Friday, September 07, 2012

Marketing Must Deal with Turbulent Times

Why is marketing getting harder?

There is an underlying implication behind media fragmentation, social expression, and digital interactions that it is tough to be a marketer these days.  A recent report by Boston Consulting Group on how to deal with turbulence confirms this trend at the macro, industry level. 

Change is happening faster.

Over the past several decades four measures of financial performance have become  more volatile.
  1. Demand is increasingly unpredictable
  2. Positioning is more unstable
  3. Profitability swings are larger
  4. Market expectations are over/under-stated
The report goes on to highlight firms that have done better than average during turbulent times and describes five potential success factors.  Two of the five, recognizing signals and experimentation, are clearly marketing functions.   The other three, organizational, systems and ecosocial, are more likely the responsibility of the CEO.

Identifying market-changing signals can either be at the macro-level or individual level.   Services like trendwatching offer insights into how consumers are changing.  And internally, customer behavior can often be used to isolate shifts in life-stages, as Target's work on identifying pregnancy illustrates.  The function responsible for bringing insights to the table is typically in the marketing research, consumer analytic areas of the company.

Taking products to market that leverage insights is clearly a marketing function.  However, coming up with ideas to take advantage of those insights in the first place should not just be a marketing function.  It should be in the fabric of the corporate culture.   3M and Google are known for their allocation of 'think time' so that people can work on problems that interest them.   This then becomes a social exercise.   And supporting that claim, McKinsey just reported that the majority of the value of social technologies will be found in facilitating internal collaboration.  

An interesting approach would be the creation and use of 'human libraries' where the business can check out an expert.  Originating as a way to discuss prejudices, the idea easily extends to the corporate environment where new perspectives are valuable in solving challenges.   A recent viewpoint in Marketing News (not yet online) described several cases of using subject matter experts from varied disciplines - including jazz musicians to discuss improvisation with a multi-product manufacturer that had several sales people calling on one retailer. 

While marketing may be harder because what used to work might not work now, it is still filled with opportunities to help both consumers and thus companies.

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