoid unnecessary risk. This often manifests itself as an inclination to over-rationalise consumer behaviour - to apply too much logic to how consumers make their everyday choices - and to rely too much on evaluative research. This gravitation towards the logical and "tried and tested" can be particularly seductive when times are tough.
It seems that the current recession is also masking a more profound change; one that means the marketing rule book is being ripped up and, as a result, it's much less clear what "tried and tested" really looks like. Rapid media fragmentation means that marketers now have dozens more tools at their disposal. So as the traditional marketing tools (such as TV advertising) have lost some of their potency, so 40 years of normative databases have lost their power to predict. And faced with increasingly marketing savvy consumers and an exponential increase in the number of commercial messages they receive, consumers have become much less predictable.
So, at a time when marketing investment is being scrutinised more than ever, marketing directors have much less of a fact-base to justify their investment choices. The truth is, the "measurement tools" have not caught up with the pace of change in the media world. This demands that marketers need to rediscover their roots as the entrepreneurs of any business. They need to embrace the new marketing landscape and move away from the more sterile "painting by numbers" approach that characterises too much of today's marketing.
Successful entrepreneurs are characterised by six things:
- Be insightful and intuitive about what your consumers want
Entrepreneurs connect to their customers as real people rather than viewing them as some sort of specimen to be dissected under a microscope. As a result they trust their gut instinct more than average.
Marketers need to spend more time and money on exploratory research to understand their consumers' lives. They should embrace the progressive disciplines such as neuroscience to better understand what really drives consumer behaviour, and focus less on attitudes and purchase intent.
Finally, marketers should be encouraged to spend more time thinking like consumers (and less like classically trained marketers) and to use this to develop greater intuition around what will work. To illustrate this point, it's interesting to note that consumers "got" the "gorilla" ad more quickly than a lot of marketers/business people because they simply consumed it rather than thinking about it.
- Have a clear and unshakeable vision for what you offer
Entrepreneurs understand their customers' unmet or poorly met needs and use this to create new distinctions in the marketplace. Marketers need to do the same and demonstrate more of a leadership mindset; to be prepared to lead consumers rather than simply asking and following their response. And in a world of brand behaviour, they need to translate this into a manifesto that guides everything they do.
- Bring colour, personality and an obsessive zeal to what you do
By doing this, entrepreneurs make their offer stand out and make it feel like it comes from real people rather than a faceless company.
The days of interruption marketing are numbered and brands have to make a greater effort to earn loyalty. To give brands much-needed authenticity, marketers need to avoid making them too clinical and instead focus on bringing personality, "wonkiness" and a visible passion for what they do.
- Be bold, different and take more risks
By their very nature, entrepreneurs are change-agents looking to upset the status quo. They aim to "win big" and are prepared to "learn by doing".
As the world of marketing moves away from the tried-and-tested techniques of the past 40 years, marketers need to seize the opportunity for competitive advantage by being braver and more ambitious in all they do. In a corporate world that "seeks certainty", there are too many marketers that aim to get ten out of ten things "right" by avoiding doing them wrong. Instead, the best marketers of the future will aim to "hit every ball out of the park", and make the most of the learning opportunity from those they miss. They need to embrace the new media landscape and learn by doing.
However, this isn't an invitation to throw away all of the old traditional marketing disciplines. Some of these, such as the pursuit of the big idea, become even more important and should act as the glue that binds together a blend of traditional and "new" media.
- Be focused on making money
Entrepreneurs know how to focus their activities on selling more and how to maximise the profit from these extra sales. They also know that the buck stops with them and that if there is no "today", there is no "tomorrow".
Marketers need to adopt a similar attitude and stop believing that they have a divine right to marketing investment. Especially in these recessionary times, they need to have an attitude that the best way to protect a marketing budget is to sell more.
Using this "spend to sell, sell to spend" mindset, they need to play their portfolio and seek chances for more tactical "fast buck" plays that provide the revenue to protect investment in slower burn, strategic opportunities.
This entrepreneurial approach to marketing isn't an invitation to take a cavalier approach and avoid all attempts to prove ROI. As the old rule book is ripped up and a new one created, marketers need to focus more time on evaluating what they have done and, over time, identify the key causal relationships between marketing activities and bottom-line profit.
- 'Lucky marketing directors'
Napoleon Bonaparte was once quoted as saying: "Give me lucky generals." The emperor didn't trust skill, training or brains. He didn't really know why some generals won and some seemed to lose, so he chose the lucky ones.
Against a backdrop of recession, businesses will look for the "lucky marketing directors"; those who win big and win consistently.
Except that it will have little to do with luck. Those who succeed will have embraced the realities of recession and the new marketing landscape, and by rediscovering a more entrepreneurial mindset will help shape a new marketing orthodoxy.
- Phil Rumbol is the marketing director at Cadbury.