Will neurology revolutionize marketing thinking?

The CEO of a leading consumer product company is in deep trouble. The financial performance of the company is not looking good. He needs to immediately take steps to shore up his company’s bottom line. What would the CEO do? Who would he turn to for help? He would probably approach the finance department or the production department or perhaps even the sales department to achieve good results in a short time. Chances that he will depend on his marketing department to show immediate results are very slim. The reason is obvious. Marketing departments are not really trusted for their ability to deliver sure, quick results. As Prof. Nirmalya Kumar of London Business School mentions in his book Marketing as Strategy, “All that marketers want from CEOs is more money to spend”.

What will get the marketers a place in the strategy table of the CEO? As CEOs become more and more accountable in this era of quarterly results and interventionist shareholders, marketing departments of organizations have to deliver consistent and sure results. Marketing departments can no longer hide under the guise of long term brand building, but have to show perceivable effects in the market place in the short term. Every marketing campaign has to show immediate results in the market place.

It is easier said than done. Studies around the world have shown that 9 out of 10 new product launches fail. This is despite billions of dollars being pumped into market research and advertising and promotional campaigns. When other departments of the organizations are working towards a Six Sigma level of perfection, the marketing departments of organisations cannot afford to have Six Sigma level of failure rate.

Despite some of the best brains working in marketing departments around the world, why is there such a huge failure rate in the marketing decisions made around the world?

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What you see is what you get

It’s interesting what we can learn from looking around and see how people go about conducting business in an intuitive manner.

For example, lets say you wanted to buy a waterproof watch. But, buy it from the roadside vendor, and you know that it will find it’s way to the nearest bin even after the first monsoon drizzle.

It was interesting to see how this street vendor went about displaying his daily wares. I found this guy peddling waterproof watches on a recent market visit to interior Maharashtra.

Waterproof proof

If you choose your watch out of a filled tube of water, you can be sure that this vendor is at least coming good on his word to provide you with waterproof protection. Of course, the mechanism might fail in a week or so, and then this watch might get dumped, but you know that it is waterproof.

How can bigger marketers use simple conversion insights like this one to help consumers make choices? Because ultimately, what you see is what you want to get, no?

The store IS the battleground

Slowly but surely, our beliefs about a new wave in marketing are getting vindicated. The article in today’s Brand Equity, Economic Times shows further proof that consumers are now making most of their purchase decisions in the store; marketers are following suit.

The GMA/Deloitte Report, “Delivering the Promise of Shopper Marketing” validates this sentiments in its 2008 report on how than 60% of the retailers and manufacturers plan to invest more in non-trade in-store programmes in the next year . This growth will come at the expense of traditional media such as television and print.

Of course, now that everyone’s throwing their hat into the arena, retail has suddenly become the next best thing in marketing. But it’s not all about just owning this medium, it’s more about honing the message. And, this is what will tip the scales.

What do you think?

Conversion Marketing

You are staring at death for the first time in your life. In the midst of an important meeting you feel a numbing pain in your chest. In no time you have realised that years of smoking, eating junk foods coupled with high stress levels and the lack of daily exercise have at last taken its toll. You are rushed to the nearby hospital’s ICU.

Doctors recommend a bypass surgery. Operation successful. Next day when you wake up and as you thank everybody who helped save you from the clutches of death, you will surely take an oath to change your unhealthy lifestyle.

What are the chances of you managing to live up to that oath you took in the most important moment of your life? The answer that comes from a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine will startle you. The study shows that only one out of nine people actually change their lifestyle post their bypass surgery.

Yes, even in life and death situations, a high level of awareness of a fact does not translate into any real action based on that fact. This is an important information for any professional who is involved in behavioral change, more so for marketers who spend a lot of money on brand awareness building communication.

While visiting some exclusive outlets of a consumer durables company and a cement manufacturer I was shocked to find the shelf stickers and danglers in the shop with just the company’s name on it. “Why reinforce the company name, inside the company’s exclusive outlet?. “Sir, this is what I get from my headquarters” was the reply I got from the dealer. Despite the fact that most of the leading brands have achieved very high awareness scores, the only mantra many marketers have is to continue spending more and more money on increasing brand saliency, in the hope that increases in brand awareness will lead to actual sales.

At the retail outlet, the consumer is standing with your brand in one hand and your competitor’s brand in the other hand. It is the ultimate moment of truth for all the brand-building activities you have done for your brand. As a marketer do you have any intervention other than price discounts to influence the consumer at this critical moment of your brand? What communication can be used to make sure that your brand is actually the one that is dropped into the shopping cart?

To improve the ROI on marketing spends, more so of established brands, marketers will have to clearly shift their focus from further increasing awareness to creating action orientation—making sure that the consumer who is well aware of your brand while standing in front of all the other brands in her consideration set, reaches out to your brand and only your brand. Our studies have shown that this is not an easy task.

Majority of the shoppers are not brand loyal and much of the brand flirting is happening at the retail outlet in the last few seconds before the purchase. Definitely a shelf sticker with your brand name and the mug shot of the celebrity from the awareness campaign won’t be of much help at this moment.

New knowledge from fields such as neurology and behavioral economics is giving us new handles to this problem. The discovery that human brain many a time does not do elaborate processing of information but instead takes several cognitive short cuts will help the creation of action-oriented communication at the retail outlet. Conscious part of the human cannot do two things at the same time. So the human brain cannot do a good job of watching the cricket match and absorbing the numerous ad messages that prop up between the overs.

The only place where the consumer’s conscious brain is actively seeking information on the brand is when she is at the retail outlet. Any memory is not a single point in the brain but connections between millions of neurons and in turn numerous other memories. This knowledge allows the marketer to discard the age-old USP theory in the dustbin outside the retail outlet and communicate multiple selling points(MSP) to the consumer while she is in the retail outlet.

With the focus on conversion marketing, retail outlet will soon become one of the, if not the most important medium of brand communication. But the biggest change will be that the primary focus of marketing activities will no more be on intangible factors like brand awareness and brand preference scores, but will be on conversion at the retail outlet—actual sales at the retail outlet.