Digitalisation and 24/7 global connectivity increases customer power and supply-side reach. As a result, markets become increasingly competitive over time and not less. Search and algorithms also reduce brands to keywords. These therefore all create pressure for change. And dealing with change requires foresight, new business and brand management skills and processes.
We often get asked to help businesses get closer to customers and to develop new marketing or brand strategies. Yet businesses plan, organise and manage in different ways. Further, marketing has not always been viewed as a management discipline. It only emerged formally as such in the 1950s (1). Marketing functions evolved from sales, and brand functions, from communications. Digital functions evolved from the need to master new information and communication technologies. Yet customers and brands are the only constant in a fast-moving digital world.
Business strategy, marketing strategy and brand strategy are different
At the outset it helps to recognise that marketing and branding are often misunderstood concepts. Customer marketing and consumer marketing are different to brand marketing. Some businesses have dedicated ‘marketing’ and ‘branding’ teams and some do not. Even when dedicated teams are in place, the functions and skill-sets tend to be very different. Marketers are rarely empowered to think strategically. While some businesses employ rigorous planning and management processes others encourage entrepreneurship. The pattern of evolution tends to follow from the past, with the pace of change, depending on the knowledge and perceptions of senior management. While, there is no ‘one-size’ solution for all there is a similar strategic planning process to work out the right solution (2) (Figure 1 – Infographic).
Clarify where the business or brand is now and in the future
Only by understanding where a business or brand is now and where a business wants to be in the future can route-maps or plans to realise goals be devised.
Understanding current business, marketing and brand strengths and weaknesses, business drivers, and creating clear, challenging, and inspiring goals is essential to the process.
The marketing discipline uniquely looks through the lens of customers and customer segments to assess issues, size market opportunities and influence demand.
By clarifying where you are now and want to be, the size of the gap, potential route-maps or strategies to bridge gaps will become clear. Potential roadblocks or issues should also become clear. So opportunities and solutions can then be developed to address key issues. If this is not possible, then new goals need setting.
Use human imagination and analysis to generate and build ideas
Work with colleagues and have confidence in human imagination to generate and build ideas (2). While some organisations may prefer an analytical approach to strategy development, and others a more creative approach, there is merit in dual ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ thinking. Left brain thinking involves assessing the pros and cons of each opportunity. Right brain thinking requires stepping away from the detail, and taking inspiration from the world around, to imagine new opportunities and strategies. In our experience no-one has a monopoly on good ideas, and employing different brains will hasten progress.
Planning from the customer, market and brand point of view can inspire those more familiar with technology-push, creative-push or financially targeted methods.
Engage colleagues to win a mandate for change
Engaging colleagues is important to fact-find, ensure understanding and reassure. It will help reveal hopes and fears and add colour to issues and opportunities. It will also help clarify what’s understood or misunderstood, and agreed or disagreed. This helps focus attention on what’s required.
By agreeing goals and collaborating, the best ideas should naturally surface to the top, and win support. Though the best solution is not necessarily the one that is 100% technically correct, especially if only 20% of stakeholders agree with it. A better solution is one that is 90% technically correct where most stakeholders agree with it. Only then will there be a mandate for change.
Remember that change is difficult and takes time
The journey to create truly customer-focused businesses and powerful brands is a long one. Therefore be pragmatic about what benefits are achievable, at what cost, and by when. Also understand the barriers to change to devise more effective strategies and plans and mitigate any risks. Figure 2 shows a product-brand continuum with benefits delivered at each stage (3).
For product, service or sales-led organisations, there are benefits in simply understanding and meeting the needs of customers. This needs structures, skills and processes to put the customer and his or her needs at the centre of thinking.
For organisations in markets where brands are emerging as a differentiator, there are benefits in understanding customer awareness and perceptions. Also using these insights to influence choice and increase purchasing. This requires structures, skills, planning and management processes to design, promote and manage brand(s), and drive demand and sales.
For digital and service organisations delivering through people, and for larger product brands, there are benefits in understanding and influencing perceptions through all brand encounters. This needs structures, skills and processes to create distinctive communications, align people activities and behaviour. Also to ensure consistent delivery through those multiple encounters.
The very largest organisations and those contemplating expansion into multiple geographic markets and categories, require more developed relationship building strategies. In addition, brand personality, structures, skills and processes to invest and manage wisely across countries and markets.
- Customer and brand marketing as a strategic business development discipline needs understanding by senior management. It also needs aligning with stakeholder’s interests, to ensure business-wide relevance and acceptance.
- Successful customer or brand-led business development requires multiple strategies, structures, skills and processes. Rarely will success follow if expectations rely on one person or activity.
- Understanding a business and brand’s current position is an essential precursor to future strategy development. Research customers to understand brand relevance in the digital world. And also avoid giving importance to unexplained information such impressions and clicks.
- As business and brand drivers continually wax and wane, stay aware of changing dynamics, and what works and doesn’t. This therefore helps better deploy your businesses’ finite resources and influence customer choice.
- Finally, use creativity to build relationships though important touch-points. Though for those new to marketing, investing in a brand may be a step too far.
- Webster Frederick E. “A Perspective on the Evolution of Marketing Management” Journal of Public Policy and Marketing Vol. 24 (1) (Spring 2005)
- Harari Yuval Noah. Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind (2014)
- Arnold Tim, Tomlinson Guy. The Marketing Director’s Handbook (2008)