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IMPACT Annv Spl: Ajay Kakar on mktg blunders to avoid

07-December-2011
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IMPACT Annv Spl: Ajay Kakar on mktg blunders to avoid

Statutory disclosure: I have spent nearly 15 years as part of the advertising fraternity and have worn a marketing hat for the last five-odd years. Having been on both sides, today I can pen a few first-thoughts and views, with malice to none.

A marketing person plays a critical role in the life of a company. With a finger on the customer’s pulse, at all times, his perspective is critical on all facets of business. In such a scenario, it is easily possible for a marketer to have his head in the clouds… and his feet off the ground. So I dare to list seven blunders (in no particular order) that a marketing person can (but should not) make:

Miss the big picture
a) Live life from one brief to another: Very often a marketer works from brief to brief. This may be due to his work pressures, time constraints… or just the way the company functions. Either way, this is equal to Mission Suicide. He must be a facilitator to rally the company’s leadership to determine and agree to a marketing destination (ideally for the short term and long run). Get a sign off. And (only) then set sail the marketing ship and forces towards the Promised Land, with success parameters defined and quantified. Else, to decide on a destination after having left the shores will be a waste of time, effort and monies.

b) Marketing = Brand. Brand = Advertising. Advertising = TVC. TVC = 30 seconder: It’s not just about the 30-second TVC or merely advertising. Every customer touchpoint is a potential moment of truth, where the brand promise is delivered, or denied. And therefore a marketer must lead (or at least have a say) on all such facets of communication/marketing/ business. An example - very often companies keep Corporate Communications (aka PR) away from Marketing. So you run every risk of the Marketing and Corporate Communications teams presenting the same brand to the world at large as two totally different entities, because the brand is seen by both of them through their individual filters.

c) The company is headquartered in “Bombay”, so assume that all his markets will be just a (minor) variation of all that he sees around himself. Unilever has institutionalised market visits as a way of life, irrespective of whether you are a trainee or the CEO. And some of us have never even stepped out of our offices. We all know that India is a multi-faceted country where (nearly) no two persons are alike. And still…

As ‘Chief Customer Officer’, your role is very similar to that of a politician, who should be amongst his constituents day and night, to know, understand and address their felt and unfelt needs. Pro-actively.

Believe that the agency is just an external vendor
The role of our agency partners: No one person can achieve much. And a marketer is no superhero. Our success depends heavily on the active support and contribution of our agency partners. Every one of them is worth a gold mine, if we enjoy their commitment, passion and mind space.

The role of our partners within the agency: While we may haggle and negotiate with our agencies, often leaving them at the mercy of procurement, let’s not forget the individuals who maketh the agency. If we have ‘Lord Krishna’ on our side, who is bothered about the ‘enemy’ facing us? A marketer must think beyond venting his anger and frustrations at such partners. Or treat him as a mere fair-weather friend. He must remember to share his sorrows and celebrate his joys with them. Find time to spend time with them outside the office too. Treat them as equals, as partners - and see how they will take on the world for you. Never underestimate the power of a passionate agency partner. Lastly, do not ever make the mistake of using operational shortcomings as fee negotiation excuses with the agency.

Leave everything to research
It is critical to have a finger on the pulse of the customer. And research plays a very critical role towards that end. But let’s not hide behind research for all our actions and inactions. Be bold. Be daring. Take risks. Back your gut feel. You will be surprised by the results. Just try it.

Digital is important. But let’s discuss it tomorrow
We all know that it is ‘sexy’ to talk about digital and (just) sound like a believer. But when will we wet our toes? Our customers are not going to wait for us. Beware! For all you know, he is already talking about you. And you don’t even know about it. As a first step, at least put your ears on the ‘ground’. Start listening.

And do not make the mistake of believing that digital is merely the Internet that is only accessible on the computer at home or the office. Its potential and access can be gauged by the number of mobiles/ handsets in the country. And we often forget that. The Internet growth in India is going to be on the back of the mobile. Not the computer. So while we are still thinking about the Internet, it will be in our hands. Literally.

Awards don’t matter
I am a firm believer that true awards are won in the marketplace, where the real battle is fought, when your brand and business wins the customer’s heart and wallet.

But that’s a long journey and a long battle for your brand to win. Every step forward along the journey is important. And to keep the troops motivated and believing in themselves - there is nothing like a pat on the back. And third party testimonials like industry awards (be they for creativity, media or effectiveness) work wonders while giving the team a shot in the arm for a campaign or piece of work that will move the brand forward. Do allow them to do work that they believe in. Believe me, it’s not only the agency for whom awards work like adrenaline shots. It will work magic on your team, too.

Get bored with your own work
It is important for a brand to remain contemporary for its ever-evolving consumers. However, that does not mean that we start changing our campaigns every now and then. Very often, we get bored with our own work and want to switch campaigns sooner than later. We forget that our efforts and our campaigns are targeted at customers. Not ourselves. And just when our customer is warming up to our idea, our campaign – and to our brand, we change track. And then it’s back to square one. We have to start the relationship all over again.

Ignore the power of an ‘Idea’
We spend so much time, effort and money on execution that we often forget to ask ourselves the question “what is the idea?” Or for that matter, is there any idea behind the activity or campaign.
Campaigns are forgotten. (Big) Ideas are not. If we are true to them and consistent in its execution.

The client has the right to write and change the brief
I have exercised my right as a client and gone beyond the brief. While I was asked to write about (only) seven blunders, why have I gone beyond #7?

I have taken this liberty to highlight the biggest blunder that any marketer can make – by believing that there are only seven blunders that a marketing person can be prone to.

I am sure that if a few marketers get together, we can write a book on the potential blunders we can succumb to. And if our agencies were to partner the effort, may be a few volumes may emerge.

So, until the next time IMPACT invites me to pen my thoughts on this subject, let’s just sit back and enjoy the feeling that there are only seven!

(Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer – Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group.)

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