Stepping up to Change in 2009…Five Marketers’ Imperatives

It’s official:  In December, the National Bureau of Economic Research declared what most Americans already knew: the US economy has been in recession since December 2007.   2008 was a year of enormous change; we’re just beginning to see the effects.

The greatest mistakes we can make – and it will be tempting – is to assume that it’s over or that our brands will somehow be immune.  Marketers are challenged to keep these 5 critical imperatives front and center:

1. Identifying new ways to drive ROI. Ensuring that less can do more is an exercise in elegance.

‘An elegant solution is one in which the optimal outcome is achieved with the minimum expenditure of effort and expense. ‘  – Mathew May, The Elegant Solution.

Elegant solutions will be ever so critical as budgets get the squeeze, requiring razor sharp focus and prioritization.

‘The more complexity there is in the market, the more that something simple stands out.’  John Maeda (MIT Lab)- The Laws of Simplicity.

Elegance requires rigor as well as creativity.  Tried and true solutions are not going to win the day. 

2. Breaking through fear. The brain is highly responsive to fear, and doesn’t allow for learning or new thinking when people feel afraid. Fear is one kind of stress that disables the very kind of thinking that we need most.

Not only are consumers feeling fear, but inside organizations, fear is becoming increasingly rampant. NY Times article  Identifying both antidotes for fear and processes to ensure that it’s not driving business decisions will be increasingly important.

3. Creating fresh value and benefit – not ‘incrementalism’ – are required. That means putting customers’ needs front and center:, and designing through’ their eyes’ – not yours, or your bosses’. That will demand understanding their deepest unmet needs — even though consumers may have difficulty articulating them. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck struggling to sell small benefits: both costly and likely to be ineffective.

New research techniques like ethnography and neuroscience may be helpful; and carefully designed clinicals can ensure that your brand can make and communicate the very best compelling claims.

4. Adapting to an increasingly powerful consumer who now calls the shots means that brands have less control. There’s no going back. Just ask the J&J Motrin Marketing Team who recently got a dose of reality that moved them to pull an entire new advertising campaign (see YouTube video) in 24 hours because consumers/bloggers found it distasteful. ‘Command and control’ marketing and communications is a thing of the past -welcome to the era of engagement. Our job is to build trust through authenticity. Transparency is ever-more-important in 2009: people feel burned by the economic crisis.

5. Addressing new sets of consumer concerns and changing mindsets, brought on by:

  • The financial crisis has changed consumers’ outlook. They’re moving away from focus on spending and material things, and wanting to spend less and save more
  • Intensifying schedules for adults, children and families – whether at work, home, school or social activities – people experience a scarcity of time, and want more for themselves and loved ones….
  • Ever-increasing information and facts; instant connections across all parts of our lives due to the web, new technology etc; people want to stay connected, even though they are exhausted…
  • The possibility of living a longer life generates deep worry not to be saddled with cancer, diabetes, depression and other neurological diseases…
  • Desire to provide a better world for the next generation, one that is healthier, safer and greener…less debt, less terrorism, stopping environmental destruction…
  • Awareness of the growing epidemic of obesity and more chronic diseases: cancer, HIV, diabetes and hereditary conditions; people want to feel they can influence their condition and outcomes…
  • Wanting more choice about how they live life; people are enjoying expressing themselves and building new competencies, and want to feel like they’re living a life more in balance, calm and productive.

Are you keeping up with what your customers want?

Stay tuned for … The Rigors of 2009:
10 Marketing Essentials for the Healthcare Industry


2 thoughts on “Stepping up to Change in 2009…Five Marketers’ Imperatives

  1. Ellen,

    Excellent thoughts about what challenges are in store for all of us. I especially like the thread underlying items 3 through 5 – the shifting, increasingly powerful and ever more demanding customer. We are all on a shooting range and the target is now smaller and moving erratically making it very difficult to hit the bullseye. We have to restance, regrip and go back to the beginning.

    With that said, one interesting tool we have seen applied from our discipline of performance improvement to marketing which I wanted to share with you is Quality Function Deployment or “QFD”. QFD, pioneered by Dr. Yoji Akao in Japan in ‘60’s, is a method to transform user demands into design by focusing on product or service characteristics from the viewpoints of the market or customer. It transforms customer needs, or the voice of the customer (“VOC”), into prioritized characteristics. While originally developed for manufacturing industries, QFD has been adopted in a wide variety of products and services ranging from consumer products to military programs. While there are traps related to an organization’s culture to be avoided, we have seen several of our clients use it to identify and document competitive marketing strategies and tactics thus completing the circle from listening so as to complete a better design to listening to better communicate. Its a great tool to get intensely customer focused.

    Great blog. Keep the posts coming.

    John Lopez-Ona
    Six Sigma Qualtec

    • John,

      How right you are that the QFD approach and transforming the “VOC” [voice of consumer] represents a huge opportunity as we all deal with the fear and challenges of 2009. The pharmaceutical industry is definately one industry ripe for installing a proven process in the upfront development of drugs and clinical planning.

      Thank you for reminding us, and I’ll be thinking about how QFD can efficiently and effectively capture the VOC.

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