Often times, I am teased by adjacent-industry colleagues about how marketing is simply a fluffy decoration around a business and while they acknowledge it is necessary, it also is a huge cost-center and we, marketing professionals, make it seem more than it actually is. The truth is that they are often times always right, of course not in principle about the role of marketing but in the evidence of success and results that the marketing efforts experienced have achieved.
I am lucky to have been trained in pure, applied and social sciences both theoretically and in practical circumstances. I still think it’s stupid that I wasted a lot of years in the pure and applied sciences because if I had known what the nature of the eventual jobs were like, it would have been very easy to understand such fields weren’t for me. Oddly enough, back in secondary school, if you had good grades, you were meant to be a core science student. It just occurred to me that if we were truly brilliant back then, we should have questioned the rationale. In any case, the great thing with social sciences is the fact that you are constantly questioning situations, I believe this innate nature of mine led me back into the marketing space when I realized I couldn’t just live each day through a similar and repetitive chain of events.
It is important to note that marketing professionals need to be extremely intelligent to succeed in its practice. This applies whether you are managing a single brand, a portfolio of brands or consulting for brands across industries. You are constantly trying to make sense of the business, its competition and the ever evolving consumers. For me, I found this more challenging, interesting and fulfilling. It provides the perfect opportunity for rigorous research, comparison, creation and innovation.
Examining the business environment, you can understand why marketing has seemingly lost its importance. I would say that the professionals unfortunately have not evolved with the times and this doesn’t matter whether you are a client or an agency. Actually, the fact that a lot us still think in boxes of clients and agencies show that the practice has not innovated. It was a whole lot easier back then when all a brand needed to differentiate was an emotional TV commercial, press advert, radio jingle, bill board and timely press releases, photo stories and a comprehensive crisis communication strategy. Back then, all that was required was the right talent, great relationships, capacity to execute and budgets. Today, the dynamics are totally different; the business environment has changed, competition is no longer direct, the consumer is now a prosumer, the channels are no longer clear-cut and what is required to create content is no longer restricted to creative talent.
While most businesses still need to learn the concept of return on equity, we as marketing professionals now need to demonstrate return on investment more than ever. It is no longer okay to assume that campaigns were responsible for calculated growth, we need to prove it and yes this is very possible. We need to know which campaigns worked and which didn’t. We need to know what channels were more effective and which weren’t. We need to know which consumers were more interested and which weren’t. We need to know what emotions were evoked and which remained salient. The reason is very simple, we now live in a data-driven economy. For businesses to excel, they must research, mine and effectively interprete available data. This should now become the basis for content creation and distribution.
There are several other considerations but a few stand out. The creative model must be re-examined; internal vs. external agencies, account manager vs. accounts manager, the absence of; research and development units, big data mining and management, real customer experience creation, etc. I also believe that marketing agencies need to move away from solely being service oriented to proprietary product development. This is a very easy way to show that you understand the consumer and the content he/she demands. I was discussing with a colleague about the immense creative potential within the advertising industry, surely it can’t be just to create advertising content and die. So much has been left to non-marketing professionals; advertising within movies, music videos among others.
Why do we still think in silos of channels when the real focus should be content and experience? Why can’t a bank for example put some effort into creating Chocolate Thursdays in banking halls and then use this as advertising content? At a time, we had banks telling us how great their customer service was with print adverts of smiling models with ear phones on, now the environment requires customer service professionals who are social media savvy. These people should be able to create engaging content and solve problems, this is assuming that the necessary investment has already been made in the business process to avoid unnecessary issues.
The excuse that Nigeria has no data is fast coming to an end. The Nigerian Bureau of statistics have begun to get their act together and the advent of technology is changing the scene. With all of these, marketing communication now needs to be more specific, relevant, effective and measurable. I know there are still security challenges with the protection of customer data, however, this data now needs to play a useful role in brand conversations. As a business, we need to ask ourselves, what are we already doing for the customers we know and have? How are we making their lives easier through our brand experience? What insights are they giving us about product modifications or new product development? For these questions and more to be answered, we really need to stop for a minute and THINK.
Are we really creating value and is this the best value we can create?
Article written by Mobolaji Caxton-Martins, a Lagos based brand & innovation management specialist