People power is forging marketing

P&G is attempting to build relationships with consumers in their everyday lives using various media.

When Alan Lafley first took over as Procter & Gamble chief executive three years ago, one of the things he talked about – aside from the need to restore order within the company after a period of upheaval – was the need to “reinvent marketing”.

Old-style “push” marketing – the very marketing P&G helped to invent decades ago – was on its way out. “What we are trying to do now is find different business models, different launch models, different branding and marketing models,” Lafley enthused.

Last week, speaking at a World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) conference, P&G chief marketing officer Jim Stengel returned to the theme. Consumers, technologies and lifestyles are changing to such a degree that they are “driving a reinvention of marketing as we know it,” he declared.

But three years on, are we any closer to knowing what this reinvented marketing will look like? The answer is a cautious “Yes”. Slowly but surely, the pieces of a new marketing jigsaw do seem to be falling into place.

Nobody is putting it publicly this way yet, but the essence of P&G’s reinvention seems to be a shift from media-centric to consumer- and brand-centric marketing. Forty years ago, when 80 per cent of US adults could be reached with three 60-second television spots, the answer to the issue of “how to communicate efficiently and effectively” was a given. Marketing communications and media communications were almost synonymous (a fact reflected by today’s newspapers whose editorial pages still routinely lump together ‘media and marketing’ as one). So the only real issue was how to construct the most compelling messages, buy the air-time most efficiently, and organise related activities such as sampling and promotions to capitalise on these activities.

Now P&G is reframing the communication challenge, not around media but around consumers’ everyday lives – to ask how, when and where its brands can most relevantly connect.

At one level, this looks like a “small earthquake in Chile”. Most (though not all) consumers are still voracious consumers of media, so media advertising remains crucially important. But there is a difference. Rather than starting with a creative message and then working out a media strategy, Stengel wants his brand managers to understand exactly which media each brand’s consumers consume, and how they relate to this media – and then to create the creative to fit this unique brand/media/target customer signature. “Know when and where to reach the consumer first, then pursue developing the creative,” he says. “It’s amazing to me the industry is not working this way 100 per cent of the time”.

But even the best ads can only be one part of the equation if the new mantra really is “go to where consumers are and communicate with them how and when they are receptive”. Hence P&G’s increasing interest in other communication channels.

Top of this list is retailers as communication channels, whether via in-store and retail media or increasingly sophisticated joint database marketing and collaborative customer relationship management programmes. In Germany, for instance, P&G is working with retailers to target different segments jointly, such as trendy singles or young mums.

Then there’s word of mouth, where P&G is experimenting with ventures like Tremor, a teen-focused viral marketing “community” where P&G and other advertisers provide gossip-minded teens with “inside” information on the latest in entertainment, fashion, food and games.

And “brand experience”? One slightly off-the-wall instance comes from Charmin toilet tissue. In the US, the brand is offering to organise the “bathroom management” side of fairs, sporting, music and other events, to turn foul-smelling, dirty hell holes into squeaky clean, fresh-smelling, air-conditioned toilet facilities stocked with top-end Charmin toilet tissue. This superior “experience” is doing more for brand trial than years of traditional door-to-door sampling, claims Stengel.

The common theme uniting all such initiatives is relevance. If marketing is just about pushing selling messages to audiences, they will resist the intrusion. Marketing has to add value “by offering information that solves problems or makes life easier”, argues Stengel. Hence the baby care information provided by Pampers, or the stain removal information offered by Ariel.com. “The service mentality is really powerful. There is no reason why Ariel can’t be a service brand”, he says.

But if some of the pieces of a new marketing jigsaw are falling into place, they’re not all snug just yet. Just look at measurement. Currently, virtually all our marketing measures are still media-centric, focusing say, on spontaneous or prompted recall of TV ads. Such measures are not consumer-focused. They measure a medium, not the impact a company’s overall marketing activities have on consumers. Yet, as Stengel points out, “we all know the real power is when multiple channels work together to connect with consumers”. Hence his challenge to the WFA: “to find a new way to measure the collective impact of the total brand experience on our target.”

Pressed on exactly what such new measures will look like, Stengel is coy. All he says is that we need “a different methodology that somehow links what we do in the market to advancing equities”. Innovation in this area has been “frightfully low”.

More coyness: he’s setting up four special, global learning projects to supplement “our knowledge, creativity, development and sharing”. One of them relates to shopper marketing. The other three are top secret.

Brand experience, permission marketing, viral marketing, new media and interactivity, advertising clutter and information overload, media fragmentation – we all know that the foundations of marketing are shifting. But so far, most responses have been piecemeal. Nobody has brought all these elements together to create a new, workable, efficient coherent whole. That’s the challenge P&G is setting itself and its agencies. It clearly believes a much more consumer-centric, rather than media-centric, approach is key. This reinvented approach throws up huge operational, organisational, budgetary, knowledge and relationship management challenges. It’s also raising many new, knotty questions. The race to answer them is hotting up.

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