Time for marketing to look at what is right, necessary and effective

By Gau Narayanan

July 30, 2021 | 5 min read

Gautham Narayanan, the managing director for Wieden + Kennedy India, makes a case for marketing to build a data-driven framework for itself, which would change how it is looked at and help in understanding its impact better.


Marketing has to recalibrate itself to remain relevant

Marketing constantly searches for the new. We see trends every New Year, we search new routes to market, new technologies, and new ways to find, engage and serve content on emerging platforms. It is what our industry is famed for – it excites our people, keeps businesses one step ahead and helps us solve problems in ways that have not been done before.

However, in the chase for the new, have we lost sight of what is right, what is necessary and what is effective?

Is it time for the marketing and agency community to understand what works, why it works, and how we can better our chance of being in the 16% of marketing that is effective? (A study of 143 TV ads by the Ehrenberg Bass Institute found that only 16% of advertising is both recalled and correctly attributed to the brand.) So what can marketers do to make marketing more meaningful and relevant?

Understand how brands grow and marketing actually works

A lot has been written on the importance of driving penetration and not chasing frequency alone, but how much of this important principle is understood? Without a really clear understanding of this, a lot of time, human capital, energy and money is wasted chasing the low-hanging fruit that makes up our loyalists. The data shows this is not the most efficient way to grow your business.

The important questions to then be asked: are we clear on the penetration and frequency patterns of our buyers? Are we continually targeting light buyers and topping up our leaky bucket? And are we trying to drive incremental reach across channels and platforms?

Acknowledge that we’re feeling creatures who think

We, contrary to Descartes, do not subscribe to the notion of homo economicus, and do not always make decisions in a logical, sequential way. Actually, we’re cognitive misers who are governed by an intuitive, fast, automatic, always-on, emotional, stereotypical decision-making process, known as System 1 (as observed by Daniel Kahneman).

Antonio DaMasio, a neuroscientist, discovered that decisions and behavior are triggered by emotions and we eventually just choose what feels right. The difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to actions, while reason leads to conclusions.

So, our job as marketers should be to elicit emotion in our audience rather than just persuade. We need to move people because by doing so our marketing enters their memory and governs their decisions. Advertising that drives an emotional response works better in the long-term, is better at driving penetration gains and market share gains, reduces price sensitivity and tends to be more profitable. The job of the marketer is to create marketing that moves people and makes them feel something.

Drive the balance between sales activation and brand building

The challenge for marketers is to find the right balance between sales activation (immediate, sales-driving, tightly targeted) and brand building, which is made more difficult by the fact that each works in different ways and over different timescales. Activation effects are easier to measure, as they are immediate and direct, however they tend to decay away quickly and don’t tend to build much over time. Brand effects are harder to measure because they are smaller, and there is usually no direct link to immediate sales. But brand effects decay away more slowly, and so repeated exposures can cause the base level of sales to rise. In the long run, the data shows that brand effects are the main driver of growth, but each has its role.

The key is to know the split between long-term brand building and short-term sales activation marketing activity and look at this holistically rather than through the (marketing-created) silos of channel and platform.

Marketing has to apply its creativity better but also remember not to apply it slavishly according to the aggregated, averaged, FMCG-centric and often Western data sets. It is time for marketing to not only innovate and find new ways to sell, but also adopt some governing principles within which we should be pointing our creativity. And it is time to make a more empirical case for marketing in the C-Suite as a creator of demand and sales, rather than a cost center.

Gautham Narayanan is the managing director of Wieden + Kennedy India.


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