I had the great pleasure of speaking at The Great Indian B2B Marketing Summit in Bangalore yesterday, organized by Jessie Paul, the former CMO of Indian outsourcing juggernaut Wipro, author of the book “No Money Marketing,” and founder of Paul Writer, a marketing consultancy cum hub that runs an influential online CMO Roundtable and other formidable programs to facilitate the exchange amongst the Indian marketing community. The program was quite an eclectic mix of topics, ranging from social media and digital marketing trends, to market development, to marketing leadership, to personal branding.
The two latter topics appeared to be the most popular, based on the audience’s response. Jessie herself provided a good overview of the main tenets of personal branding, and her session was a great reminder of the importance of creating a “personal brand map” to identify (following models by Geert Hofstede and Jim Collins) one’s “values, heroes, symbols, and rituals,” and derive one’s unique brand promise at the intersection of “passion, excellence, and profitability.” In addition to establishing personal thought leadership platforms tailored to the respective career level (entry-level execs may want to focus on processes, best practices, and creation; mid-level execs on opinions, forward-looking statements, HR issues, and organizational vision; whereas CXO execs typically address industry frameworks as well as macro-economic and policy issues), Rajeev Suri, CEO of Liqwid Krystal, offered some helpful advice for aspiring marketing leaders: 1. Stay close to the leadership; 2. Stay close to the money; 3. Never get into cruise control.
None of those are easy, and I can certainly empathize with Sangeeta Sundaram, head of marketing and communications at Capgemini India, who remarked that “marketing is notoriously over-stretched and under-resourced.” But then again, as Kiran Mani, head of industry sales for Google India, pointed out in his presentation: “Effective marketing does not have to cost much.” Jessie, with her penchant for “No Money Marketing," would agree, and ad agency executive Jon Bond goes even one step further, as quoted in a recent Fast Company article: "Marketing in the future is like sex. Only the losers will have to pay for it."
While that is a perfectly viral line from a Twitter and SEO viewpoint and might cheer up some CMOs in light of dwindling marketing budgets, it of course posits an existential threat for advertisers and other marketing services firms. "Creating more work for less money is the big paradox," says Matt Howell, president of the Boston agency Modernista, in the same Fast Company piece that depicted a rather gloomy scenario for today’s Mad Men (“Mayhem on Madison Avenue”). Both client and agency side are facing a more and more strenuous battle for attention and engagement in the light of fragmented media usage, always-on connectivity, and social media: "The irony is that while there have never been more ways to reach consumers, it's never been harder to connect with consumers," explains Brad Jakeman, now chief creative officer at Activision, the gaming company.
No wonder new models are popping up left and right. Forrester calls for “Adaptive Marketing,” and the Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently ran a comprehensive report on “Social Media and the New Rules of Branding." In one of the report’s articles, McKinsey’s David C. Edelman suggests that marketers need to respond to today’s more nuanced customer journeys. Far from systematically narrowing their choices, Edelman argues, today’s consumers take a much more iterative journey of the three traditional customer journey stages: consider, evaluate, buy, and spend more time in the additional stages of enjoy, advocate, and bond. Edelman’s main revelation: If the bond becomes strong enough, consumers enter an enjoy-advocate-buy loop that skips the consider and evaluate stages entirely.
That all makes sense, but it strikes me as unlikely that tomorrow’s marketing innovation will come from reading a McKinsey piece in HBR. These days, domain expertise ages quickly, and doing is replacing saying. Marketers increasingly have to develop added-value ancillary products, services, and apps in order to sell their core offering. Traditional marketing is disrupted by disruptive marketing, which itself is disrupting interruptive advertising. Yet - in the best tradition of Clayton Christensen’s “innovation dilemma" - yesterday’s win can become tomorrow’s burden as disruptive viral campaigns are quickly absorbed by an army of me-too’s. Benchmarking, best practices, and new theoretical frameworks often just eclipse a lack of imagination, a lack of customer empathy, and a lack of courage to be creative: “There is no one to copy, no one to follow,” says Richard Branson.
And yet here I was at a marketing conference sharing my own playbook. Jessie had invited me to present on “What B2B Marketers Can Learn from Design-Driven Innovation for B2B,” and I definitely enjoyed my role as the somewhat eccentric outlier in the line-up. I was surprised how many people in the audience knew frog when I conducted a mini brand audit at the outset of my presentation, and I was flattered by their interest in frog. I took the attendees through a quick overview of frog’s history, philosophy, and approach, before elaborating on the seven design principles that I thought might be applicable for B2B marketers. The subsequent Q&A yielded some incisive questions, although, as usual, I wasn’t able to answer the “ROI of design” one satisfactorily. If anyone can, drop me a note. Oh well. Sometimes you just need to believe (or have a stellar sales team).
Here are the slides from my presentation: