Marketers, embrace change – more than half of America did

Jan 30, 2009

Marketers, embrace change – more than half of America did!

By Vanessa Horwell

As I was watching the Rachel Maddow television show on MSNBC earlier this month, I had a flashback to the ‘80s and “The Huxtables” with Bill Cosby (I’m showing my age now).

Mr. Cosby, a guest on the show and who I remember watching after school every day, still captivated me with his slow, deliberate and ever-so-well-punctuated speech.

A speech that invoked memories of an iconic sitcom that was about changing perceptions of African-Americans, and a period in my life that was all about growing pains, coping with change, and instilling important lessons and values.

A lot like what we’re experiencing right now.

Mr. Cosby has just released a new book called “Come On, People!” that carries forward the resounding theme around us.

Deep-rooted challenges and the changes needed to fix our society. A tall task? Perhaps, but that’s what I see as being an enormous challenge facing marketers this year, a year that will go down in history as the year of America’s great change.

Helping ourselves, and how to fix what is wrong with us.

I feel that marketers have been given an opportunity to align themselves with what is foremost on people’s minds right now: making ends meet, value for their dollar, the well-being of their families, of course.

But in addition to these important things, they also have the opportunity to re-examine the idea of community and of helping consumers find meaning in life amidst the chaos: Family, love, career, happiness, joy, compassion, meaning, aspirations, dreams and purpose.

And so history repeats itself: luxury is out, savings are in. Value is hot, vanity is not.

Ask the economists and I’m sure they will confirm that lifestyle change traits are common in a downturn.  Every such period encounters a seismic shift of its own.  It happened in the ’87 Black Monday stock market crash, the ’97 Asian currency crisis and the ’00 dot-com bubble burst.

Spending and consumerism clearly goes in swings and roundabouts and it’s those shrewd and forward-thinking marketers who will be reaping the benefits of such knowledge in ‘09, in spite of less dollars going around.

What have you done for me lately?
Consumers are looking for value and meaning in their lives, there’s no doubt.

The shopper who previously didn’t worry too much about an item being double-counted at the cash register every now and then, is now shopping with food coupons and counting the pennies.

The shopper who double-bagged is now re-re-using those bags.

Our pocketbooks and consciousness are dictating, so how are marketers responding?

Take Walmart. The retail behemoth has finally earned a few brownie points with me by making the brand totally relevant to just about everyone, including me. Walmart is feeling my pain and yours.
Discounts, though, can only go so far and for so long.

Consumers don’t usually differentiate discounts on actual or absolute value, only perceived value – and that becomes harder to sustain over time.

So once you have gone down the discount highway, it’s very hard to do a U-turn. Unarguably, in times of crisis when you need to produce immediate results, this is a very tough call.

Need cash now. Need to pay staff now. Need to cover inventory now.

However, for marketers who are in it for the long haul – I’m in, who’s joining me? – we have to be more than reactionary.

We have to adapt to the changing needs of consumers and the way consumers consume media.

We need buoyant ideas, we need to anticipate and embrace change at any time, and we have to adopt new and sometimes daunting paths to stay relevant and connected to our customers.

For some marketers, being relevant has different meanings.

Take a look at American Apparel’s saucy ad campaign, which, in spite of producing a reported 3 percent gain in December has been unable to deliver significant profits or, importantly, cash flow to the retailer.

Certainly, the ads might make for entertainment, but are they delivering what consumers need right now? I don’t think so.

In my opinion, American Apparel’s shock value has served no real purpose other than to create awareness of its brand to people who would never otherwise have been interested in it, and most likely never will be again.

And that’s the very fine line marketers need to tightrope upon right now. Producing more than awareness. Producing impactful, visible and penetrative messaging that won’t have negative impact on the brand’s long-term value.

OK, so what I am trying to say is this: Get to the point. Be honest, it can pay dividends. Be a change agent, as clichéd as this may sound in 2009. Be thoughtful, be considerate. Be yourself. What’s your offering? Go on, tell us!

Because that is what people want right now. They don’t want marketing porn. They don’t want marketing schtick. They want honesty. They want relevance and they want it in a medium they own.

Like mobile. A new medium for a new era.

President Obama’s campaign was modeled around it and look what happened. The medium has been propelled by its ubiquity, importance and existence in our everyday life.

Take away my mobile and I wither. I can’t communicate, I can’t hear, I can’t talk, I can’t work, I can’t IM, I can’t type, I can’t read the news, I can’t download music, I can’t find products or stores on the go, I can’t schedule my life without scraps of paper,  I can’t Facebook, I can’t take pics and send them to my kids.

You get the picture. I might as well be dead – like newspapers.

Did I just commit marketing heresy? OK, maybe I exaggerated.  Newspapers aren’t dead, but they are struggling to monetize their business model.

But this is definitely not the case for mobile marketing in 2009, no matter what critics might be saying.

Mobile banking, location-based technology, the development of real smartphones, the overhauling of networks and more apps will drive more people to spend more time using their mobile phones for a great many things – all of which is making mobile marketing ripe for the picking.

While mobile marketing in the United States may still be in its relative infancy, and forecasts for mobile spending have recently been pared back for 2009, it is still growing and being embraced more rapidly by businesses in many industries and verticals for its low CPM and high recall and adoption rates.

Growing pains don’t always have to painful
With a new process that precipitates a change in the way business is done, marketing included, there’s sometimes what I call a “pain period” involved.

This is the period of time spent deliberating on a) whether the change should be implemented, b) second-guessing yourself on whether you made the right decision when you signed off on a new marketing campaign or c) continuing to do business in the same fashion, while knowing that there’s a more effective method.

Many marketers will be familiar with these scenarios, and probably have felt such pangs when thinking about adding mobile to their mix.

Yet it needn’t be so painful.  Here’s why.

Embrace change on every front. More than half of America did.

If we have learned anything in the past year, we have learned that consumers want to adopt a message, not be exposed to a barrage of them.

They want conversations, not commercials. And they expect respect and consideration. So with mobile as their medium d’jour, mobile can help brands, organizations – even institutions – change the way their efforts are perceived by consumers, providing more impact and penetration at far less cost to boot.

A shot in the arm. Mobile marketing, in spite of depressed forecasts and a depressed economy, will continue to grow.

As revenues increase again, mobile advertising will be seen as a blood infusion to the industry. It will also fuel growth in other areas such as data and apps, and prod operators, manufacturers and content providers in the right direction. Amen!

Innovate, and innovate some more. While to some marketers it may seem counterintuitive to explore new strategies and solutions at this time, this is in fact precisely the time to try disruptive tactics and develop a breeding ground for new ideas and new solutions – such as mobile.

Keep it simple, stupid! U.S. consumers now receive more text messages than they do phone calls, and the simplicity of SMS makes it the perfect platform to turn any static, traditional medium into a direct-response one.

Explore all the options and cross mobile over into all areas of your marketing mix like there’s no tomorrow.

Let’s head back to the future. This month marks the start of renewed enthusiasm for Americans and commerce, in general. This year is a game-changer and mobile can be, too.

It’s time for marketers to immerse themselves in the mobile space and connect with consumers in a way they never knew before. The future is already here, and it’s mobile.

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