Marketing is a performance art: Shafalika Saxena

Microsoft India’s CMO talks about the changing marketing landscape & how performance art can be used by marketers to create unique content & ideas

e4m by Arshiya Khullar
Updated: Mar 4, 2013 7:01 PM
Marketing is a performance art: Shafalika Saxena

Marketing is a perennially changing landscape. With the emergence of newer tools of communication and promotion, marketers are constantly grappling with how to engage and entertain the discerning consumer.

The traditional one-way communication between the brand and the consumer is also evolving to build greater conversation, engagement and interaction with the consumer. In this dynamic marketplace, the only constant, according to Shafalika Saxena, CMO, Microsoft India, is engagement. In her view, this is the age of narcissism where individual egos are bigger than the brand’s egos and everything revolves around ‘I’. Consumers no longer can be blindly fed with information; brands are now controlled by consumers, not by companies.

Marketing as an art
Kotler’s 4Ps of Marketing have also undergone a sea change. The product has become more commoditised, price has flattened, place isn’t restricted to a physical location anymore; it is now everywhere, and promotion has become desensitised. For a brand to thrive in such a milieu therefore, the focus should be on creation of a unique idea and differentiated content in line with its objective that can attract the audience’s attention. “Messaging is about influencing, not about directing. And that can be done with ideas,” said Saxena.

For a marketer, the first decision to be made at the start of any marketing campaign is often about the media mix and the different communication mediums that will be used. This, in Saxena’s view, is a wrong way to start. Rather than struggling to decide between old versus new media, brands should first develop the idea and create compelling content that touches the emotional chord of people and then move on to choose the correct medium to drive the aspired reach and frequency. “The factors that a marketers needs to consider before choosing the medium are – flair, authenticity, creating, trust, omnipresence, relevance and scalability, “opined Microsoft’s Saxena. Marketing has become an art rather than being just a business transaction.

The mathematics of marketing is also changing. In Saxena’s opinion, establishing trust and creating a relationship with the consumer has taken precedence over the objective of increasing transactions and revenues. At the same time, however, marketing is also becoming more of a rocket science with the stress of data, analytics and ROI.

Is there a need, therefore, to build a fine balance between perceiving marketing as a performance art (art that creates unique ideas and forges an emotional bond with the audience) and as a discipline being driven by data and analytics?

“Data is nothing more than a mere tool for the marketer/artist and marketing will always remain an art,” said Saxena. To create performance art masterpieces, marketers need data.

How to create performance art masterpieces?
Saxena, who has in the past, worked with brands like P&G in Germany, Pepsi and Unilever, has a rich experience in marketing. In her opinion, rather than assuming attention, brands now need to grab attention. And one of the most effective ways of using performance art as a marketing tool is by creating impactful stories. “Stories become part of a culture. They are sticky. However, one needs to tell stories that can be retold to others,” she said.

Saxena went ahead to cite examples of the variety of ways in which performance art can be used to create relationships, engage and grab audience’s attention, and make the customer remember the brand distinctly.
With its real-time effectiveness, word of mouth is one of the most common forms of performance art. According to estimates, 70 per cent of the people trust what they hear from strangers vis a viz only 14 per cent trusting brand advertising.

Performance art can be mastered by using dance as a tool. While videos such as ‘Kolaveri Di’ and ‘Gangnam Style’ were corporate led campaigns that became viral, ‘Harlem Shake’ is a perfect example of how a brand can be created from a completely grassroots level.

Social media has also become one of the most popular tools for creating engagement. Saxena gave the example of how the cookie brand, Oreo used Twitter as a marketing tool and tweeted aggressively during a blackout in one of the Super bowl games.

Then there are on-ground activations. Saxena spoke of a campaign done by beverage brand Coca-Cola during school examinations time when they set-up vending machines at different consumer touch points which would dispel Coca-Cola cans on hugging the machine. Microsoft itself for its recent ‘Windows 8’ promotional activities tied up with Bollywood actor Aamir Khan and organised interactive sessions with his fans.

The form might differ – television, print, OH, radio, digital or on-ground. But to effectively hold the attention of the audience amidst a sea of brands and marketing campaigns, marketers need to become artists first.

Shafalika Saxena shared her views on the topic ‘Marketing as a Performance Art’ at the Delhi Pitch CMO Summit, held on March 1, 2013. The Summit was presented by Colors Viacom18 in association with MEC.

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