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Leading with creativity, not technology

The idea of leading with creativity and not technology coming from a professional who is offering Martech solutions as one of his key services might sound blasphemous. But meeting after meeting (and there are too many of them), I hear senior professionals dive straight into executional and tactical stuff. Almost always when my team presents strategic approach slides everybody wants to fast forward to the execution. ‘Don’t give me gyaan’ the team is told. Sometimes I do find the state of marketing maturity frustrating.

The ability to comprehend a good strategy Vs. a clever headline was always questionable in the context of the Creative Agencies and the same philosophy holds true for Media Agencies. Leo Burnett had once famously said – ‘Dumb dollars beat smart dimes.’ This kind of thought process always stood for lazy marketing to me. A one-off clever campaign or a big splash media campaign are typical examples that advertising folks see day in and day out. They live with it because its kind of an easy way out, but in their heart know that this was never a brand building solution. As someone once said – creativity is one of the last remaining legal ways of gaining an unfair advantage over your competition. And it is the most valuable skill and trait that an organisation needs to build.

I belong to the school of thought propagated by R. K Swamy, he used to say ‘brands don’t need a large hammer, they need a sharper nail’ and that’s the job of a marketer and a communication partner. The inherent strengths of the product need to match the needs of the customer and they need to be showcased in a compelling manner. I am certainly not undermining the need for money and media spends to build a brand. What I am stating is that the CEOs need to redesign their marketing teams. I use the term redesign and not restructure with a purpose. The purpose is that customers have evolved a great deal and in an accelerated manner over the last ten years, products and services need to tailor their experiences keeping in mind this new reality. A lot of marketers think of a new product as a brand launch project, and it is not. It is not just about a new positioning statement, a new logo, a new campaign, a new CRM or CX strategy. In my opinion, it is not something that one team can do or more importantly should be allowed to do. It actually is a cultural, companywide transformation. One must influence every department and every person in the organisation. Everyone needs to understand what the new product/brand is, and they need to feel like it is theirs and own it. Because if they do not it will show.

Organisations will need to become design-led enterprises espousing a culture of ideation, problem solving and driving differentiated customer experiences. A lot has been spoken about customer experience and I see so many ‘experts’ on the subject hosting webinars and giving talks. But the fact remains that most of them approach from a very narrow lens of either Martech, Adtech, Social, etc. Almost none of them have an enterprise level vision. Forrester has famously proclaimed that 2020 will be the year that CX needs to prove itself. It stated that – CX professionals will either quantify their business impact and reach new levels of influence or find themselves in a tenuous position. We know the answer to this. I must clarify that when I use CX professionals, I am including the Marketing professionals as I believe they hold the primary responsibility. I think it is naïve and shallow to equate customer experience with customer service. A CMO Survey done with 341 Marketing heads has thrown up the following top challenges that Organisations are facing:

  1. Developing the necessary capabilities inside the organisation to design, deliver and monitor the CX – this further strengthens my argument that CX can only be driven organisation wide and has to be led by the CEO or at least has to have his oversight.
  2. Coordinating disparate aspects of the organisation to design, manage, deliver, and monitor the CX – this must be shared, organisation wide responsibility. It requires a cross-functional approach and shared goals and KPIs.
  3. Determining the contribution of each touchpoint to the overall CX and identifying critical touch points – how to arrive and agree on attribution is a key point and most often a bone of contention. A CEO had last year confided in me that when the sales, marketing, service and financing teams made their quarterly presentations each of them had claimed that they had helped grow their share by an average 30%! He said – “If those numbers were true, the company should have almost doubled in size! But the fact is that the real growth rate is in single digit!” The way forward is developing common metrics across the organisation.
  4. Integrating touchpoints across the entire customer journey. All the so-called experts keep referring to a seamless customer experience but practitioners like us refer to it as a frictionless experience from a customer point of view because that is what he wants. This I must state is a strategic blind spot. The left hand most often does not know what the right hand is doing.
  5. Creating optimal experiences across all channels and devices. This again requires the ability to coordinate, see through and execute on the ground to provide connected experiences
  6. Linking CX measures to relevant KPIs and financial outcomes- this practice is yet to evolve. Marketers take ad hoc decisions while allocating funds and then while evaluating outcomes.
  7. Partner management – All partners from the Creative, Digital, Media, CRM and Activation need to be in sync on all aspect of the customer and CX.

If you look at the above, you will understand that not many challenges are attributable to technology or the lack of it. And that is why I keep saying the answer lies in what problem you are trying to solve. All the pieces in the jig saw can fall into place with a little imagination and dollops of creativity. If you identify with these challenges, you are not alone. Most organisations are sailing in this boat. The current situation has only brought the above issues centre stage. In a market where sales and revenues have taken a huge hit, it would be prudent for organisations to relook at the entire customer journey and customer experience and inculcate the habit of design led creative thinking. This and only this will ensure that they not only survive the current situation but also thrive in the future.

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