Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 | 5 min read
Are you putting most of your energy into planning a big marketing blitz in 2017? Then it’s time to stop, Mohanbir Sawhney, a Northwestern University marketing professor, told attendees at our recent event that laid out how brands can put customers at the center of everything they do.
Sawhney, who teaches at the university’s Kellogg School of Management, said that marketers should think in 30-day increments or less rather than plan a big campaign six months out. He added that marketers have to earn a sales conversation by providing some value to customers first.
The themes were all part of a customer-centric approach to marketing that addresses consumers’ skepticism to marketing messaging and the fact that such consumers are able to interact with a brand 24/7.
“Engagement” has been a buzzword in marketing circles for the past few years, and for good reason. Spurring a consumer to engage with your brand is a good first step towards making them a customer. What’s often overlooked, though, is that customers will only engage when they get some value out of the transaction. Sawhney calls this ROE, or “return on engagement.”
Sawhney says there are six basic types of value: information, community, convenience, inspirational, social and entertainment. The savviest companies realize this and are luring engagement by offering content that provides one of those types of value. “Content can be magnetic, content can attract customers to you, but only if it is relevant and useful,” he said.
For instance, to sell Crest, Procter & Gamble looked at potential customers among dentists. Instead of asking how the company could sell more, Sawhney explained, it asked how it could help. This led to the creation of DentalHealth.com, a hub offering online learning for dentists and information on new developments in the field, among other resources.
Another big shift that Sawhney noted is the move away from campaign-centric marketing to always-on marketing. While much has been made about consumers’ 24/7 access to social media, many marketers are still thinking in terms of creating a big reaction with a multi-million dollar campaign or new idea.
Instead of campaigns, Sawhney advocates having a conversation with the customer. A good example of this, says Sawhney, is Nike. Instead of focusing on advertising, the brand attempts to create a relationship with the customer via community events and software and apps. For example, Nike has an instructional skateboarding app that teens use for hours and hours.
“The idea is to surround your customer with valuable software and services instead of a 30-second ad,” he said. “In the future Nike says ‘We don’t want to be the sponsors of the Olympics, we want to be the sponsors of your fitness.’”
When it comes to campaigns, Sawhney believes that a more agile approach should supplement long-range plans.
Sawhney argued that focusing solely on the latter is risky. “A big strategy, big launch, and big budget also lead to big mistakes,” he said. Part of the reason is latency. A large TV campaign requires a buy six months in advance. Now, however, it is possible to buy and iterate in real time. “Therefore, the shift now is that we collapse these stages of planning, testing and execution into an iterative cycle,” he said. “An iterative cycle is a sprint that you run in a two- to four-week cadence.”
Executing such an approach requires a cross-functional team, Sawhney said. The group should include product managers, brand managers, digital people and agency reps and meet in a “scrum” on a daily basis.
Providing value, always-on marketing and an agile approach are all methods that recognize that much of modern marketing is based on to reacting to customers. This is more of a growth hacking philosophy than the classic Four P’s of marketing. Yet the goal is the same—to sell more product. More than ever, according to Sawhney, that requires earning the consumer’s trust.
“It’s not about selling, it’s about telling,” he said. “The product conversation does happen, but it happens on the back end where you initiate the conversation and the dialog around something that you find useful. Then you earn the right to have that [conversation.]”