Market dynamics have become increasingly competitive. For many brands, the only real certainty is further uncertainty. This makes for challenging times amongst a number of marketing departments. The last decade has witnessed substantial changes in the marketing industry, creating more ambiguity for those brand stewards charged with growing brands. It’s a constant battle between setting the brand up for long term success and doing it in the most effective way.
Finding the right formula demands marketers to be agile. They must be clear in identifying when and how they can add the greatest value to the brands they’re responsible for. They need to find new areas of relevance with their target audience, however, they should also be guided by preserving an overarching promise for the brand. They must know when to push as well as know when to let go. They ascend the din of office politics and don’t shy away from keeping the spotlight on external variables rather than internal ones.
1. Know the value of a great idea
In a digitally-charged world, ideas - now more than ever - are of infinite appeal. At the centre of any robust brand position is a single, compelling idea. Nike has used "winning" as the single-minded idea behind its brand for many years. Whilst its campaigns may have taglines like "I can do that", "You don’t win silver; you lose gold" or "Just do it", the "idea" behind these campaigns is "Winning". Get the idea wrong at the outset, and no amount of advertising or social media is going to mask the frailty. Less is always more when positioning a brand - be clear on what the single-minded idea behind your brand is before draining your marketing budget on tactical media initiatives.
2. Be decisive
One of the real challenges that marketers face is having "too many options" rather than "too few". In a climate of "innovation pipelines", "stage gates", "scenario plans" and "programmatic media", it’s easy to adopt a myopic focus or get carried away with infinite options. Agile marketers know when to flex, but they also know when to be the steady hand on the tiller of a brand’s future. Make decisions and know your brand better than anyone else in the organisation. If you can do that, you will ensure unnecessary distractions remain just that.
3. Adapt and don’t get left behind
Everything has to adapt – it is the root of long-term survival. So, know this: change is rapid. Savvy brand custodians grasp that they need to remain true to what makes a brand great whilst also adapting to ever-evolving dynamics. Brands like Netflix are a useful example of "the need to adapt" (it’s hard now to imagine they were ever the "DVD rental" people), whilst brands like Kodak are still recovering from not adapting fast enough.
4. Choose emotion over function
Patents, licences and trademarks exist for some functional products and services. For everything else, there is emotion. The marketer’s dream is to have a brand proposition that creates an allure which cannot be articulated. In other words, the case of “I don’t know why, but I just want one”. And, creating this magnetism is not a preserve of the luxury goods and services category, but also our regular day-to-day items. Think Pfizer and its Viagra product. When its patent expired, the brand needed to stand up – so to speak – by creating a compelling brand identity. In the end, function leads to conclusions, whilst emotion drives action – and behaviour is what will drive higher order interaction with a brand.
5. Engage regularly with their target audience
A marketing director I once worked with continually encouraged her team to take different ways to work. If you drove a car, she would suggest you to try public transport. If you normally took public transport to the office, she would encourage you to take a different route. The reason behind this was simple. We’re all creatures of habit and, unconsciously, slip into norms that dull our senses as to what’s going on around us. Good marketers continually search for new ways that their brands can engage with consumers. Get out of your comfort zone, interact with your target audience and you might just be surprised at what you find.
It’s only too easy to fall into a habit of speaking up for your brand - what it needs to thrive or defending what’s required to survive. Whilst such advocacy is critical, listening is just as important. Much of marketing is driven by observation and anecdote. Slow down and hear what’s going on around you. With listening comes presence, and with presence comes focus. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in direct proportion.
Innovate, renovate or maintain – those tend to be the options. Innovation is the favoured solution because it enables two things: incremental streams of revenue and higher premiums. There is always risk when undertaking product or service innovation, so be clear on why you’re innovating and don’t seek perfection. There’s just not enough space for perfectionism in a world of rapid innovation. Whilst innovation is the lifeblood of many marketing departments, just remember that if you’ve thought of a new idea for a category, the chances are so has your competitor.
8. Know the difference between observations and insights
"Observations" are too often misrepresented as "insights". Of course, observations have a role to play when positioning a brand, however, insights drive genuine innovation and impactful thinking. Insights are slippery creatures, and many different definitions of insights exist. My favourite quote comes from an old colleague who described it to me as “an acute revelation that fuses market opportunity with human need”. When looking for insights, look for the tension first. It is the tension that informs the insight.
9. Tell a good story
Regardless of the medium, stories continue to be an ideal form of engagement. Stories exert a strong, almost magical hold over the human psyche – they enchant us, they transport us, they change our behaviour. It’s little surprise that a great brand has a great story. But these are living narratives, and as they progress, new points of relevance can be added in.
Good marketers understand the power of stories and use them to enhance the emotional connection with a brand. Over a number of years, Apple created a wonderfully cheeky story about its laptop range when it told its story through the lens of “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC.”
10. Inspire others
True inspiration is rare commodity – it’s value is untold. So, agile marketers embrace a two-pronged approach to it. Their primary focus will always be internal. Don’t underestimate just how much inspiration is required to get an idea off the ground with your colleagues. If you can get it through the wire internally, be prepared to invest just as much inspiration taking it to your customers. Forget the data, forget the rational, it takes vision to inspire. Know your market, know your customer and use it to excite people about a product or service.
The writer is Nick Foley, president of Southeast Asia Pacific and Japan at Landor.