#10 Spend more time on your consumers, not your marketing bubble

Last week I was writing about the place brands have in people’s minds and hearts (here) (disclaimer – not a front seat by any means). How is it then we came to believe the opposite? Could it be because we live in our comfortable marketing bubble? This blog is written for the bubble but tries hard to make sure it does not aim to reach outside the bubble. Outside the bubble are normal people; outside the bubble are your consumers, the audience you want to pay attention to your messages, engage emotionally, and purchase your products.

Normal people do not read AdAge or MarketingWeek; normal people do not go to Cannes, nor listen to Scott Galloway’s latest Marketing Podcasts. For sure normal people do not read my blog. Normal people do not talk about the virality effect of the Burger King mold ads, as they might not even see it. Normal people might be aware of the Kaepernick Nike’s work, but do not discuss it endlessly as an act of courage from the company. They just see it as another message from the brand they sometimes or more often decide to purchase. We spend our energy to build our brands and our careers at the same time. We want to seduce more people with our messages as well as show our worth to the marketing tribe, and land that new role or promotion. Time is a finite resource, and the more we spend chasing tribe fame, the less we have to focus on those we need to seduce more: our future brand users. Just be aware of that trade-off.

Towards whom are you directing your energy today? The normal people or your bubble?

#9 Few people think much about your brand. Sorry. Get over it.

Brand love is a marketing concept I grew up with, studied it, believed in it, and in the last ten years, started to lose trust in it. Humans love their family, their pets, the places they go, themselves, and trust me, they do not love your brand of toilet paper, cleaning detergent, candy bar, or Pet Treat. Yet, we still believe that brand equity’s outcome is the love of a brand.

The Marketoonist has a great visual on the topic, it’s not new, but always a pleasure to engage with

So, what is happening in reality in people’s brains when advertising knocks on the door. They are exposed to brand messages; they are reacting with their emotions, paying attention, or ignoring the signals received, and they build connective memory structures. Yet rarely, if ever, they replace “the love of <<me>>” with “the love of Hertz” in their brains. Brands are signals of trust for generic product lines; they form a repertoire of choice consistent across categories; brands appear and disappear from peoples’ consideration set based on product performance, salience, and external perspectives (brand fame).

I see the role of advertising to strengthen those memory structures connected to brands, to keep on repeating consistent brand messages, that will resonate at point of sales in unconscious ways. Because even there, where we think humans are analyzing every single purchase decision with care, they are acting on instinct too. But we can nudge the instinct, by building memory structures.

When was the last time you thought the brand you work on is bigger than life?

#8 Be skeptical of trends, yet decisive when spotting a winner

 The TikTok Opportunity. Us marketers are guilty of jumping head straight on trying shiny new trends we get sold at every CES, MarTech conference, or webinars. Blockchain, AR, VR, 5G, Bots, Influencers … to name a few. For a more detailed list, a useful resource I always go back to is the Gartner Hype Cycle. Sorin is one of the cautious marketers, always using my skepticism to peel off the overblown benefit and get to the real core of the problem we are all aiming to solve: am I able to reach consumers better using this trick.

The trend of these days is TikTok, but that is easily an understatement. A social network coming out of nowhere 2-3 years ago, became the spotlight of these confinement times on our phones. Just two datapoints I came across this week made me think that, as a marketer, if you are not planning to use TikTok in 2020, you are probably are missing the train. And this train doesn’t seem to be an overblown trend; it’s where people are spending their time, it’s where the “hard-to-reach” younger audiences are playing, but not only them.

Between March 2019 and March 2020, it is impressive how TikTok became “older,” following the same path that Facebook and Instagram took while growing its user base to an estimated 0.8 billion monthly users. Add to this the average time spent with the app of 45minutes per day (hard to believe), and you might wonder why advertising is not all over the place. But really…45 minutes? That’s must be a big lie!

My second data point is a personal one and confirms the above numbers. Simply looking at my phone usage stats last week, I was shocked to see that TikTok became my most used app by far. It could be that its addictive algorithm makes 4 hours fly by very fast, it could be that music helps you watch and rewatch posts, but when I saw how easy it was to create content using my videos and images, on a famous music track, I started playing even more. But, the entire time I was using TikTok, in Belgium, I haven’t been served a single piece of advertising. Crazy! The age profile is right, the usage time is ridiculously high, the competition is not there (yet). So what are all you marketeers waiting for? Make a TikTok brand challenge, create some content, play with it!

Did you think about creating a TikTok challenge with your brand at the core? 

#7 The Long Term Impact Of Advertising Exists

When was the last time you saw an ad for Coke or Apple on TV? You probably don’t remember, since you gave up on watching TV a long time ago. But then, how come you remember ads you saw 20 years ago, like this one or this one. Guessing on the audience of this blog, you probably saw them when someone shared it to highlight how creative their agency is and how their advertising is so evergreen. But normal consumers remember those ads too. This post is not a piece about word of mouth; it is about the long term impact of advertising. 

Every single impression your brand delivers on TV, on YouTube or Social platforms, builds memory structures, irrespective of the audience is aware or not, if they remember it next week or not. Every view of the brand’s logo – sound – distinctive assets, builds salience. At times it might trigger the unexpected in-store gesture to pick up the product and add it to your basket. That’s what we recognize as a short term sales impact. That’s what we became obsessed with as an industry. Nonetheless, the more powerful effect is the long term impact of advertising.

Let’s get the thing straight. There is no long term sales effect if your advertising is bad short term. That’s why managing your creative portfolio by measuring the short term effect and acting upon the measurement is enough. The long term can be measured; it’s not easy. If you put the effort in, you might end up with an effect multiplier that uncovers the sales impact in the long term. At Mars, we prioritized measuring the short term, while using multipliers to estimate the long term and highlight the longer-term damages of a media spend reduction to brand growth.

There is a second brand effect that you can expect long term, and that one is in the territory of brand equity. It’s very difficult, even impossible, to measure this equity effect and attribute it to advertising simply because advertising is one of the vehicles a brand leverages to speak to consumers. Over the long term, advertising competes with product taste, packaging, shelf availability, shelf standout, price-value equation, social mentions, sponsoring activities, secondary shelf placements, retailer catalog listings, and word of mouth. Therefore, when a certain equity KPI goes up (say – awareness), to conclude it’s advertising that drives its growth would be an overstatement.

The long term is real; it comes in 2 forms sales and equity, it’s partially measurable, and you should try to mention it when the CFO calls.

#6 A positive ROI is table-stakes, brand growth requires more

ROI is the favorite metric for Finance, the least favorite metric for Marketing, and an obsession for some people in Marketing Research. Without downgrading the role ROI or media efficiency plays, I am making the case here about the bigger role effectiveness has in the brand growth trajectory.

Similar to a table game at a casino, a positive ROI is the minimum entry requirement to play in the advertising game. Yet too often, we think ROI is enough to end the measurement conversation. Take the example of the “cheapest media in the world” standard banner display. Yes, the one everyone decides to ignore or block all the time. Display Banners are so cheap that sometimes, by converting a ridiculously small number of consumers to purchase your brand, it yields a break-even ROI. Compare that with the highest quality online video available: it’s really expensive but converts 10x more consumers compared to the display banner. But if it’s simply 10x more expensive, it yields the same ROI. Which would do you choose? For me, the largest conversion, or sales impact, will always win.  Just because a higher conversion will accelerate the growth of your brand faster. You could theoretically grow your brand with display too, but it might take you at best 10x the time to achieve that impact. And more risk along the way. Let’s not get into ad-fraud, ad-blocking, erroneous clicks, and more.

ROI is a reflection of both your creative asset and your media cost. During the last two months – in COVID times, as some advertisers stopped digital investment, we saw significant shifts in CPM decline, on major digital platforms. The shifts caused artificially improved the ROIs. Are the consumers responding differently to your advertising? Probably not. Is ROI simply changing because of market conditions beyond your control? Probably. That’s why I think looking at effectiveness first is a more consumer-centric approach.

At Mars, the consistent fixation with generating a higher sales uplift is what enables longer-term strategies of growth for small brands. When your brand scale is too small to even dream of a positive ROI short term, the only path forward is to maximize conversion. With time, you will command a higher ROI if the sales uplift standard remains high. Looking at only ROI, it could be seen as irresponsible to invest in smaller brands with a great future outlook, and Finance will sweep the table.

How are you educating your other functions to think beyond ROI? 

#5 Understand people’s actions and behaviors

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” I love this mantra and try to apply it always to decode people, or how we marketers like to call them: consumers or customers. Understanding what consumers do, how they behave, and what they deeply think is hard, asking them a couple of rushed questions is easy. The first approach is also much more expensive than the first, but it’s worth the $. The difference in how the two methods inform your marketing decisions is not even worth debating.

Over a decade ago, while working as a junior marketer for British American Tobacco, every month, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the latest consumer equity tracker results for my brand. It landed in my inbox as a flood of numbers and graphs in all shapes and forms, which kept me busy for at least two days. Too young to question the quality of that data, I had to join Mars 9 years ago to understand the considerable limitations of asking random people what they think about a brand and more precisely if they will buy it in the future. They say work experiences shape profiles, and I have Mars to thank for helping me embrace the behavioral-based research.

At Mars, we measure what people do – mostly in-store or on digital commerce platforms, how they naturally react to our communication (attention, emotions, memory encoding) and not if they love our brand. Do you think they want to build a long-lasting loyalty relationship with our packaging or ads (more about loyalty in another post)? There is still a big role to play for surveys in people’s research, especially when combined with implicit reaction speed testing. But please take survey results with a grain of salt. In many instances, those answering surveys do it with little or no attention, are mostly interested in the financial reward, and are faced with known academic biases (considerable brand bias, last time purchased brand bias, etc.). The more the industry shifts from in-person surveys to digital surveys, I expect the quality of surveys to decline. It’s much easier to fool a machine than the researcher in front of you.

Robert Frost once said: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”. I am grateful to have spent the last nine years of my career, not looking at survey-based trackers. Quite the opposite 😊

#4 Creative is the #1 accelerator

I am back on this blog after a gap set off by the arrival of Emma in our family, a calm baby entering this crazy world. Much has changed in our industries during the last weeks, yet the guiding principles are still in place. Is Creative the Medium or Medium is the Creative? I do not prefer one or the other, but I know the power of creativity is misunderstood in a world obsessed with measuring ROI.

Advertising is the number 1 driver of mental availability for your brand. We all agree that stopping media for a while leads to brand sales decline. We also know that investing in media has a quantifiable and measurable short-term impact, but also a long-term equity impact. Despite this knowledge, we too often give in to bottom-line pressures and agree to “cut.” Such a dangerous word. We do it and then cash in the saving, without even thinking about the long-term damage we create. Guess what: the two complementary roles of advertising are to drive short term sales and build distinctive memory structures that will stay with consumers for a long time. Is there a way to maximize both impacts? By focusing on creativity.

Media is the pipeline that guides our brands’ messages in their quest to reach consumers. Media is complex, but it sorts of works this way. On TV, by understanding watch behaviors and key moments when we sit back and indulge, on Digital, where data builds audiences based on the probabilities for a better response to our message, on Billboards where location, traffic, or time of day guides the asset planning decisions. In a complex world, simplistically speaking, media guides the message. But what if the message is not working? What is the difference between a bad digital ad and a good one? While delivered to the same target audience with a high propensity to buy, we see big shifts in response. That is why you need to focus on better creativity. Once you are clear which media plan you will activate, raise the bar, make a better ad. And when you measure success, do not just look at ROI, go into detail, look at the effectiveness. Imagine how good your ROI would look like when the creative would be 2x more effective at the same cost.

And please, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM3J9jDoaTA before briefing another campaign that looks exactly like the one consumers have seen before.

How can you improve your creative message, raise the bar? 

#3 Invest in Mass Media

Invest in Mass Media, it’s the best way to get your brand known. Embracing controversy, I will start by sharing a big idea very much linked to my previous post that focused on building penetration as your number 1 driver of growth. As every category buyer is a potential buyer of your brand, mass reach is your #1 Media target.

Reach, reach, reach … but can I afford it?

During the Mad Men era and shortly after, TV advertising is what built the brands we all know today. These days, startup brands like Blue Buffalo, Kind, or Dollar Shave grow exponentially at first by using direct to consumer channels. Their growth plateaus and are forced to rely on mass advertising channels to scale up. That is why the constant decline in TV audiences should be a worrying trend for any advertiser that wants to build brands to scale, not just make the next sale. What’s available to offset this mass reach decline is a maze of multi-formats and solutions with varying degrees of quality and measurability. You better equip yourself with a lot of patience, media budgets, and detective skills to navigate this complex digital labyrinth. In a digital world built on the promise to understand consumers better, it might seem archaic to praise the role of mass media. Yet here I am doing exactly that, with a twist. I am simply saying that mass reach opportunities are what we all should be hunting for; the only limit is the budget we are playing our game.

But what precisely is Mass Reach? A higher share of voice compared to your market share?

The focus on Share of Voice as a primary metric for the ideal level of your media investment always puzzled me. Let’s face it. It doesn’t really work to manage your media budgets. There are less complex ways to say more investment is better than less, just compare this year’s numbers with the previous year. But why don’t I believe in SOV? As the above image beautifully describes, there is a big difference between correlation and causation. Share of Voice and Share of Market (or growth of the latter one) are at best correlated, but there is no causation between the two. A simple proof: in every category where, Private Labels are growing at the expense of brands that advertise, the relation between SOV and SOM goes opposite ways. “Good old” brands are spending media money to grow their penetration, but sometimes the benefits are also collected by private labels at the point of sale. And that’s because advertising drives category growth on top of brand growth.  

Did you think about how to increase your media reach today?

#2 Build Penetration

In my first post, last week, I made a point on the importance of sales impact to decode marketing performance. To paint a full picture, we need more sophistication – thanks, Magda, for pointing this out. Brand Penetration is the key metric we need to pay close attention to. The concept of penetration is now embraced widely in the marketing industry, extensively evangelized in books and academic articles, originating in a beautiful city on the South Coast of Australia, Adelaide. Distant from me is the goal to nail that thesis again here, I am just attempting to add an advertising lens to the concept of brand growth via penetration growth, seen through an engineering lens.

What is Penetration?

Don’t you love a simple math formula? Penetration is the ratio between the number of brand buyers and the total number of category buyers over a set period (most commonly is one year, to account for the shockingly unexpected lower brand purchase frequencies in fast-moving consumer goods). Expressed as a percentage, it is a measure of the power of your brand on the category. It is cleaner compared to other measures like market value share as it takes out pricing from the equation or any loyalty effects, not common in all categories. The maximum penetration for your brand is 100%, when everyone active in the category also buys your product, at least once during that year. Yet, since 100% penetration brands are very rare in non-monopolistic industries, the only way is up for your current brand penetration. To measure penetration, use actual sales data from a nationally representative panel or any comprehensive and complete purchase data set. Let’s not even open the conversation about measuring penetration with declarative data here. If you think that’s a good idea, please read my previous post about 20 times.

Advertising builds both penetration and purchase frequency

Traditional (reach based) advertising has an impact on both the penetration of your brand and increases the purchase frequency for your existing buyers. I often receive the question: what type of creative elements drive the highest penetration gains? I don’t know! The quest for this golden nugget, an ad that only drives massive amounts of penetration, is a favorite waste of time for marketers. Unless you know you are always extremely lucky, you are better off focusing your creative efforts on nailing a great effective ad, which drives by default more penetration compared to a lower effective creative. You can also better use your resources to ensure your ad reaches people who don’t buy your brand today but are active in the category. You can use either broad reach targets if the budget allows, or a targeted reach approach if data is on your side.

You don’t need to target current brand buyers

In CPG, if you are using a reach-based strategy, you don’t need to also advertise directly to your brand buyers. They get exposure to your mass advertising, and on top, they are exposed to your real product and experience it firsthand, which is more important than the 1 second, they pay attention to your message on Facebook. The famous leaky bucket metaphor Byron Sharp uses is an excellent analogy for your quest to continuously build penetration, as your buyers become lapsed buyers as time passes. In a world where all media impressions are costly, choose wisely, and reach everyone that can convert to your brand. Keep building penetration, and measure it using real sales data, not declarative data.

Did you think about brand penetration today?

Continue reading here – https://lnkd.in/eeC3mhT

#1 Focus on Sales

A good friend challenged me to start writing a blog on how an Engineer can make sense of Marketing today. My experience, coupled with my academic background, can provide that lens. Here it is, challenge accepted, and YOU an unexpected audience. This article is the first post from a series of 12, which deconstructs how I see brand growth and communication. I welcome your feedback, as I am sure this habit will become better with time and promise to be brief. No one has time today to read 2000 word articles anymore.

Sales outcome is the ultimate KPI

To grow brands, you must generate sales; there is no other way. For any decision to optimize plans, use sales outcome as it is the best KPI, which correlates to growth. Focusing your efforts to analyze what drove a sale, you are on the way to make better marketing decisions. On top of this, sales outcome is the only KPI that can inform your future budget allocation when translated to Return on Investment. You might assume this is common sense, but it isn’t really in our industry? We often confuse Real Sales, with various upper funnel metrics of Purchase Intent or Purchase Propensity, or in the online space, we use Click-to-Basket or even Click-through as Sales. Unless the transaction has taken place unless the currency is exchanged for the product, you can’t say that’s a sale.

The alternative?

Purchase Intent is, unfortunately, still a long term best friend for the Marketing Research industry and its practitioner. Why? It’s easy to acquire via surveys, immensely facilitated by new digital technologies and offered for free by your media partners. But can you trust the research? Just ask 100 people if they’ll buy your brand, what is the incentive for them to say no? Is their response telling something about their status in society? Research has shown you are more inclined to say, “YES, I will buy a Porsche than saying YES to buying a cheaper Renault”). Is their response more likely to be the exact first option in the survey? Is their response conscious at that time but utterly unrelated to what their brain and emotions will guide the act of purchase at a later date? The answer to all those questions is YES. Future purchase intent questionnaires are genuinely biased and should be banned from any research that informs a marketing decision. I prefer to have 10 Real Sales studies, to 10.000 flawed “almost-sales-studies” of Purchase Intent.

Yes, and …

It’s not always easy to capture Sales, yet no one said it was. It’s tougher if you play in CPG vs. a pure-play Direct 2 Consumer brand. It’s tougher if you rely on third-party data, but not impossible. Mars is proof that an obsession with measuring sales is healthy and doesn’t limit your ability to learn. The closer you can get to personal level sales, the better decisions you can make. You can only attribute growth effects to penetration if you have personal level sales. Aggregation to the store level, geographic region, or even country, dilutes the signal in the noise and raises the requirements for experimental design.

Did you measure sales today?