Snimarjyot Kaur Kochhar, Chief Marketing Officer, Health Total
It is a great time to be a Marketer. From a support function to an enabler role to now being the key strategic influencer; marketing function has never been more important in the corporate history as it is now. The power comes from the ability to directly influence the end consumer. But as famously said, with great power comes great responsibilities. Utopia for a marketer is to be able to balance both and have a trusted M.A.D (Makes a Difference) partner to add value through the journey.
It is a great time to be a consultant as well. Organic businesses growth and new age start-ups have increased the client base of consultancies or agencies in marketing, media and communication. Marketing itself has more verticals than ever such as brand scores, consumer research, conventional & new age advertising, thought leadership and so on. Spends on digital ecosystem are also increasing significantly. Social media, user generated content and internet is giving brands the opportunity to reach out to a larger audience. The consumer is expecting real time response. It’s a huge task. From large conglomerates, who have dedicated teams for every marketing vertical to mid-size and small businesses; every marketer is looking outside for extended teams.
With this context, one would expect marketers and consultants to be each other’s soul mate. The reality is different and unpleasant. Conventional agencies have not been able to keep pace with the changing marketing requirements. Marketers are trying to figure out where their role starts and where it ends. When the marketer sits across the table, he finds a combination of ‘acquired’ specialist agencies under one name. Each business head is chasing his own P&L and there is no single voice the client hears. A specialist agency will be able to effectively handle a small part of a large problem. Marketing is not sequential and all aspects need to be addressed simultaneously. Hopeful marketers are struggling to differentiate themselves while aligning agencies and different stakeholders are emerging cynical. The agency’s balancing act between quality and quantity ends up reducing both parameters. Finally, both parties feel that the output does not justify their efforts, resources and spends.
Hence, never the twain shall meet. Or have we been on different paths all along? The journey starts with the marketer looking out for an agency. What follows is a smooth & well-rehearsed sales presentation by all consultants, focusing on how they are different from their peers, followed by their work and the ‘involvement’ of the team in the everyday functioning. In the end, comes the client. The last bit is about the client’s business, their challenge and their requirements. Is this spiel interesting? - Maybe. Impressive? - Sometimes. Effective? - Mostly not.
So what works? As a marketer, having worked with agencies of all sizes and specializations (and being on the other side as well), here are my observations & thoughts on what an agency needs to focus on to cut across the noise, get associated and then stay with the brand.
- Understand - When a client reaches out to you, they have already shortlisted you. The legacy, people, past work, reference – something has already worked in your favor. So relax and concentrate on something more critical – the client and what’s bothering them. If they have been able to survive without you for so long, something was working right. And there would be a pretty strong reason why they are looking at you now. Find, understand and focus on that gap or aspiration.
- Engage – The client comes with a baggage of past experiences, his belief on what works and what would be a definite failure. The onus is on the agency to absorb the situation and bring a fresh perspective. Understanding and engagement results in conviction; and an agency’s conviction can become the client’s confidence.
- Own – Most marketers share a common concern; the absence of ownership and new ideas from the agency. The average marketer and the agency are running to catch up with the evolving consumer. This leaves little time to create new engagement channels, trends and points of view etc. Organizations are now moving towards a model where the ‘routine work from incumbent agency’ is getting separated from the ‘big idea from a strategic consultancy’. This is not a good sign for agencies, especially in the long run.
The business & marketing challenges today are much more complex. Marketing is becoming more important but that does not necessarily mean more spending power for marketers. Importance does not mean exponential growth and full measureable effectiveness. Understanding the consumer, finding differentiation, the perfect communication, keeping up with media changes and staying on top is an expensive business. It is something that the marketers intrinsically know but might not be able to impact. With or without the constraints, there is one word that summarizes what the client wants: Solutions! This is where a consultancy can step in and make the difference; with a solution-driven approach. Understand, engage and take ownership – you will get the M.A.D. clients!