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The Futurist: Focus on the consumer

The future of marketing, especially in Malaysia, may seem like it is all about price and promotions. Marketers today are pressured to drive short-term gain and as such, react to market competitors rather than real consumers. But we need to understand that winning tomorrow should start with an obsession with our consumers today. To win tomorrow, research and data should be focused on understanding the consumers’ needs.

Of course, understanding the marketplace and knowing your competitor is crucial in guiding your execution, but in order to differentiate, we need to do more and focus on our consumers.

Another critical barrier to great marketing today is marketers hiding behind data. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big data junkie, so I can tell you there is a huge difference between reading behaviour versus experiencing it. Start simple. Go out and sell. Try different approaches to selling, and see what intrigues your consumer. Observe their expressions and note down which part of your product stories strikes a chord. Just be curious and listen. This will change the way you see your products and consumers. When you love your consumers, it won’t really matter what you are selling, as the subject of your passion is your consumer and how your products can improve their lives.

Due to the complex nature of marketing today, digital is sometimes treated separately. But digital is no different from other mediums. Every medium has its own measurement metrics, its own strengths and unique environment that we should understand in order to find the best way of using the medium to give us the best ROI. We should never forget that fundamentally digital is another medium used to connect consumers and is part of the bigger picture. Truth be told, sometimes we marketers tend to get carried away. We love anything that gives us a licence to be creative and we forget to evaluate how this medium sits within the life of consumers. More often than not, we have determined the medium before understanding where and how our consumers consume media.

Ask any agency how many times have they had a brief that starts with: “We need a digital campaign for XXX.” The focus should go back to who we are trying to tell the story to, and what our story is, regardless of the medium.

Corporate capitalism is also a pain point today. As organisations become more complex, marketers lose focus and spend more time addressing internal bureaucracies and processes. We have forgotten that all managers should enjoy a good insight, a good debate and a good logic.

On many occasions, I have witnessed teams plan around internal challenges rather than solving the real problems consumers may have. Perhaps responsibility falls on the leaders and the organisation to ensure simplicity is encouraged. Ironically, as consumers become more complex, organisations need to become simpler. In short, focus on the intent, with the intent always being consumer-first.

Finally, brands of tomorrow have purpose and create purpose. Having a purpose that inspires connects. It connects not just consumers, but to us. It gives us a reason for our existence and it drives us to be more, do better and be focused. So let’s rethink the way we market and start connecting.

The writer is Lee Lim Meng, marketing director of consumer product division, L’Oréal Malaysia. The article first appeared in A+M’s The Futurist print edition.