Market dynamics have become increasingly competitive. For many brands, the only real certainty is further uncertainty. This makes for challenging times in many marketing departments. The last decade has witnessed substantial changes in marketing that require brand stewards charged with growing brands to reevaluate their roles. It’s a constant battle between setting the brand up for long-term success and effectively promoting it in the short term.
Finding the right formula demands that marketers be agile. They must be clear in identifying when and how they can add the greatest value to the brands they’re responsible for. To help their brands expand, marketers need to determine new areas of relevance with their target audience. But they should also preserve the brand’s long-standing, overarching promise to consumers.
Here are 10 approaches that help agile marketers understand when to push and when to let go.
1. Know the value of a great idea
In a digitally charged world, ideas—now more than ever—are of infinite appeal. And at the center of any robust brand position is one compelling central idea. Nike has used “winning” as the single-minded focus behind its brand for years. While its campaigns may have taglines like “I can do that,” “You don’t win silver; you lose gold,” or “Just do it,” the idea behind these campaigns is “winning.” When it comes to marketing, if you get the main idea wrong at the outset, no amount of advertising or social media will mask its frailty. Less is always more when positioning a brand, so be clear on the core idea behind your brand before draining your marketing budget on tactical media initiatives.
2. Be decisive
One of the biggest challenges that marketers face is having too many options, not too few. In a climate of “innovation pipelines,” “stage gates,” “scenario plans,” and “programmatic media,” it’s easy to adopt a myopic focus or get carried away with a vast array of options. Agile marketers know when to flex, but they also know when to be the steady hand on the tiller of their brand’s future. As you make decisions, remember that you know your brand better than anyone else in the organization—stay true to your brand’s ethos. If you can do that, you will ensure unnecessary distractions remain just that—unnecessary.
3. Adapt, or get left behind
Everything has to adapt; it’s the root of long-term survival. But change is rapid. Savvy brand custodians understand the importance of remaining true to what makes their brand great, while also adapting to ever-evolving market dynamics. Brands like Netflix and Kodak powerfully exemplify the importance of adaptation. As a content generator and video streaming behemoth, it’s hard to imagine that Netflix was once a DVD rental brand. Meanwhile Kodak, which was slow to evolve, is still trying to recover from its failure to quickly adapt to digital technology.
4. Choose emotion over function
Patents, licenses, and trademarks exist for many functional products and services. For everything else, there is emotion. The marketer’s dream is to have a brand proposition that creates an allure that cannot be articulated. In other words, the case of “I don’t know why, but I just want it.” Creating this magnetism is not solely a preserve of the luxury goods and services category—it also impacts regular day-to-day items. Just consider Pfizer and its Viagra product. When Pfizer’s patent on Viagra expired, the brand needed to stand up (so to speak) against its competitors by creating a compelling brand identity. In the end, emotions drive action, and Viagra’s effective and relatable brand helped drive demand for its brand.
5. Engage your target audience regularly
A marketing director I once worked with constantly encouraged her team to find different ways to get to work. If you drove a car, she would suggest you try public transportation. If you normally took public transportation, she would encourage you to take a different route. The reason behind this was simple. We’re all creatures of habit, and consciously or unconsciously we slip into norms that dull our senses to what’s going on around us. Good marketers continually search for new ways for their brands to engage consumers. Get out of your comfort zone, interact with your target audience and you might just be surprised at what you find.
It’s surprisingly easy to slip into the habit of speaking up for your brand, and while such advocacy is critical, listening is just as important. Much of marketing is driven by observation and anecdote. Slow down and hear what’s going on around you. With listening comes presence, and with presence comes focus. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in direct proportion.
Innovate, renovate, or maintain—those tend to be the options. Innovation is the favored solution because it enables two things: incremental streams of revenue and higher premiums. There is always risk when undertaking product or service innovation, so be clear on why you’re innovating—and don’t seek perfection. There’s just not enough space for perfectionism in a world of rapid innovation. While innovation is the lifeblood of many marketing departments, remember that if you have a new idea for a category, chances are your competitor has too. Be first, be confident, and adapt along the way.
8. Know the difference between observation and insight
“Observations” are too often misrepresented as “insights.” Of course observation has a role to play when positioning a brand, but insight drives genuine innovation and impactful thinking. Insights are slippery creatures and take on many different definitions. My favorite comes from an old colleague who described an insight as “an acute revelation that fuses market opportunity with human need.” When looking for insights, first look for the tension. Strong tension informs good insight. And good insight drives better outputs.
9. Tell a good story
Regardless of the medium, stories continue to be a highly effective way of engaging audiences. Stories exert a strong, almost magical hold over the human psyche. They enchant us, they transport us, they can even change our behavior. As a result, it’s unsurprising that great brands tend to have great stories to tell.
Agile marketers understand the power of stories and use them to enhance consumers’ emotional connection with brands. Consider Apple, which created a wonderfully cheeky story about its laptops when it explained its product features through the lens of “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC.” Agile marketers know that brands are living beings, and that as they progress, new points of relevance can, and should, be added to their narrative.
10. Inspire others
True inspiration is a rare commodity, and its value is immeasurable. So, agile marketers embrace a two-pronged approach to it. Their primary focus will always be internal. Don’t underestimate just how much inspiration is required to get an idea off the ground with your colleagues. If you can get it through the wire internally, be prepared to invest just as much inspiration taking it to your customers. Forget the data, forget the rationale—it takes vision to inspire. Know your market, know your customer, and use it to excite people about your product or service.
This piece was first published in Marketing Asia (April 2018). Republished with permission.