Your briefs aren’t tight enough

In light of continuing setbacks to the North American economy - the flurry of mega-corp mega-layoffs, stock market dives and increasing concern that consumer spending is poised for slowdown - one of Sergio Zyman's many marketing nuggets sounds like good ammunition...

In light of continuing setbacks to the North American economy – the flurry of mega-corp mega-layoffs, stock market dives and increasing concern that consumer spending is poised for slowdown – one of Sergio Zyman’s many marketing nuggets sounds like good ammunition to take upstairs right about now: ‘Cutting back on marketing to save money is like stopping the clock to save time.’

Zyman, author/marketing guru, delivered plenty of advice on how to champion the crucialness and all-pervasiveness of marketing’s role at the highest levels of corporations, during his keynote at Strategy’s recent conference ‘Brand Building at Warp Speed.’ The bottom line on achieving that, is, the bottom line. When trying to inspire commitment to marketing up the ladder, Zyman advises not to show ads, but rather to ask the CEO what his objective is, and thereby change the marketing-budget dialogue from expense status to investment status, positioning the budget as fuel to achieve those goals.

As the first to take on the role of chief marketing officer, a title created during his gig at Coca-Cola, Zyman was successful at practising what he preaches. For many marketers, whose companies are less likely to believe that the main difference between their product and anyone else’s is engineered public perception, however, the task seems daunting. One of Sergio’s Principles (SPs) that ‘marketing drives everything’ may well be swallowed in theory by CEOs and CFOs, but barriers to execution are rampant and entrenched for many marketing managers. Even in start-ups, where you’re working from a clean slate and where in theory it should be easier to execute another SP – ‘everything communicates’ – by developing a consistent brand image across the board, the sell up the ladder and across departments is still often beyond the scope and timeline of the marketing chief.

A large part of this is likely due to problems fulfilling other SPs, namely, ‘businesses must know their destination,’ and ‘connect to customers wants and needs.’ Anecdotally and in case studies, time and again, these prove to be areas where consensus and vision are often lacking and must be slowly and methodically coaxed. This herding-cats process has a lot of ground to cover. Research shows that 75% of companies are dissatisfied with brand success, and two-thirds of execs say that they themselves are the barrier to that brand success.

Perhaps as a result of the uphill battle to get long-term full-court corporate buy-in to marketing strategy, one marketing front that increasingly seems weak is the Zyman directive to ‘differentiate from the competition.’

This issue’s article on the home-improvement retail wars (see page 6) looks at a category where differentiation is no doubt tough, as customer needs are fairly uniform. Without differentiation, however, pundits say somebody’s going down. And there are countless categories and campaigns out there with less excuse for not connecting with the consumer in a distinct and memorable way. Far too much advertising doesn’t give a clue why you should choose Brand A over Brand B. Regardless of how 360º the brand image is, you need a hook to reel consumers into that circle, and it’s often missing – or too esoteric for mere masses to grasp the sheer brilliance of it all.

Take colour-themed campaigns, please. On some conceptual level, as part of a brilliant presentation, I can see how an orange backdrop might seem really keen, but what does it connote to a corn farmer in Hawkestone? In the case of ING Direct, for example, a services proposition goes with the orange to deliver a brand promise. In some cases, there’s just orange left standing out at the end of the process, and if that’s not what you’re selling, it’s a problem. Those campaigns no doubt contribute to the atmosphere in which 66% of execs don’t commit wholeheartedly to a strategy of improving products, processes and communications to deliver brand success.

No one’s saying advertising shouldn’t be wildly creative – quite the opposite. Since a brand’s goal is to colonize the consumer’s imagination, it has to be fired up in the first place. Another Zyman nugget sums up the marketing mean, this one a famous New York creative director’s mantra: ‘Give me the freedom of tightly written briefs.’

cheers, mm

Mary Maddever, Editorial Director