What we have to say on effective marketing.

2011: Time for a Marketing Makeover

As companies tackle the prospect of a new year which is shaping up to be as challenging as the last one, marketing will most likely not be appearing near the top of boardroom agendas.

At least not here, in South Africa. A quick peek at companies in Europe and the US will reveal a very different approach, where tremendous value is attached to marketing campaigns. These developed markets have long since embraced a marketing-driven culture, closely linking their brand messages to their general business strategy. The benefits are consistently reflected in annual reports, making it easy for shareholders to recognise the impact of marketing on the bottom line. So why do we continue to underestimate and undervalue marketing?

One reason is the reluctance of business leaders to let go of the old ways of doing business, which necessitates placing marketing somewhere near the bottom of the operational hierarchy. Marketing practitioners tend to work in isolation from the rest of the company, with budgets that are the first to be cut in hard times. When profits go up, praise is given to the management team, but when they go down, the Marketing Director is often placed in the firing line.

A Change of Channel, A Change of Tune

What many companies have failed to acknowledge is that the old ways don't work anymore. The consumer landscape has changed dramatically over the past few years, requiring an equally dramatic change in the way companies communicate to their target markets. Consumers are more informed than ever, with a world of information at their fingertips. Their decisions are increasingly based on whether brand philosophies are in alignment with their own. They demand transparency and accountability, and need to feel connected to a brand before buying into it.

In this new consumer-driven world, the old marketing methods have become obsolete and unsustainable. Companies need to become proactive and highly responsive to their audience - basing their strategies on constant and meaningful interaction with consumers. The only way to effectively do this is by attaching greater importance (and funds) to marketing. In short, the future belongs to companies who embrace a marketing-driven approach to doing business. 

So what does this kind of approach entail?

Reshuffling the Company Hierarchy

Firstly, it requires buy-in from the entire company - from senior management to the financial wizards crunching the numbers. Everyone needs to get onto the same page and approach marketing as one of the primary engines of growth. Consequently, the entire business strategy will undergo a makeover. It will become a fluid and dynamic strategy based on long-term goals and the moods of the market. And in order to be responsive and attune to consumer needs, the business plan will have built in flexibility - with the additional benefit of allowing the company to anticipate what the competition does and react accordingly. Marketing decisions will thus be firmly based on an intimate knowledge of the consumer (what some in the industry term 'marketing intelligence'). 

As a result, insight into both consumers and competitors will become closely linked to business results. In essence, this insight will drive strategy and tactical planning, with success depending on the quality of the final execution. (Naturally, execution will depend upon the quality of the marketing team - which will become one of the company's most valuable assets. In fact, marketing directors should ultimately become board members, with direct and frequent access to CEOs, CFOs and shareholders). To justify marketing spend, metrics must be established to calculate the exact value of brand-building campaigns and their impact on the bottom line. 

Anticipation Vs Reaction

Instead of reacting to the market like they're used to, companies must now learn to anticipate consumer needs and market changes. The new marketing-driven approach is based to a large extent on a company's ability to foresee today what their consumers will be looking for tomorrow. Marketing activities will thus be concentrated on strategic opportunities and emerging trends rather than current patterns and outdated information. 

Take the Risk, Reap the Reward

We've all been told that the world belongs to those who take risks, and in marketing, the same applies. Companies which base their strategies on proactive, risk-taking and original methods consistently outshine those which rely on the traditional and 'safe' approach. 

In South Africa, the old approach to marketing still prevails. But for those who are prepared to embrace change and take up the challenge, the benefits of adopting a marketing-driven business culture are enormous...and have the potential to truly transform a company.


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