Futurist CMO: Marketers as Air Traffic Controllers

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What makes a smart brand? What ingredients make for a successful brand? What is the future of marketing? These are some of the questions that were asked and answered at the recently concluded Paul Writer Futurist CMO Conference in Gurgaon, India, an event for marketing professionals in which many senior and mid-level experts from various well-known companies and brands in India came together to discuss the future of their profession.

In India, development is moving at supersonic speeds and the marketing ecosystem is at the forefront. A big question for marketers is how to best engage customers. Specifically, can social media make a difference in India as it has done in developed economies? While some argue that digital media is still not mature in India and that there is still a heavy reliance on traditional forms of media, there are plenty of examples of how that dynamic is shifting.

Today’s consumers are quite transient. They have thousands of choices, an overload of applications, limited attention spans, and diminishing brand loyalties. But 100 million online users cannot be overlooked, especially when you consider the penchant of social media users to group into micro communities. Social media seems to be the perfect platform for engaging with consumers in those communities, as has been observed in a lot of developed markets.

And yet, the ongoing success story of the Tupperware brand would seem to contradict the assertion that social media is the only way to connect with and create a lasting impact on consumers. Tupperware is one of the oldest and largest manufacturers of high-quality, innovative, and branded kitchen storage products, and the company has long followed the philosophy of “build the people and people will build the business.” With nearly 100,000 opt-in saleswomen, who are essentially given the tools and products to start their own sales business, Tupperware has broken all the norms of conventional marketing. The “Tupperware Chain of Confidence” believes in enlightening, educating, and empowering their sales workforce. No doubt many of the Tupperware salespeople use social media to organize Tupperware parties, during which they sell their products, but this kind of brand ambassadorship is a far cry from how many followers or likes a company can attract.

Pinstorm’s Mahesh Murthy (ad man and a renowned social media expert in India) would seem to concur. According to him, Facebook and Twitter are great at building awareness, interest, and preference for a brand, but they aren’t great places for selling things. In real life, people rarely buy things during a conversation, but they very often buy things because of or after a conversation. That’s why smart brands are ones that are constantly engaging in conversations and listening to what its customers and non-customers say. In this way, brands are building strong likeability while attracting attention through words and actions.

Tim Leberecht, CMO, Aricent Group and frog, takes this idea even further (and debunks some traditional marketing beliefs in the process). He suggests that in order to become smart brands, companies should embrace belief rather than strategy, and rely on intuition over data. Leberecht also suggests that brands need to operate as if in permanent crisis rather than acting as if they are in control.

Next Steps for Marketers
The conference featured other brand stories from distinguished companies like Citibank, Godfrey Phillips, NIIT, Aircel, Makemytrip.com, and Capital Foods, but it’s still unclear if there’s one winning formula for a smart brand. Traditional and non-traditional media will co-exist but the time and resources spent on each will depend upon where the brand is in its lifecycle and what it’s trying to achieve. Social media marketing will no doubt be a promising route for many upcoming brands in the near future, simply because of the digital landscape in India. According to an analysis done by comScore, social networking in the country is a key driver of PC and mobile activity, and younger consumers in the 15-34 age group are leading the revolution.

To keep up with the changing media landscape, there are several things marketers must adopt. First, they have to keep abreast with technology. Gone are the days when marketers could depend only on conventional forms of media plans. Second, they must be willing to put in lots of hard work and be extremely disciplined in their approach. Third, and most importantly, they must have dynamic content. While the debate may continue and each brand builds its own story, what’s certain is that future marketers will be like air traffic controllers, working 24-7 to keep pace with consumers demands and suggestions. A marketer’s agility will go a long way in making or breaking their brand.

Photograph by Thomas Lohnes/dapd

Thomas Lohnes/dapd

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