Margin for error is tight
Today the variables are many, the influencers and brands are even more, and the time to figure it all out is too short. We need to make big calls in a shifting environment and ensure these are as correct as possible — we’re only as good as our last positive deliverable, not activity or output. The margin for error is tight, as marketers in a world where many still feel that marketing is fluffy with little proven impact or where the multitude believe that anyone may be an expert.
How often have you as a marketing team been frustrated by everyone’s involvement in marketing actions and decisions? I particularly ‘love’ the belief by many that anyone may do what we do as it’s all gut-feel. Unlike an accountant or production manager, everyone is a brand expert, especially as social media has democratised brands or as they and/or their partners in life are consumers. Don’t you enjoy the phrase “based on a sample of one” — what is this?!
Consumers and brands are our arena; own it. We studied well-documented principles and theory — focusing on facts will help reflect this and give us more gravitas. We cannot control everything in our environment but we can control two things:
- Our in-depth understanding of the variables surrounding market- and brand-performance
- Our considered response (not reaction) to what has happened
The two of these together can be a game-changer, predicting patterns and understanding outcomes to generate the optimal response.
Why the obsession?
Why the obsession with facts? Gut-feel may be disputed as everyone has a viewpoint. Fact is, just that, fact: providing clear and unbiased rationale for decision-making that may be tracked for cause and effect. But, as pointed out earlier, there are a multitude of facts — you need to know which are critical. Is it competitor-pricing for optimal relativities? Is it visibility and availability in stores? Is it price-tier-strategy by channel?
Figure out the key drivers for your brand growth performance, then track and take into account the right facts. One hundred percent of them will take too long to source and understand; you lose the time advantage. Sometimes 70-75% is enough; get to 75% solid facts and blend with intuition and experience and watch carefully for shifts.
Think of the impact of the recent cabinet shift; who could’ve predicted the timing? What about the very real impact on costs of imported raw materials or impact on consumers’ baskets, given the rising cost of goods as a result, never mind the impact on consumer confidence.
The variables are shifting, so you need rock-solid understanding, now more than, ever to build business confidence in the marketing perspective. You need this to halt panic and avoid short-term decisions that hurt long-term brand growth and sustainability. In the short-term, perhaps consumers are playing the wait-and-see game; sales are slow. A reactive approach could lead to extensive discounting to achieve short-term sales. But this could negatively impact brand and category eg could drive the category into commodity status as consumers wait to shop the specials or damage brand perceptions with a too-cheap price point.
Short- and long-term brand-health
With facts to balance the approach, you develop a strategy that assists with short-term and long-term brand-health. In the absence of fact, everyone’s gut feel or experience will come into play and it will be the battle of the strongest voice: sales demanding price-cuts or finance teams demanding budget-cuts. Ensure sanity prevails by rooting forward-planning and strategy in market- and consumer-reality.
To enhance a rational approach, start your interactions with the facts. Showcase key category metrics such as share movements, pricing shifts, volume gains or losses with their key drivers. Link actions to these metrics ie in-store promotion x plus pricing relative to competitor B of y has led to z impact. This lays a less-disputable foundation and empowers everyone in the room with the key measures that are actually driving brand sales and business performance. This builds confidence in your thinking — rather than what someone’s significant other believes! Beware of focusing on too many key facts as several marketing measures may confuse; try and explain reach vs likes vs engagement to a group of general managers who don’t work with these every day. Focus on key objectives, metrics and their impact. With these leading and closing interactions, they’ll be adopted as the judgement principles. Marketing principles meet business practice. Even something such as pack changes may get the subjectivity removed. Search trends, speak to third parties and check in with consumers. Imagine walking into a boardroom and saying we propose this pack change as:
- Global trends and discussions with the packaging supplier show a move to this more-streamlined pack by all leading brands, while the current pack format is showing declines and adoption by dealer-owned brands — result: distinction in the marketplace
- Trade has told us that shelf space is going to be reduced — opportunity: a move to smaller packs will help avoid blanket discontinuation and win points with buyers
- An online consumer survey-checking preference between the current and the new pack formats showed that the new format was preferred by 68% of the core consumers — take-out: consumer uptake is pretty much confirmed (assuming price relativity is good)
All that’s needed is the financial case to prove any on-cost is paid off in a reasonable time or offset by increased volumes etc, and there is little to dispute. Plus you can still have the amazing designs and pizzazz to energise all around the change.
I’m excited that I can lead a room with a marketing approach that is less disputable. I’m thrilled at the thought of demystifying what drives markets and consumers so that all business decisions may be rooted in the consumer and market need, as this secures growth. So it’s my responsibility to:
- Understand what levers drive the category and select only the ones that count
- Set these facts and measures in brand plans and lead all interactions with the market fact or metrics so they are entrenched in the business operations
- Make the facts as electrifying as the pretty pictures as they empower our thinking and enable effective decisions
Don’t forget the pretty pictures — they are, after all, the elements that create an emotive response — now propelled forward by the right level of fact!
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.
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