Guest Column: Marketing turns left, gets counted!

Left-brain dominance has resulted in marketing being relevant once again, not just to customers, but to marketers as well, says Ajay Kelkar of Hansa Cequity

e4m by Ajay Kelkar
Updated: Aug 20, 2013 8:09 AM
Guest Column: Marketing turns left, gets counted!

The perception of marketing – in the eyes of most people outside the field – is limited either to advertising, or confused with selling, instead of being seen as a holistic communication process. Among marketing people, while the confusion with sales does not exist, for long, marketers held the notion that the primary role of marketing is to build brand image and visibility. If their efforts resulted in direct results, great, if not, they could not be held responsible, as the blame was put squarely on the inability of the sales force.

Naturally, this did not go down too well with the men in the corner rooms, nor the CFOs, who were unable to see direct returns on the marketing money spent. And at that time, marketing was dominated by the right-brains who used their shields of creativity, intuition, randomness.

Yet marketers did acknowledge that measurability of their efforts was their biggest challenge. They were looking for effective means of communication with their target audience, which would enable them to get direct feedback and responses from the customers. Yes, there were direct marketing initiatives that were geared towards that end, and fulfilled part of their responsibility for measurability.

But this was not enough; marketing needed to be more system, process-oriented, more rational, sequential, objective and analytical in order to pull more weight in the corporate structure. Equally responsible for the need for this shift was media fragmentation – an increasing number of media channels and content streams vying for attention of consumers, resulting in lower efficiency and higher cost of contact. This, in turn, has nudged marketers to target more efficiently, and effectively creating the need for more ‘Accountable Marketing’.

‘Not everything that counts can be counted, not everything that can be counted counts’, Einstein said this many years ago and marketers lived with the philosophy as they rarely had the data. But in earlier days, advertising was all about creativity and where could data really play a role here! But now data seems to be cutting a wider swathe and marketing seems to be in the midst of the ‘perfect storm’ with digital, mobile and content coming together to create mountains of data.

Till recently, when we spoke about data-based marketing, it always seemed to be a niche with most marketers doing it as an ‘add on’ to the big marketing jobs, consisting of advertising and promotions. Data-based marketers seemed to be these very passionate people with comparatively little impact in the bigger scheme of things. Also, data seemed to be more important in some industries, banking and telecom as against others like FMCG!

But it is interesting how this world is changing! And the changes are not only driving a larger ‘data orientation’ amongst marketers; it is also driving a fundamental change on how marketing can contribute to revenue generation.

In his book ‘How to create a mind’, technologist Ray Kurzweil estimates that a human brain can recognize 100,000 patterns. But consumers are producing massive amounts of information by the minute and our minds may just not be fast enough. ‘Big Data’ is what they call this data deluge and it has become the sexiest word in business in a very short time. But clearly Big Data is creating a discontinuity in the market place! Estimates suggest that more than a zettabyte (that’s a 1 followed by 21 zeroes) of information now circulates around the internet. Most minds will need help before they can analyse this massive stream of information, likened to drinking from a firehose!

Enter technology and addressable media. What addressability means is that targeting prevails and measurability increases, as marketers are able to communicate with customers by name, and have deeper knowledge of their behaviour.

In India, we have over 800 million mobile phone subscribers who are now addressable. As service businesses keep driving GDP, existence of customer databases will only rapidly multiply. This will cause massive changes in the kind of people marketing employs. Marketers will become ‘data scientists’ with the ability to drive analytical marketing. Harvard Business Review called the ‘data scientist’ the ‘sexiest’ job of the 21st century, and McKinsey predicts a shortfall of about 140,000 by 2018. Yet most companies are still clueless as to how they’re going to meet this shortfall.

Growth in marketing automation technology has allowed analytics to work at scale – technology with cheaper processing costs is driving huge changes in marketing. In fact, Gartner has predicted that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT that even the CIO.

At the same time, the technology that has allowed marketers to reach out to customers more effectively, has also given consumers greater control. In the West, consumers now have access to TV ad-skipping tools and web-based ad-blocking software. Watching TV with a laptop, smartphone, or tablet in hand is becoming more visible in many households. At one level, this is impacting viewership of TV and at the same time, this is great news for advertisers and programmers looking to engage viewers. Content can flow seamlessly across screens to enrich programming content and strengthen advertising messages. This needs a very different kind of thinking from marketers. And this change leads to consumer interactivity that permits marketers to engage with their audiences in two-way dialogues. All of this is leading to a huge amount of ‘personal digital exhaust’ that each of us is leaving behind. And this is creating a need for marketers to become more measurable, and analytical marketing techniques have begun to predominate.

The rise in analytical marketing and available data has also resulted in growing privacy concerns, and a call for a change in regulatory environment. This is a huge issue that marketers need to learn to grapple with. However, even concerned customers will agree that what they are tired of, is Spam, and that communication if well-directed, with the right message relevant to the individual customer, will only be appreciated, and will not be seen as a breach of privacy, as the eventual beneficiary is the customer since relevant targeting helps to retain customers.

To summarise, left brain marketing has given rise to predominance of analytical marketing strategies, skills, and processes that are centred on audience knowledge, not media. As a result, this marketing can produce the right offer to the right customer at the right time.
Imagine what kind of consumer data is being produced as marketers ramp up advertising as described above. How marketers bring all this data together into an intelligent ‘digital exchange’ and then build powerful analytical solutions over it, is going to be a large competitive advantage for companies.

Left-brain dominance has resulted in marketing itself being relevant once again, not just to customers, but to marketers as well, and with such solid evidence, who can deny that the left side can be the right side.

The author is Co-Promoter and COO, Hansa Cequity


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