Why fear trumps marketing theory

Hannah Sturrock

  • Managing partner, The Hallway
Hannah is managing partner at The Hallway, one of Australia's leading independent full-service advertising agencies with clients including Google, ANZ, Binge and Dexus. The Hallway works with data to uncover what makes people tick and delivers solutions and experiences inspired by who they are and where they’re at. Prior to The Hallway, Hannah worked at BMF in Sydney, Karmarama and Wallpaper* magazine in London. In 2018, she was named one of AdNews 30 Emerging Leaders and won Campaign Asia's Client Management Person of the Year. She’s passionate about elevating the art and science of marketing to be acknowledged as an essential growth driver for businesses of all sizes.

Fear trumps marketing theory.

Apologies for leading with a sentence containing both ‘trump’ and ‘fear’. Despite this alarmist statement, I firmly believe our collective industry intelligence around marketing effectiveness has increased massively in the last two years.

As marketers, we’re remarkably absorbent. Like a really expensive towel, we suck up vast quantities of information from a number of sources and hold on to it. We repurpose the core principles in strategic decks and share the most useful theories on LinkedIn. We’re all convincingly talking about long-term strategies, short-term tactics, creating persistent memory structures and behavioural science heuristics.

Many of us are working hard to deliver on the theory, creating and executing marketing strategies resilient to changes (of economic conditions or executive leadership) and tying marketing investment to commercial growth. All signs point to an industry primed and willing to learn, to adapt, to prove its value in the boardroom.

But the reality is we’re humans before we’re marketing scientists, and humans react to fear and uncertainty by being less strategic, more defensive and more conservative. Fear fuels a renewed focus on the purely fiscal, not the exploratory or experimental.

Deloitte’s recent Global Marketing Trends C-Suite survey showed leaders across nearly every c-suite function are feeling significantly less confident than they were in 2019 about their ability to influence peers and drive big changes in their businesses. CMOs specifically charted a depressing move from an already low 5 per cent confidence to 3 per cent.

It’s a very rational way to respond to a situation that has forced many of us to shrink our ambitions, reassess our priorities, shore up our defences, and avoid thinking too much about the future. We’re managing the pervasive doom and gloom one day at a time. One week at a time. One month at a time. Marketing effectiveness can wait until 2021, right? When we’re back to normal?

As marketers, we mustn’t match the cautious mood of the masses. We mustn’t forget the immutable rules of human behaviour and marketing effectiveness just when we were starting to get traction. Especially now when we have such meaty problems to tackle. The impact of forgetting what we know not only retards brand growth, it also resets the role and reputation of marketing back to being a discretionary cost, rather than a lucrative and reliable investment.

As the radically pragmatic, Rory Sutherland, said: “Once marketing becomes marcomms, it’s no longer a problem-solving function, it’s a support function. And nobody consults a support function”.

What is marketing effectiveness?

Earlier this year, Cannes Lions and WARC released a smart and useful guide to marketing effectiveness called ‘The Effectiveness Code’ which offered a new framework for measuring marketing effectiveness - The Creative Effectiveness Ladder. The Ladder identifies six main types of effects that creative marketing produces, setting them in a hierarchy of levels from least to most commercially impactful. Level 5 of the ladder is ‘commercial triumph’ which is, frankly, what we should be aiming for, daily.    

“Creating sustainable commercial growth should by rights be the ultimate objective of most marketing efforts. Where creating sales spikes can be as simple as increasing the brand’s share of voice, driving sustained sales growth is a product of insightful strategy, considered media choices and blockbuster creativity.” (The Effectiveness Code, Cannes Lions and WARC 2020, James Hurman and Peter Field) The effectiveness principles are simple and easy to apply:

  • Set your effectiveness objectives with campaign duration and time frames to match
  • Budget realistically using Excess Share of Voice as your yardstick for growth
  • Favour fewer, longer campaigns over multiple short, tactical activations
  • Begin with an insightful consumer-led strategy that ties neatly to your objectives
  • Buy the most original and engaging creative expression of the strategy
  • Maximise creative output by optimising media budget, campaign duration and number of media channels
  • If campaigns are working well, ramp it up rather than switch it up

It’s important to add these principles rely on being able to measure the impact of any marketing activities. The time, effort and money required to design and set up comprehensive and dynamic measurement frameworks is significant, but will always repay the initial cost by supplying us with robust data stories that force serious board level discussions about where and how to invest marketing budget in the future.

Remember how much you know

So while the temptation is strong to forget everything you know to be true, we must hold the line and be more convincing, more confident and more consistent than ever in aiming for marketing effectiveness. Because while businesses are making decisions to prioritise efficiency and productivity, our customers are expecting brands to behave with more insight, more humanity and more responsibility.

Deloitte’s Global Consumer Pulse Survey found more than a quarter of consumers said they walked away from companies they perceived to be acting self-interestedly. As the report stated: ”Moving fast and striving for efficiency will always be important for businesses, but in times of crisis, we’re reminded of what’s unchanging - people’s values. When we pause to reflect on what people need, we can design more sustainable solutions that tap into what makes us human -our universal need for connection.”

Now is the time to flex our well-developed strategic muscle. The game is won not just via size, speed and strength, but with timing and technique.  We know these techniques, we know the moves, we know our foe. We’ve rehearsed and prepared, it’s time to move to the live environment. We might get a bloody nose or crack a rib, but at least we’ll be in the ring, rather than watching from the sidelines.

We might be nervous, but we’re ready.

Tags: marketing strategy, marketing leadership

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