First published in The Marketing Society’s Empower Magazine, March 2021
Throughout the pandemic many businesses have shown enormous resilience, empathy and agility. They’ve found myriad ways to step up and play their part and they’ve responded to events on the ground admirably.
But now, as things begin to turn a corner and we look forward (hopefully) to the prospect of a less chaotic year, that valuable empathy and understanding need to be directed towards longer term strategic development.
This was the premise that sat at the heart of our recent Marketing Society Podcast, which was themed around the importance of ‘fewer, bigger, better’. If businesses are to regroup and eventually thrive, then they are going to need to focus.
We know that some consumer behaviours will have been changed permanently by Covid-19 and that others will have been accelerated or modified; businesses will have to deal with all of this against a backdrop of fewer resources and significant cost pressures. The thing that will make this herculean task a little easier is focusing and executing on a clear strategy.
But we know there are lots of impediments to making this happen. The evidence is clear: why is it for example that a quarter of all launches don’t make it past year one? Or that only two of last year’s top ten significant NPD launches are still growing?
In preparation for our podcast, we spent the previous few months talking to an array of clients across seniority, geographies & sectors – from businesses big and small – in order to help identify the things that get in the way of ‘fewer, bigger, better’. Here were the key themes that emerged.
“We need bold strategic leadership from top down to ruthlessly prioritise and direct investment behind the right brand and commercial bets. We need to cut the tail significantly and empower teams to get behind this.”
One of the biggest reasons for businesses becoming overly tactical is down to a simple lack of organisational alignment. If businesses aren’t clear about how to win, then strategic initiatives can fail because no-one understands how they fit into the bigger picture. A local operating company can easily undermine a globally driven innovation just by failing to participate.
“Consumers see confusing and fragmented messages and are unsure what the brand/product stands for.”
Sales and activation teams want a constant drumbeat of news and activity in order to support retailer activation and promotion. This focus can often lead to incrementalism; a lot of small things implemented in a mediocre way. Too often, good innovation is replaced with ‘me too’ copies that do little to alter the overall growth trajectory of the brand.
No one ‘single’ version of the truth
“To some extent, insight is being weaponised. Different units are commissioning work to support their plans, but we aren’t truly learning from consumers.”
Bigger businesses have huge amounts of data and hundreds of reports at their fingertips, and yet often no-one can agree on what is actually happening and why. Too frequently, data is used as evidence to support an existing position rather than as a way of forging fresh insight to drive a longer term more successful strategy.
‘Shiny new toy’ syndrome
“Rushing to do things and not cracking them properly”
An obsession with the latest research technique or marketing tool can often lead to a distortion. For example, social listening may help to uncover new insights, but only listening to a vocal online minority can skew a situation. It can be more important to understand what the majority of your customers want. Many techniques and approaches that have been pronounced ‘dead’ at some point over the years are still vitally important when it comes to good marketing fundamentals.
Everything starts by really understanding what’s happening to your customers and your category. This is where a good insight function is critical, helping to understand the answers to questions that can help transform a business. Who is buying our products? Where else are they buying them from? Is this in growth or decline? Who else are we competing with from outside of our category?
While the above themes were cited as the main impediments to taking a more strategic view, our contributing clients didn’t attempt to duck the marketer’s reality. The key to achieving ‘fewer, bigger, better’ is to accept that while a strategy is essential, it need not be set in permanent concrete.
Businesses like BrewDog understand this. While they were able to respond tactically to the pandemic and pivot towards making hand sanitiser, it was still an activity consistent with their much longer strategic plan to become environmentally sustainable. Magnum did something similar with their pleasure store concept. Instead of abandoning the idea as the pandemic escalated, they teamed up with Deliveroo and delivered ‘home decoration’ kits instead – a tactical adaptation that was consistent with their overall strategy.
Tactics will always be part of the marketer’s toolbox, but it helps to view them through the lens of your broader strategic objectives.
We also discussed the power of ‘no’ and its critical importance in helping to realise a strategy. Exit those areas where you are underperforming and take that money and invest it in areas that will help you grow.
Building empathy and understanding is not just important when it comes to customers, however; it also matters inside companies. Real focus ultimately requires effective leadership – those at the top building a strategy based on real insight; those in the middle having the courage and focus to enact that strategy; those executing the strategy believing they have the support and trust to do what is right vs. what is expedient.
And all of that requires businesses that have empathy, understanding and resilience built into the fabric of their culture.
If you’d like to hear the podcast ‘Fewer, bigger, better’ you can find it here.
If you would like to read about how we help organisations deliver ‘fewer, bigger, better’ download our whitepaper: How To Create A Winning Customer Strategy