Chief Marketing Officers are under increasing pressure as the economy slows. They’re expected to produce instant results with some marketing fairy dust. The average tenure of a CMO is something south of two years. This churn suggests a lot of companies are creating change for its own sake. It seems that all of the media coverage of new media versus old and the collapse of mass media has led to an expectation that there’s a solution right around the corner that surely a new CMO will know all about.
Expecting CMO’s to predict future media habits is little like asking someone to read an eye chart with the letters on the back.
One of the more interesting people I’ve met, Ryan Matthews, makes a living as a marketing futurist. He calls himself the Black Monk, a moniker that justifies his sizable day rate all by itself. He’s self-confident enough to admit that predicting the future is inherently a fraudulent practice. Dark and mysterious is this future business.
Matthews points out that most predictions are the result of projecting the most recent history. The new, new things are harbingers of the next big thing. This is like imagining what’s down the road by looking at the rear view mirror.
Retailer, The Gap recently announced it was no longer using television advertising because it was no longer effective as a medium. We could easily use this as yet more evidence for the end of the 30-second spot. Yet, sister company, Old Navy, is running one of their best TV campaigns in years. Same company, two divergent brand strategies.
Maybe the reality is that marketing will always be best described by the famous John Wanamaker observation, “I know that only half of my advertising works. The trouble is I don’t know which half.”
The irony is that the work that is most measurable, that requiring immediate action, is also the least emotional, the least sticky over time. So at a time when marketers want to shake things up, it’s quite often the tried and true that produces the immediate result. It seems to me the smart brands are adopting new things incrementally and resisting the temptation to always be on deal.
2008 is the Chinese Year of the Rat. You have to give the lowly rat credit for at least one good characteristic. It’s a survivor. Appropriate if we’re thinking about how brands need to adapt in the future in order to avoid extermination in a tough global economy. While it would be smart to know more about the Chinese than what year it is, let’s also keep in mind it wasn’t long ago that everyone was conceding the future to the Japanese. While the Japanese continue to be best-in-class manufacturers and marketers, they’re certainly not steam-rolling the world the way futurists in the 80’s were predicting.
I’m convinced planning for the future is like managing a financial portfolio. Since no one can possibly know what’s going to happen, why not decide how much risk you can or should tolerate and plan accordingly? All too often companies want to blow up their marketing platforms and revolutionize things.
Yet the best brands seem to make the subtlest changes, they evolve slowly, steadily and ceaselessly.
Cottonelle toilet paper is out there using guerrilla marketing in addition to traditional media. Dove soap made wonderful use of publicity, traditional media and the web in its “real beauty” campaign. IBM is selling high-end, high technology business-to-business products like blade servers on mass media network television. These marketers know they have to try new things, yet they see the value of doing many of the same things in interesting, integrated ways.
When times get tough, it’s good to remember that the changes you make are no more important than the changes you resist.
Sudden, radical change is probably never a good idea. It takes a long time for people to catch on. So it’s probably much riskier to do something radical at precisely the time you’re most tempted to.
Mark Twain described himself as being opposed to change, but in favor of progress. I think that pretty well summarizes how one might want to look at the future. The fact is we’ll never need to change everything if we’re continually making progress with the things we’re doing. Good times or bad.