Marketing…the last 5 years….and the next 5 years ….

The prime objective of a business strategy is to set the direction for the business and create its structure so that the product and services it provides its customers meet the overall business objectives. Marketing plays the critical role of understanding and managing the link between the business and the every changing business environment, and enables the business strategy to meet its stated objectives.

Marketing has evolved over the past 5-10 years, keeping pace with the changing consumer profiles which have been impacted by global events. Customer’s preferences and profiles have changed not only in the developed markets, but also in the emerging, under developed markets. This change has been facilitated by diffusion of technology, which permeates our daily lives. Most notably, mobile communications and the internet have led to disruptive socio-economic changes in global markets, followed by disruptive innovations in marketing by leading brand owners, who were quick to realize the changes impacting the markets they served and leveraged the change as a profitable business opportunity.

The tenets of marketing, as depicted in the marketing framework (Solutions Insights Inc.) remain universally constant and relevant. Subtle variations in application are likely, based on the maturity of the market and the nature of the business to which they are applied. For example in a mature market like the US, where services contribute heavily to the GDP, the specific elements of the framework that help the marketer deliver value to the CLIENT will be key. On the other hand in a developing market like India, where products and not services contributed most to the GDP, elements of the framework that enable the marketer to deliver value to the CUSTOMER will be important. A simple example is the comparison of the markets of the US and India with reference to the marketing framework; it reveals that while the concept of relationship management (Fourth Pillar) is key to the success of any marketing strategy in the US, in India, this important element of the framework is in its early stages of infancy, with marketers waking up to its potential strategic leverage, now.

What has also changed in the past 5-10 years is that, brand owners have realized that the gains in marketing services are far higher than marketing products. Marketers have assessed that “service”, an intangible value offer, provides the necessary leverage of putting a pricing premium and thus driving revenue and profits of the marketing mix strategy. Therefore, product driven companies have strived to “envelop” their product offer with a service element as a “bundle” to derive maximum consumer value, while creating consumer delight.

A prime example would be the blackberry handsets, targeted primarily at the business executive, which offered mobile devices, primarily for email access and telephony. RIM upped the ante by launching its BBM (Blackberry Messenger) service on its secure Blackberry platform and operating within its Blackberry eco-system. This proved to be a key differentiator between the Blackberry and other smart phone devices that did not offer this service. Adoption of the Blackberry as the mobile device of choice within the business community was quick because of this service feature that was introduced by RIM exclusively on their devices. Mobile operators were quick to cash in on the USP of the service and in an extremely value conscious market like India offered special packages built around “only BBM Service”.

However, this very example is also a reminder to marketers to eschew complacency and to continue to ideate and build upon one good idea. The RIM marketing team was very slow to realize the social connectivity potential of its BBM service, and was late in the market with its BBM Music service, delayed its photo sharing functionality in the service and could not articulate the collaboration capabilities of the BBM service. It thus lost its first mover advantage which is a lesson to all marketers.

Over the past 5-10 years, social media has evolved from a pure social play to a distinct medium for advertisers and marketers to leverage and reach out to their target customers. This trend has been observed globally and has wiped out the boundaries between the developed economies of the west and the developing economies of the emerging world. The social media, driven by the increasing penetration of the internet has been a game changer for the marketer. Using technology and tools at the backend, the marketer has been able to track the effectiveness of every US dollar spent on his marketing efforts on social media platforms. ROI can now be confidently tied to marketing budgets, and a new industry vertical has been created that is focused solely on providing the necessary tools to the online marketer to analyze data in real time and come up with logical business conclusions.

The role of the modern marketer has also evolved from just an analyzer of data generated by the field sale force, to a tech savvy resource, who analyzes online consumer centric data, generated daily, in real time, and is able to connect the field data with the results obtained from the online community. He now needs to have the capability to utilize the learning from these two distinct data sources, and use that intelligence creatively to create a marketing strategy that effectively supports the business strategy. The role of the marketer will continue to evolve as the markets and the consumers evolve with the expected socio-economic changes in the world order in years to come.

Over the next 5 years, I believe that marketing function will begin to have greater credibility and will firmly establish itself as the main driver of business strategy. The foundations of this change are being laid right now, with clear emphasis on analytics and data driven marketing strategies.

Tools and technologies are enabling contemporary marketers to connect ROI, Sales revenues, foot falls, intent to purchase, actual purchase etc directly to their marketing expenditures and thereby to the marketing strategy. No more will marketing be seen as a “soft” function, where marketing budgets are expenditures and not investments. Data collation and collection using mobile enabled technologies and applications will be commonplace in the field (Survey Monkey). This field data, along with data collected from digital marketing initiatives will be analyzed by tools to guide the marketing team to make informed decisions and succeed in the markets of the future. Big data analysis capability will be a competitive edge for the successful marketer of the future. Big data and analytics will drive marketing in the future.

With the advent and rapid evolution of the digital space, the marketer will need to possess digital marketing skills. In order to build an effective digital marketing team, he will have to identify tech savvy netizens who live and breathe the internet and can connect with the online community and engage with them to develop critical consumer insights on the online community.

The attention span of the consumer is short, and more likely to get even shorter as more competitors vie for your target consumer- this will necessitate that creative ideas are converted to compelling communication, in as short a time as possible, and then immediately delivered to the intended target audience in a well planned and coordinated , integrated marketing communication program. Marketers will have to be mindful of consumer fatigue with repetitive ads and communication, and in order to overcome this challenge, the marketer will need to create a rich funnel of creative ideas, which can be pulled out at the right time to be quickly produced into an attractive communication package and served to the audience. This will need to be an ongoing process and an integral part of the marketing strategy.

Product marketing companies and their CMOs will have to continue to strive to envelop their product with a service offer to derive maximum revenues. CMOs in product marketing companies will need to ideate on what elements of a service can be offered as a bundle to their consumer that will create customer delight as well as ensure brand loyalty.

Marketers will also have to build a business that goes beyond the offer. This will be a reality in the future where consumers will develop affinity to brands based on their perception of what the brand stands for, above and beyond the perceived obvious emotional and economic benefits. Consumers will be influenced by issues like the environment, social inclusion, sustainable living and other ideals that they hold close to their heart when making buying decisions and brands that are able to align with some of these issues are likely to succeed in the long run.

Product and process innovations, driven by marketing thought leadership will continue to be game changers in an increasingly competitive market place. Marketers, capable of driving and managing innovation will be successful in charting long term careers. Marketing professionals in the marketing functions will need to develop innovation management skills in order to lead their business teams in the future. Marketing will play a critical role in advising R&D and product /service developments teams to come up with innovative solutions that address challenges that they have identified through incisive consumer insights. Marketing will also provide thought leadership to operations to innovate processes that will not only save costs for the company, but will enable a richer consumer experience and create customer delight.

The BoP (Bottom of the Pyramid) markets are becoming increasingly relevant and they will continue to be in the future. Marketing will have to develop far greater consumer insights on these markets and ideate on how diffusion of mobile communication can be used to connect with these consumers. Marketing will have to build teams that comprise resources who have experience and insights on these markets and are able to articulate customized marketing strategies to understand and exploit these markets to their full potential.

Most important, marketing in the future will need to be very responsive to rapid changes in the market place and to identify the best ideas, in the shortest possible time and get these ideas to their consumers with the most cost effective go-to-market strategy.

Solutions marketing as opposed to product or service marketing will be the key competitive and comparative edge and will have long term positive ramifications to those marketing programs that embrace it now and build on it as the core of the marketing strategy.

The solutions insight marketing framework will be the reference guide that will help marketing teams to develop compelling marketing strategy and effective marketing programs. The marketing framework will be a living document that will need to adapt and evolve with the changes taking place in global markets.

The consumer will continue to be king and all marketing strategies will essentially revolve around understanding the consumer, identifying his specific need, customizing a solution to meet his need, creating consumer delight through a service offer with the solution, and creating compelling consumer engagement programs to maximize returns from a satisfied consumer over the life of the consumers association with your brand and your offer.