January 08, 2021
We, marketers, love buzzwords and trying not to use one to convey just how unusual these times are is a tall order but worth trying. Amidst the dichotomy of a boom in the capital markets on the one hand, and economic distress for millions of underserved communities on the other, the purpose of businesses and their brands are now centre stage. And with the pandemic having accelerated digital adoption across media consumption and commerce by orders of magnitude, a "digital divide" has become apparent, especially across emerging markets.
How can CMOs create differentiation and relevance amidst this unravelling of the normal?
Virtue signaling amidst increasing activism
The public discourse on social issues despite the misgivings of misinformation and polarization is the most vibrant it has been in human history. "Black Lives Matter" for example, continues to be a phenomenon and is way more than a hashtag on social platforms. Certain brands that were quick to attempt leverage discovered that this requires way more than some clever and quickly executed creatives. Diversity and inclusion policies were called into question, turning the efforts counterproductive for those brands. Empathy must, therefore, be authentic. And as custodians of brands, we have a responsibility to collaborate with every aspect of our businesses in driving real change before we can meaningfully participate in social discourses our consumers most care about. Our employees can be incredible assets as ambassadors and change agents during this transition. "Tokenism" or messaging that may not resonate with how our brands are genuinely experienced, and not merely perceived, by all our stakeholders is passé.
Choosing our algorithms
Technology is making the world converge and diverge simultaneously, and at scale. On the one hand, acceleration in the deployment of artificial intelligence, mixed reality, 5-G enabled IoT or internet-of-things will lead to a convergence in the traditional online and offline experiences. A platform-driven ecosystem coupled with an increased sensitivity around privacy, will drive divergent consumer behaviour on the other. According to Professor Scott Galloway at NYU Stern, "Advertising is the tax the poor and the digitally uninitiated pay to consume content." The rise of Scroll is for real as an increasing number of consumers choose subscriptions over ad-supported services. And the trend is not limited to over-the-top media and gaming. How can brands continue to reach consumers with messaging that is relevant, tailored and native to the algorithm or platform of their choice without being intrusive? The famous Travis Scott virtual concert within Epic's popular game – Fortnite, watched by millions in April 2020 amidst the worst lockdowns offers some cues. Brands need to co-create "shared experiences" with their consumers within the platforms of their choice, whether it is Twitch, Teleparty, Roblox or one we are yet to hear of. Consumer brands may even go a step further by creating a seamless buying journey within those experiences. The recent partnership between TikTok and Shopify is an attempt to do just that, to allow merchants to create native, sharable content that turns their products into in-feed videos that resonate with the communities within the platform.
Building symbiotic communities
How do we expand our brand outreach amidst the algorithmic filter bubbles and echo chambers? Our efforts in fostering communities need to be real. While most if not all businesses are attempting to be "platforms", marketers can adopt the mindset ahead of the business model. Simply put, a platform is a business wherein most value and the exchange of value are created outside of the business. Adopting the mindset entails doubling down on building strong communities of users. Using the 1:9:90 principle to partner with the 1% of our users who typically love our brands to co-create and curate these communities as evangelists and influencers. And we need to have strong incentives designed for these "partners" in this endeavour. This effort in building communities often needs to be planned for the long-term and goes beyond driving marketing and sales outcomes in the short-term. The gains are real as communities are all about investing in creating a "win-win" for everyone.
Getting aggressive about simplicity
The last decade saw CMOs doubling down on driving automation and digital, efforts that created swathes of data about our consumers. This data enabled us to discern the return on marketing investments better. However, this data also created layers of complexity in communicating our value proposition to our stakeholders and how we go to market. The number of marketing technology and services providers promising the moon will continue to swell with as many buzzwords gnawing at our stretched attention spans. It is therefore even more crucial for us to drive simplicity, from our brand messaging to how we connect with our consumers and make decisions across the board.
Pivoting and pivoting often
Our businesses are transforming at a rate faster than at any time in history. Business models are changing, and so are our target audiences. More mergers and acquisitions are only to be expected. We will need to drive consistency in the brand experience to create value even though the brand experience itself is undergoing rapid change because of these shifts. As custodians of our consumers' trust, marketers will need to move quickly, adapt and pivot to make that happen. And we may need to do it more often than anyone in our positions in the last few decades have had to.
With my favourite motto, "Always be learning", my best wishes for 2021!
Rahul has over eighteen years’ experience in B2B marketing, account management and consulting. Currently leading the global marketing at DOCOMO Digital, the international payments business of NTT DOCOMO, part of the 3rd-largest telecom group globally. Before joining DOCOMO Digital, Rahul served in multiple leadership roles at Mercer for over a decade, in India and in Singapore. Rahul is passionate about brand purpose, digital storytelling and human-centred design thinking. Rahul recently completed a part-time Master’s program in digital media management from HyperIsland. He has been recognised as one of the top 50 marketers in 2016 by CMO Asia and by LinkedIn as a social selling expert CMO.
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