Elementary, my dear Watson

Elementary, my dear Watson

JOHN WANAMAKER, pioneer of department stores in the US, once confessed that he knew that only half his advertising works; the problem was, he didn’t know which half. But today’s marketers cannot afford to makes such a confession. With marketing accountability becoming the motto of the top management, companies are increasingly looking for return on every marketing rupee spent. Developing effective marketing programmes is now the most important objective of marketing practitioners. But what exactly does the term marketing effectiveness imply?

Marketing is what marketing does

In Economics, we are taught that money has no inherent value. It is simply some printed paper or some numbers in the account books, unlike air, water and other basic necessities, which are indispensable to life. The value of money lies in the function of serving as a medium of exchange. Money, then, is what money does.

Twist this statement a bit – replace money with marketing and you get another universal truth: Marketing is what marketing does. Marketing tactics (including advertising, sales promotions, product development and brand management) are useless, unless they serve the purpose for which they were designed. That purpose, the endpoint of all marketing, is sales. No matter how brilliant your marketing strategy, if it does not ultimately result in sales, then it has failed.

EFFIEs and effectiveness

The New York American Marketing Association introduced the EFFIE Awards in 1968. Every year, EFFIE awards are given away to the most effective advertising campaign of the year in the respective country. Winning an EFFIE is about meeting a challenge and succeeding. In the words of a recent winner, “Effective advertising is advertising that sells; advertising that builds market share. The EFFIE award is the symbol of effective advertising and a tribute to the client and agency partnership that strives to create it.”

Of course, there are no absolutes in the world of marketing, no formula for marketing effectiveness. Every marketing challenge is unique and requires a distinctive approach. Having said that, there are certain best practices in marketing that have stood the test of time. These practices have a few factors in common, all of which are inter-connected and must be considered carefully before embarking upon any marketing programme. Surprisingly, these factors lead us back to the basics. So let’s re-visit these basic principles.

Essential Ingredients of a Successful Marketing Campaign

CONSUMER INSIGHT tops the charts. Every sensible marketer knows the importance of relevant consumer insight. The consumer is the king around whom the world of marketing revolves. And that makes consumer insight the single most important factor that shapes a successful marketing campaign.

According to Sunil Lulla, “Consumer insight is crucial if you want to be effective in your marketing efforts. Post that it’s the ideas and the execution that make all the difference. For instance, Sony Entertainment Television’s marketing campaign for ‘Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin’ was truly differentiated and innovative and was driven by a very strong consumer insight – that people tend to judge others by the way they look. Hence we launched a campaign, which never revealed the protagonist but only built her attributes and character.”

Lynn DeSouza adds: “I believe it’s hitting on the right consumer insight, which is an outcome of good planning and knowledge of consumer behaviour. Touching the right chord in the consumer’s mind and/or heart can actually lead to faster results requiring lower investments and ad budgets. The anti-FD campaign of Franklin Templeton is a great example of a hardworking consumer insight translated into interesting creative execution that required much lower ad spends than competitors to win great results for the company.”

But consumer insight alone is a necessary, and not a sufficient, condition. Rohit Srivastava says, “Consumer insights are interesting because they can often define the opportunity or create a strong leverage for marketing the brand; not as an end in themselves. However, a competitive leverage for an effective marketing program could come from other sources as well, such as a price or distribution advantage, a product edge or a service differentiator.”

THOROUGH PLANNING plays an instrumental role in the success of every marketing effort. Planning enables marketers to get a complete picture of where they stand, where they want to go, and the paths available to them to reach there. Planning helps obtain relevant data relating to consumer preferences, market and competitor activities, economic trends and prospects and other such information that is necessary to make informed decisions with respect to available options.

Srivastava says, “Planning to me is a very broad word and to that extent it will always be the key force behind marketing effectiveness. That’s because the world is too tough, too competitive for great results to be achieved as a matter of chance or luck. On the latter I always remember what one of the golfers is credited with saying: “the harder I practice, the luckier I get!”

Yet, if the basic assumptions about the market (and the consumer) are erroneous, the plan will fail. Consumer preferences are ever-changing and therefore, it is important to capture the pulse of the market in order to minimise the risk of failure. Here, focus helps.

FOCUS is a corollary of planning. It implies having clearly defined marketing goals and the strategies to reach those goals. Without focussed strategies, marketing efforts tend to become fragmented and the outcome is diluted. So does one bring focus into one’s marketing effort? Pranesh Misra answers, “Campaigns that follow the ‘Be clear – then clever’ principle tend to be more effective. Campaigns have to be clear about some critical issues: who is the key competitor, who is the core consumer, what is the key communication challenge, what is the insight driving the brief, and why the consumer should believe it. Being clear means having only one answer for each of these questions and not multiple ones. More that one answer means that the brief is not focussed.” Focussed inquiry will lead to identification of tasks at hand.

IDENTIFICATION entails discovering, and defining clearly, your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, weigh it against market opportunity and the competitive and economic threats, and finally develop possible strategies to exploit the opportunity and avoid the threats. Srivastava explains this comprehensively, “Within the broad ambit of planning, I look for one or more of the following, which are good drivers of marketing effectiveness:

1. Sharp diagnosis of what’s ailing the brand or the category. This is where most organisations falter. They are either blind to the core issue or too scared to face it. If the diagnosis is clear, it does not take rocket science to figure out what needs to be done to drive the desired results.

2. Sound understanding of the opportunity. Again as someone said, just because there is a gap in the market, does not mean there is a market in the gap! If the opportunity is genuine, large enough and well-defined, it significantly raises the odds that the brand will be effective in the marketplace.

3. A grasp of what it will take to exploit this opportunity. Marketing is a game of leverage; does your strategy give you enough leverage? A big leverage means you can move the market with disproportionately lower investments, at least relatively speaking.”

SUSTENANCE AND PERSEVERANCE are essential for a marketing programme to achieve lasting results. It is said that perseverance and failure cannot coexist. Failure happens when you quit. Planning, insights and focus will lead you nowhere, if the marketing activity is not sustained over a period of time. Srivastava says, “All of these can come to naught if they remain on paper or a PowerPoint slide. Marketing effectiveness calls for a sustained activation of the game plan.”

TIMING often deceives even savvy marketers. A strategy or a tactic that has worked yesterday, may not work today. At one time, the Onida Devil worked wonders for the brand. But after a few years of uninterrupted presence, the magic of the devil began to fade – the devil had outlived his utility. So campaigns are time-sensitive. The problem is that it is often difficult to discard a once-successful campaign because it has either lost its relevance or it has lost its charisma. Again, to recognise that a campaign will not work anymore is easier said than done. Marketers must develop a keen perception of the market mood, trends and patterns. That allows them to be open to change and flexibility. (Incidentally, Onida has recently brought back the devil in a new avatar. What it does to Onida’s fortunes remains to be seen.)

FLEXIBILTY really comes from acknowledging that marketing is a social activity that depends on many societal factors. Change is in the nature of all human beings. Everything changes over time – consumer’s preferences, buying behaviour and spending habits. Good marketers have a built-in contingency plan in the marketing programme to deal with any unpredictable or unseen changes in the marketplace.

PASSION of those working on the campaign may not be recognised as a necessary element of marketing programme; nevertheless, the lack of it can lead to a lacklustre campaign. Passion is required to come up with creative and original ideas that work. Passion is required to intuitively understand the ever-changing marketplace. If insight, analysis, planning and focus are the blood, passion is the oxygen of marketing. Srivastava says, “Marketing programmes need to be driven with the passion and zeal of a crusader. They must be created by, and in turn create, believers of the brand. This calls for honesty, commitment, passion and a relentless pursuit of the cause – the consumer’s cause.”

When we falter…

So what happens when we lose track of these basic principles? Let’s consider an example of a failed marketing campaign. The Maruti Versa launch campaign unleashed last year, failed, in spite of Amitabh Bachchan endorsing the brand. The big B factor worked to the extent that it brought prospective consumers to the showroom. But the product disappointed them. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with the product or with AB’s endorsement of the brand; it was the positioning that went wrong. Because of AB’s presence, the consumers expected a larger-than-life kind of a product. But what they saw was a small wagon-type family car – there was a mismatch between product expectation and delivery. “The inability to grasp the real communication challenge is at the core of all failures,” says Misra. In this case, the communication challenge was finally met, when Maruti launched another campaign, this time showcasing it as the family.

What happens when we fail to obtain consumer insight? Lulla believes that when the campaign is not based on insight, it will not resonate with the consumer. “You may have a great looking campaign that may grab attention but might not achieve much after. It is not just about getting noticed; it is about being effective and creating the desired impact.” Srivastava adds, “Most brands in most categories settle into a state of mediocrity with no real differentiators and no genuine effort to create them. There is helplessness and far too ready an acceptance of the status quo, resulting in an over reliance on ‘an advertising idea’ to pull the brand through. Even this, where the brands have one, is confined in its expression to a typical mass media campaign. There is little follow through, poor support and negligible activation programmes that drive the idea and take it forward. In some cases, the idea itself is sacrificed with a premature change of the campaign; driven by a change of the marketing team or the agency.”

A few years ago, after the tremendous success of CeaseFire fire portable extinguishers, the company (Real Value) launched another innovative product – vacuumised containers. The product bombed, in spite of bigger ad spends and massive advertising on TV. There was no real demand of the product in the Indian market. Lack of planning causes marketing’s effectiveness to diminish. This happens because without proper planning, there is no way to determine deviations from the path and consequently no way to take corrective action if/when it is required. “One of the key reasons of ineffectiveness of marketing is inadequate homework – about the consumer, the way she or he is changing, and about one’s competitors and their strategies,” says DeSouza. Indeed, for look at what inadequate homework did to one oil company in Australia, which spent three million dollars on a TV advertising campaign only to find that 60 per cent of the target audience thought the ad was from the competitor. So in effect the company spent three million on advertising for their competitor. Proper planning might have prevented this unfortunate loss.

Wrapping up

A marketing campaign, however glamorous or expensive, does not yield the desired results, then it not marketing at all. We have all seen some heavily criticised marketing efforts yielding good results for the brand (Dandi Salt). We also know about high-profile and much-written-about marketing campaigns that have failed to push up brand sales (HomeTrade.com). In the end, the measure of marketing effectiveness lies in brand sales. Nothing else counts.

And effective marketing, as we have discussed above, is a process of planning and executing strategies with clearly defined goals, in a sustained and flexible manner, using relevant consumer insight. Provided that we stick to these basic principles, and do not lose sight of the ultimate objective of increasing sales, we will succeed in our goal of attracting, retaining or converting consumers. As Sherlock Holmes would say to his friend and confidante: “Elementary”.

The author expresses his thanks to the following experts for their views:

  • Pranesh Misra, President and Chief Operating Officer, Lowe India
  • Lynn DeSouza, Director of Media Services, Lintas India Group
  • Sunil Lulla, Executive Vice President, Sony Entertainment Television
  • Rohit Srivastava, National Planning Director, Contract Advertising

3 Replies to “Elementary, my dear Watson”

  1. They say, an HR manager is very often referred to as the Jack Of All, King of None. “Elements of an Effective Marketing Campaign”, truly has given me an insight into the mystery behind the magic. A definite Stepping stone from a Jack to a King!

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