Marketing Art & Science – a perspective

This blog post was originally published in Brand Quarterly Magazine.

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There continues to be ongoing debate around the topic of the role of art & science in marketing. A debate that highlights why marketing as a function continues to struggle to assert itself and to deliver real commercial value.

As in all good stories, let’s start at the beginning. So what is the purpose of marketing? It is, in my belief, to connect an organization with the market and to do this in a way that benefits both the customer as well as the company. In simple terms, marketing is there to ensure there is a discernible need in the market, which the company is able to address in a unique, differentiated and profitable way. This market opportunity needs to fit the RWW model; it is a Real market that is Worthwhile and is also Winnable by the company.

It would seem logical that to be successful in identifying, validating and defining a RWW market opportunity, marketing needs information, knowledge, insights and if at all possible an ability to predict and foresee future trends. This sounds like SCIENCE to me.

I started out in marketing and by the age of thirty I was responsible for launching the fmcg company I was working for into a new overseas market. This new market was South Korea, a market that was different in almost everyway possible. I had to know how to run a P&L balance sheet, to run pricing scenarios, to understand and develop an integrated end-to-end supply chain, to analyse market segments and to build customer understanding through research. I had to bring all these scientific factors together to know what specific customer segment to focus on and how to go-to-market in order to build a profitable business.

I would therefore surmise that science has always been the foundation of marketing, otherwise how could marketing have any chance of ever connecting a company to a profitable customer segment.

So what is the role of art? Again, this is not complicated. Once a company has a well-defined vision, the next phase is to actually engage with your target customers. These customers aren’t numbers, they are human beings; each one is an individual who is unique with their own set of perceptions, emotions and characteristics. People want to engage with brands that are relevant, empathetic, compelling and that provide an overall experience that meets, or hopefully exceeds, their needs and expectations. The word experience is key. It conveys the level of overall emotional connection that the brand was able to create. This experience may rely on engaging all the human senses; colour, visual imagery, sound, touch & feel and even smell. This could be the UX design, the actual product design, packaging, how it is merchandised, the words, the overall story, the images and / or the channels used. This requires creativity, innovation and design. In other words ART.

In my book “Marketing Undressed” I explain the importance of both art and science in the following way:

I see customer satisfaction as the outcome of applying the science of marketing. It is the ability to understand the customer, to recognise their needs and wants and to provide them with the right offer or response depending on how the interaction took place. This is almost becoming a given, an expectation of every customer interaction. However, customer loyalty is dependent on the art of marketing, creating an experience that forms an emotional connection, where empathy is established by reflecting the values, thoughts and aspirations of the individual. This takes creativity and innovation.”

This provides a different way of looking at the same scenario but from a customer outcome perspective. The reality is that both art and science need to be applied by marketing, in equal measure. Frankly, it has always been that way. So why is this such a hot topic of debate right now?

My take on this is as follows. The advent of digital channels has dramatically changed the way that customers engage with companies. This has happened very quickly. The way that most companies have responded to this challenge has been to ask marketing to take responsibility for navigating the company through the digital transformation. A good example of this is the fact that marketing were the first function to understand and engage customers through social media.

However there has been a longer-term implication of this trend where, in my view, marketing has narrowed its focus too much on digital. I would almost go so far as to say pigeonholed. The challenge is that marketers have become one-step removed from their customers. A good analogy is the way corporate business now works, rather than meeting face-to-face or talking on the phone to colleagues we rely way too much on email. This is a way of engagement that removes emotional traits like body language, tone of voice, speed of delivery etc. When a large facet of the emotional component of the engagement is removed, we only receive half the story.

For me, this is why people say marketing is now just data science, focused on making sense of all the customer data that is received, bereft of customer emotion. This in turn has led marketing to become the lead generation engine, responsible for bringing interested parties to the company. But this is NOT the true function of marketing. Marketing is responsible for demand creation (not just lead generation). These two terms are frequently interchanged but they have very different meanings. Demand creation is about creating a demand for your product or service through the application of both art and science in equal measure to offer something so compelling, differentiated and relevant, that customers for your offering are created. This is the difference between creating a market and participating in a market.

For companies to be successful, they have to create markets and it is only when marketing is given the remit it requires, will this ridiculous debate of art and science be finally banished to the wings. In the meantime, every marketer should focus on the customer, the human being, and not just treat them as a number in the CRM system for analysis, scoring and inclusion in the next digital communication.

Please visit Brand Quarterly Magazine. It is a terrific resource for all marketers.

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Marketing at a turning point, but which way?

It has most definitely been a week of two halves. It started with a low but most certainly it has ended on a high, full of optimism and hope for the future of both marketing as well as society.

So how did the week start? Well I came across an advertisement for a Chief Marketing Officer. I have attached a screenshot below (pardon the typos but not my doing). They are obviously not looking for accuracy and a strong communicator. Please however take note of the last sentence.

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So we have now reached the point where senior executives and recruiters are reducing the role of marketing to numbers. It is a simple science, the more people we get our message in front of, the more people we will convert. It seems acceptable to engage with 1000 people and only have 2 convert at best. Yes, with the use of analytics and programmatic marketing you will increase response rates but how do you use this science to create emotional connections and generate loyalty? This requires the so called MAGIC and the reality is that it requires both art and science in equal measure to build strong, sustainable businesses. So it looks like I will be receiving more annoying emails, irritating banner ads and general junk for the foreseeable future. Mental opt-out is most definitely in play.

I then came across an interesting article from David Edelman, who is a McKinsey partner leading the Digital Marketing Practice and someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration. He recently wrote an article titled “Marketing’s New Math: 3C’s and 5 Blindspots”. He starts this article by saying:

“I sometimes wonder what people who look back at the 2010’s will say about this time. Though there’s a lot to comment on about the world in general, when it comes to the business world I think people will realize that this is the time when profound change happened – changes in how companies operated, changes in how they “sold” to customers, changes in what business meant.”

I worry that we have become caught up in the age of digital communication and see this as being profound to mankind. Thankfully some in the marketing community recognise the bigger picture such as Bryan Kramer with his book Human2Human.

This brings me to the highlight of the week. Sustainia, which is an innovation (media) platform that enables all forms of stakeholders to share information and provide support to create a more sustainable world, announced their 100 winners for 2014. This is an inspirational list and provides real hope for the planet. I saw that both Pharrell Williams and Melinda Gates both tweeted but where were the brands?

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On closer inspection, I eventually found that Virgin was sponsoring one of the initiatives, school boats in Bangladesh, but where oh where is the marketing behind this? So how many people would know this?

Surely this is an opportunity for the best marketers and brands on the planet to step up and show what the power of great marketing can achieve? Innovative, socially responsible companies need to take the lead and build caring brands that create great businesses but also make the world a better place. It sounds like a true win:win to me with the added upside that senior executives may no longer think of marketers as only data scientists.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and do feel free to download my free book; “Marketing Undressed”.

Time and how to make the most of it as a marketer

I, like everyone else around me in business, struggle to make the best use of time. I constantly find that the day is over almost as soon as it has begun as I race from one meeting to another, trying to ensure that the wheels stay on the track. In marketing this can be even more of a problem especially when too much focus and effort is placed on the here and now as this can eclipse time that should be spent on the more important and longer-term strategic issues. In short, marketers find themselves with very limited time to listen to the market, to identify new opportunities to improve and to embrace the chance to innovate and create. This is critical when the function is evolving and changing more rapidly now than at any time in its past.

I have read and listened to many influential speakers on how to better utilize my time and to structure my day to improve time management but somehow I never seem to be able to put these into practice. Often over a weekend I think about how next week will be different and then find that on a Monday morning I’m straight back into the old habits. So this got me thinking; what is it that makes it so difficult to change and what really controls how I behave? One answer is very simple, as it happened I realized that it was my calendar. If I can control and manage my calendar then perhaps I can address some of my time management issues and improve my commercial productivity as well as my contribution to my colleagues.

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So how should I go about improving my time management by better controlling how my calendar is structured? Here are my thoughts on my dos and don’ts.

The Dos. It is all about balance. I don’t think anyone should spend more than 50% of their time in formal structured meetings so here are my tips for keeping some non-meeting time available.

  • Try and set aside one day a week where you have no or almost no meetings. Try and be rigorous about this.
  • Always try and keep some blue sky between meetings and if you have to run back-to-backs then finish the prior meeting at least 10 minutes before the next one starts. Make sure you build this into your calendar!
  • It is also important that there is time available to have informal catch-ups with team members. Everyone should try and ensure they find 10 minutes every day to engage with colleagues. If you have trouble doing this then block out catch-up time in your calendar.
  • Another way of establishing some informal time is to bring in some breakfast pastries every Friday and create an informal get together.

On the other hand, when I do participate in a meeting then I want to make sure that my contribution is as optimized as possible and that each and every meeting results in the best possible outcomes. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you are meeting one of your team members then try going for a walk instead of a sit down meeting. This makes it more informal and it also sets a limit on how long the meeting will take place.
  • If you have to have back-to-back meetings then break them up by moving the location of one of the meetings to a coffee shop. A different environment can be uplifting and works especially well when addressing challenging issues or sensitivities. Again put this in the calendar invitation.

Now for the don’ts. Clearly the focus has to be on making any time that is spent in a meeting to be as productive as possible, so here are my thoughts:

  • The most obvious one is that you should endeavor to manage your own calendar or at the very least set some principles as to how you would like your time allocated.
  • I would also suggest that you set a limit of only 4 hours of meetings a day. Any more than this and you won’t be prepared for the ones you are actually attending.
  • We are all used to attending meetings where there is no clear agenda or objectives so make it clear that your attendance will only happen if there is a specific decision to be made. A good idea is to put the meeting objective in the subject line for the meeting invite.
  • Finally try not to use formal meetings for updating as there are usually more productive and better ways of achieving this.

Key takeaway
If you take control of your calendar, you will take control of your time management. There has never been a better time to start.

The evolving role of the CMO

There have been many articles highlighting the trends that are impacting the future role of the CMO. Many of these talk about the impact of big data, the importance of analytics, the need for attribution/performance measurement and the increasing need for technology enablement.

Here is a great list from Ryan Somers at SAP where he identifies the most widely recognized and evident qualities required by a modern day CMO. However I think there are some less obvious but important areas that will be influencing CMOs in the near future and these are as follows:

1. Marketing to be assessed on share performance 
There is increasing hype that marketing will be held responsible for revenue performance. Clearly marketing will always have a responsibility to contribute to revenue achievement but other functions such as sales will also be major influencers to successful performance. The important aspect is that marketing need to have clear responsibility for share of market (rather than revenue per se). This requires marketing to take responsibility for strategic focus by applying models such as RWW (Is it Real? Is it Worthwhile? Is it Winnable?) and for aligning the organization to those areas where the company can compete successfully and win well.

2. Marketing to build brands based on behavior not just messaging
Successful brands of the future will be dependent on a strong, well-defined culture. A culture that ensures a brand’s core values and overriding proposition are brought to life by every employee every time a consumer interacts with an organisation. So very simply, marketing needs to take responsibility not only for how employees describe the company and its offerings but more importantly how they behave. This includes work environments, incentive plans, performance review programmes etc.

3. Marketing to work closer with HR
Marketing is becoming more and more a people function. It is becoming the glue that helps align every employee to act and behave in a way that supports the strategic direction, core values and culture of the company. Internal communications are now as important as external communications and it is imperative that marketing takes responsibility for building brand understanding, commitment and passion amongst all employees. This includes induction programmes, training, internal events etc.

4. Research to be centered on customer journey management 
Brands need to build long-term relationships with customers and to do this companies need to clearly understand in finite detail exactly how a customer engages with a brand / company from first touch all the way through to point of advocacy. This encapsulates and requires a very integrated approach with both sales and customer service. Understanding this journey is a must have and marketing need to lead this initiative.

5. Focus will be on user experience
The expectation of consumers has risen dramatically. There is also a very saturated media environment. It is estimated that the average American is exposed to approx. 3000 marketing messages every day. It is clear that for a brand to break through, be noticed and to influence it has to create a moment, a user experience that grabs the attention of the customer. Marketing needs to take an active role in ensuring that the experience at every touch point whether product, packaging, marketing communication, point of sale or customer service is consistent and inline with brand positioning and customer expectation.

I cannot end this piece without mentioning technology which as we all know is taking a more active role in all of our lives, both professionally as well as personally. This is not just about marketing; it is about every department or function within a company whether it be electronic-invoicing, recruitment, vendor management, logistics etc. Marketing needs to embrace technology as much as any other department. It is more than a trend; it is now a way of life and clearly every marketer needs to be comfortable, knowledgeable and willing to invest in technology to improve business performance.

 So how do you see the role of the CMO evolving?

Leadership versus Management

I have recently read a number of blogs that discuss the differences between leadership and management and the importance of getting it right. I believe this topic is now top of mind as recognition is growing that people and thereby talent is the fulcrum on which any successful company needs to establish itself.

A very smart colleague once said to me that there are three competencies that you need in any successful organisation and each one is intrinsically linked.

The first is functional competence; the ability, talent and skills to conduct tasks, to execute processes, to undertake agreed actions and to deliver on the agreed plans of the organisation. Clearly you need people who are knowledgeable on a subject area, are confident enough to make decisions and can deliver on the outcomes that add value to a business.

The second area is managerial competence; the role of management is to enable the functional teams to perform to the best of their ability. It is about unlocking their potential and enabling them to deliver exceptional work. This includes:

  • Structured planning.
  • Resource allocation.
  • Clear goal setting.
  • Removing challenges and barriers.
  • Developing skills.
  • Aligning expertise to areas of need.
  • Ensuring the talent available fits the needs of the business.

It is also about how to promote and achieve collaboration. Two minds are always better than one and it is therefore essential that management enable collaboration at every opportunity.

The final area of competence is leadership; leadership is about creating the right conditions for the company to succeed. My personal view is that this all starts with a brand vision. A great brand vision can positively impact a company in two ways:

  • It provides clarity of purpose and a very well defined journey as to how success will be achieved.
  • It creates the right environment by establishing a set of principles and cultural values that motivate, inspire and impassion everyone to go the extra mile and deliver the best possible work for the organisation.

I am a great fan of Jim Collins and I believe his description of a level 5 leader in “Good to Great” hits this nail on the head when he said “A Level 5 leader displays a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” It is the joining together of the right culture with clarity of purpose that defines great leadership.

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Interestingly if you follow this logic, leaders need to create a vision and culture that supports managers who then need to use this to unlock the potential of all employees. It is in effect an upside down organisation chart. So in this type of organisation, here is a list of behaviors I would hope to see:

  • A vision and clarity of purpose brought to life through great storytelling.
  • Inertia created through continuous engagement & communication.
  • Personal conviction built through authenticity, trust and direct face-to-face engagement.
  • Leadership providing direction rather than directives.
  • An empathetic working environment that builds connectivity and collaboration.
  • Promotion of diversity of thought as this enhances innovation, sharing and transparency.
  • Humility winning over hubris.
  • Empowered people who are confident to break new ground.
  • A caring culture as this deepens relationships and enables personal goals to be connected to company objectives.
  • Supportive management as this enhances productivity.
  • A fun environment as this is the best way to motivate the delivery of outstanding work.

What would be on your list?

Choosing the White Tuxedo

Have you ever been to a black tie event wearing a white tuxedo or an outfit that was different from everyone else? You end up with that uncomfortable feeling. You made the decision to wear the outfit as you wanted to express yourself, mix it up, change the status quo. On the other hand you have become ever more visible. This is very much the life of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

It reminds me of Steve Jobs and the TV campaign he inspired by Think Different. “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Changing how people think is one of the hardest things to do, to enable people to see the world from a different viewpoint but that is in essence the new charter for any executive, especially in marketing.

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I am constantly surprised by job advertisements that are seeking a CMO who is a digital disrupter. Digital disruption is fundamentally changing the commercial model of the company. There is a clear difference between delivering fundamental changes and making brands more relevant. Making fundamental changes means we have to go back to the basics in creating human relationships and realizing this part is not just about a brand promise but rather it is about building a business. So many times, I see that management (rather than leadership) never really gets to know their people, truly get to know their team. It’s this fundamental that helps you identify what each individual is passionate about and what they are really good at and then aligning this to the needs of both the business and the customer.

We’re living in the dawn of technology and a social marketing revolution that has been forcing organizations to be ever more transparent, focused and relevant. The only way we can keep up is by putting the customer at the top of our organisation chart. When the customer is at the heart of what we are doing we can begin to see the challenges we need to meet and what outcomes we are seeking. This means that to be successful executives need to provide clear guidance on where the organisation is going but more importantly support and empower their teams, especially those that are on the front-line and engaging with customers every day.

Creating fundamental change doesn’t start with planning your team structure. Does your organization structure have dotted lines, direct lines and every other type of line? When you have dotted lines and dashed lines in a certain sequence in Morse Code, it means SOS (Save our Souls). The big challenge is that you don’t need dotted lines if you align the organization around the same customer goals. Get your planning right and the organizational structure will take care of itself.

Is your marketing plan defined by a budget in a spreadsheet?
If the first question being asked is what investment budget do you need next year, you have lost already. A plan should start with desired outcomes and then identify what resources are required to deliver on them. This then becomes a prioritization exercise based on customer needs and not a financial numbers game.

Do you take every network meeting or call?
I have an open door to everyone. You never know where the next great idea will come from. In addition, the world is changing so fast that to keep pace you have to remain connected. And always remember that someone who is willing to start a company and put everything on the line sincerely believes they have seen something that no one else has. Don’t you want to know what that is?

Does everyone complain that you have too many initiatives at the same time?
Changing people’s perceptions and priorities has to happen if you want the business to change. This means executives need to be the catalysts for change by constantly changing the status quo with initiatives that build motivation, passion and innovation. Try and test new things; some may not work perfectly but if they have contributed to how people think, what they know and what skills they have acquired, then there is still enormous benefit to be accrued.

KEY TAKEAWAY: When deciding which tuxedo or outfit to wear to the party, ask yourself whether you are prepared to stand out and be different. “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

B2B marketing: why the nature of the relationship really matters!

We are all aware that consumer expectations are increasing but a less widely talked about area is that of customers in a B2B setting. It is becoming clear to me that this area is following a similar path and that customers now expect more from the companies they engage with. The main foundation for this is context. Customers want to be engaged based on the nature of the relationship that they have with the vendor.

This has major repercussions for B2B marketing, as historically B2B marketers would run campaigns based on a specific market segment and would seek to treat customers in the same way as prospects. The overall goal being to create interest amongst an audience who are likely to have a similar set of challenges that could be addressed by your product or solution offering. But this approach doesn’t reflect any current relationship and engagement that the vendor might already have.

The answer is that B2B marketers need to consider a customer lifecycle approach where marketing campaigns and communications are adapted to the specific needs of the customer at the point of time in the relationship. This reflects a market-in approach where you start with the question “what is it that the customer needs right now and how can we help them?”

So here would be my recommendations for those wishing to test / pilot a customer lifecycle approach in a B2B environment:

Acquisition
For the customer, it is about who can help them address the critical business issues that they face. This is the area that many B2B companies do very well so I’m not going to cover it here.

On-boarding
The next stage is on-boarding. The most obvious priority for the customer is time to value. They want to embed the new offering into their business as quickly as possible and to start to reap the benefits.
Opportunity: Marketing collates data and feedback on the roll-out, organizing this in a way that helps identification of potential improvements, shares knowledge / tips & tricks on usage and also helps bring users into existing customer communities.

Serving
Once the system is up and running customers are always looking for ways to further improve performance. The market keeps changing, upgrades bring new features and other organizations using the same product find new ways to innovate and accrue more value.
Opportunity: Marketing is proactive in establishing interactions and communications that continue to build value for the client by sharing relevant knowledge and experiences around the product or products they have bought. Some companies have client success managers for this. The key though is to be proactive and to anticipate where additional value can be created rather than wait until an opportunity arises.

Up-sell
Organizations are always seeking to improve and generally there is always some form of maturity curve in place where you have industry leaders, followers and laggards. It is really important to know where your customer is at any point and also to have an appreciation of where they think they are, so you can guide them on what to consider next.
Opportunity: Marketing provides information to conduct an account review. This could be achieved through an ongoing survey or interview program. This information could be compared to the consolidated view of other companies within a specific industry, thereby determining the maturity of the customer in a specific area. This benchmarking helps to identify new opportunities. Discovery workshops and executive briefing programs can also support this.

Advocacy / Cross-sell
If an organization has successfully delivered on all of the above then you should have a potential customer advocate in play. However any advocacy or customer program has to be 2-way and ensure there is mutual value for the individual and / or company as well.
Opportunity: Marketing develops a customer program that is based on mutual value exchange and it is clear that the best way to open up cross-sell opportunities is through your current customer advocates. There has never been a harder time to gain the attention of new potential customers and internal customer referrals are like gold dust.

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So where are you now? I am very interested in knowing how companies in the B2B space are approaching this opportunity. “Times are as changing” as Bob Dylan would say and marketing needs to continue to evolve as customer expectations continue to increase.