So what?

Till 2-3 years ago marketers built brands. Now they are increasingly being tasked with building ‘experiences’ (and in many instances with no direct or indirect references to a brand). Previously, selling a brand meant identifying a need or a problem, create a product that solves that problem and finally creating a set of differentiated branded assets for the product.

This was a highly successful and copied strategy till the time consumers were looking for a solution to a problem and were not knowledgeable or discerning enough to critical choices. They were there to be persuaded or influenced. Very quickly, a sellers market transformed into a buyers’ market (to quote classical economics).

The transformation has been fascinating. Marketers triggered this transformation by proliferating markets with choices. This was initially met with glee but then descended into chaos and confusion. And then the ‘digital explosion’ happened, which made access to free, unfiltered information a democratic right. It also made sharing of thoughts / feedback / opinions a social phenomenon (something that we struggle to stop doing even when there is no need to).

The consequence of this explosion was a rise in the critical lens used by consumers and also the need to not ‘accept’ but ‘demand’ the very best. The current day strategic differentiators of ‘purpose’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethics’ are forms of this new type of demand. Previously consumers demanded a solution to a problem. Nowadays the demand is about experiences that enrich, elevate and enhance the quality of life.

Social sharing has also resulted in a stronger form of communal behaviour, which is markedly different from its traditional physical form. We engage on a continuous basis on digital platforms (just try to remember how many times you checked / commented / shared content on your phone during the day today), but that doesn’t necessarily translate into our offline / real world behaviour. We still complain about loneliness, that we only have Facebook friends and that speaking to a stranger sends our pulse racing.

This is the ‘new reality’ marketers have to increasingly face up and align themselves with. At the beginning of this post I mentioned about marketers being tasked with the challenge of creating experiences. The reason why it is challenging is because ‘experiences’ now need to seamlessly transcend between the online and physical worlds. Getting an online experience to have similar levels of impact in a physical world is damn difficult.

The underlying impact of the democratisation of information and social sharing is the non-linear, complex, cyclical, multi-loop brand purchase funnel. Awareness has become an almost ‘redundant’ metric, consideration has become ‘fleeting’, preference can get altered ‘overnight’, trial is a ‘short-term’ measure and loyalty has ‘disappeared’. Giving new names to these metrics does not help marketers, but only ends up confusing them. There are hundreds of variations of digital brand purchase funnels. Marketers now have digital and offline purchase funnels and variants that ‘claim to work’ at the intersection of both worlds.

At the end of the day, and driven by two important forces, which is the demise of loyalty and the proliferation of choices, brand building has become an enormously challenging task. Add to that the fact that marketers also need to create experiences as they build brands.

In my interactions with clients and peers, the overwhelming feeling of the above situation is driving everyone to ask the proverbial question of ‘so what’ (or in more truer terms and expressing the real frustrations, ‘so f@#!!@% what’). The democratisation of information seems to have created a malaise in the whole domain of brand building – too many buzz words, too many metrics, too many funnels, too many stages, too many predictable variables, equally more unpredictable variables, enormous amounts of planning without outcomes, significant levels of work without getting ‘anything done’ and a mind-boggling array of products / solutions / black boxes / mazes / jack-in-the-boxes.

Let’s look at some recent announcements (or news if you want to call them that):

“We are not looking for cuts but to shape spend to increase efficiency and effectiveness.” – Jon Moeller, CFO, P&G

TV is still king for reach and awareness – Anna Kilmurray, ClearScore

“…… “big planning” , which understands the world of influence, the nature of customer relationships, not just consumer response, or the behaviour of shoppers – and then marries these to the techniques of enquiry and the discipline of measurement.” – Miles Young, ex-Global Chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather

It is interesting to glance through the The Yanai Doctrine, which is a refreshing change in the world of ‘delivering strategic long-term impact by juxtapositioning your current organisational strengths with future emerging paradigms that have the ability to supercharge and transform the direction of your organisational goals and endeavours….blah blah blah blah…’

  • Put Customers First
  • Contribute to Society
  • Embrace Optimism
  • Learn from Failure
  • Focus on the Details
  • Be Your Own Critic
  • Connect to the World
  • Disrupt Yourself

As much as we critique the brand or curse it for its lack of innovation, Apple’s design legacy is driven by the sheer focus towards simplicity, which was a lifelong motto of Steve Jobs.

“….Zen was a deep influence. You see it in his whole approach of stark, minimalist aesthetics, intense focus.” – Daniel Kottke, Steve Jobs’ college friend

These seemingly unrelated news and opinion pieces have one thing in common in terms of the message being eschewed by the people who are the focus – The power of simple strategic thinking.

I talk about marketers getting tasked with creating excellent, mind-blowing branded experiences. Here are two extreme viewpoints on branded experiences when it is specifically about engaging with audiences at live events. Take a side and defend your position:

Side 1:“…Using a second screen at home is rapidly becoming the norm, but at sporting and music events it still has a long way to go. Consumers are happily using their mobile phones to share opinions and content on social media, but there is definitely more of an opportunity for brands to further facilitate mobile fan interaction during their live experiences too.” (

Side 2:“Adele yells at fan to stop filming her concert: ‘You can enjoy it in real life, rather than through your camera.” (

According to latest research (and there are numerous), the youngest age groups (say 16-24 year olds from a demographic perspective) are the most fragmented in terms of social media usage, with active engagement across 7-8 platforms and growing. Should marketers realistically spend their precious marketing dollars to create an all-encompassing omni-social campaign across 7-8 social platforms for targeting a 16-24 year old? This is a classic modern day exemplification of the age old proverb ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth”.

Simple strategic thinking is nothing but the three words themselves. The proverbial “So what?” is the lynchpin of simple strategic thinking. Ultimately strategy is what you do, but it needs to start at how you think, what you think and why are you thinking what. It is about making choices – between the long-drawn and concise, between the verbose and precise, between clutter and order, between ‘all that we measure’ and ‘what we should be measuring’, between the ‘hypothetical’ and the ‘truly visionary’, between ‘multiple options’ and ‘real choices’ and most importantly, between saying ‘no’ and saying ‘yes’. So whenever faced with a choice that has the ability to overwhelm, confuse, add noise or simply deflect focus, there is a need for marketers to ask the ‘so what’ question.

I have failed miserably in portraying what I am eschewing by writing a long-form article to convey the power of ‘simple strategic thinking’. Next task is to pass the 140 character limit test of Twitter.


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