Fair Exchange: Riding the rollercoaster that is marketing
by Erna George (@) Marketing has never been a straightforward role. I remember being in high school and, in answer to the question “Why marketing?” I suggested as a start, “I love ads that make a difference.” I remember the irritated marketer sitting across the desk stopping me, saying that if I think that is what marketing is about, I would be sorely disappointed and should get my maths, management and multi-skilling act together.
While there are many specialisation areas within marketing, for the most part, brand-manager roles at their core require strong ‘general management skills’ to deliver a profitable mix, in addition to maintaining a strong connection to the external world to understand consumer needs and behaviours. Balancing these has become more challenging in this complex time – making shareholders, and internal and external stakeholders, as well as your consumers, happy is an active performance that requires excellence at basics and innovative approaches.
Time never stops
Why am I rambling on about this? I submitted this article VERY late as over the past six weeks I have been focused upon finalising the marketing contribution to the next horizon business strategy and translating this into brand plans. At the same time, business, as usual, did not come to a halt, adding to the pressure of ad-hoc projects and the required growth over the quarter. To deliver this, you have to develop a keen view on past performance and its drivers, as well as a view on growth opportunities based upon consumer demand in order to finalise a distinct approach to win in market. Many have access to similar data; it is the thinking time given to applying this data that unlocks potential. Prioritising this future potential while still delivering current launches, run-outs on discontinued items, pack changes for some nutritional update, managing consumer complaints on low stocks of their favourite product and just getting the monthly budget done can be a nightmare!
I’m am not afraid of working hard but time doesn’t stand still and often I am terrified of what I am not getting to. In order to manage (not simply juggle) all the balls in the air requires a strong commitment to the objectives. The balance must come in judging which areas require 80% effort and which require more. Get it over your heart that, in some things or at some time, good enough is enough; this is tough to deal with (especially for those Type A personalities – and, yes, I am one.
In my opinion, if you’ve spent enough time developing a strong strategy at the outset (with some checkpoints to stress test it every now and then), then you must get on with delivering against this. A strong foundation and solid strategy may be applied across most channel or new approaches. Re-questioning strategy on a regular basis is destructive. While not being relevant is a sure-fire way to lose market share, being desperate is, in my view, the most-reliable method to kill a brand over time. Fixing relevance is manageable; resurrecting brands, not so easy. Marketing teams with strong problem-solving and lateral-thinking skills — key skills — will allow for flexibility to respond with greater precision. With this team in place, focus upon delivering your strategy in full before haphazardly darting from pillar to post.
Prioritising focus areas
This challenge of being distracted by a shiny new toy or trend may impact internal and customer perceptions. A competitor’s new campaign or product launch via a ground-breaking new channel could drive frustration or panic when seen by the CEO or head of sales, causing a flurry of questioning emails. Managing these internal concerns and points of view from multiple stakeholders (aka internal politics) are yet other key areas marketing must manage to maintain focus. While we must stay open to new possibilities and continuous learning, prioritising focus areas is vital, given limited resources: time, people and funds.
These limited resources, driven by our current economic reality, means that teams are leaner than before as businesses have to manage costs. Budgets are more pragmatic, yet the growth targets are not as modest. The pressure to deliver short- and long-term growth will not dissipate. Balancing a long-term view with the ‘craziness’ of daily shifts and business as usual, given nothing happens in an iterative way, may feel like chaos. And we all know that the consequence of trying to juggle too much at once is the likelihood of dropping one or two balls.
Therefore, we have to make choices to manage and create the focus for success. Sometimes, the choices will be less than optimal but, if you are in tune with the market and keep the brand roots and strategy at the core, you are likely to be mostly right.
How to stay on track
To stay on track and avoid or manage the distractions
- Prioritise the long-term and spend enough brain space on strategy development sessions, as this is your foundation
- Be brilliant at the basics such as project management, and have brilliant agency partners to provide support
- Keep focused upon the objective but be open to possibilities on the execution, as that which worked once may not work again
And don’t be too hard on yourself. Then take a deep breath and keep going; the rollercoaster is not slowing down.
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.