Survival of the fittest

There are a lot of terms that are overused in the economic gloom as it forces us to change our way of thinking. One of these is “survival of the fittest”. Yet speaking to marketing directors at the annual Marketing Forum on board the Aurora ship, it is apparent that for them that this philosophy will be central to their 2010 plans.

Joe Fernandez

These brand guardians have told Marketing Week on numerous occasions over the past year about how they have struggled to find new ways of making marketing matter in a recession. Now, as they plan for the new year ahead, they appear to have woken up to the inevitable and are talking about a need for better asset management and more brand protection. For them, new technologies really do mean it is survival of the fittest.

This year’s Marketing Forum has been much more subdued and less extravagant than in previous years by all accounts, but the day job of networking with suppliers hasn’t stopped for the marketers on board. But despite some positivism among the delegates, a new element of fear has crept in, potentially overshadowing these new relationships in-the-making.

Will Harris, UK marketing director for Nokia, explains: “It is noticeable now that the brand doesn’t control itself anymore, the consumers do, and it’s something we have to think about a lot more now. We can try to influence them with our messaging and brand positioning, but ultimately we are empowered by them and we need to be on top of this, wherever we can be.”

It’s questionable as to how new this trend actually is. The internet has been rapidly growing over the last few years, encouraging more user participation than ever before, and smartphones are replicating these opportunities for consumers on-the-go too.

But speaking to marketing directors, it is apparent that while the internet was relatively immature and did not have mass reach as the likes of Twitter and certain trade blogs do now, potential devastation to brands was not as high as it could be now. In this new environment of instant sharing, companies cannot be complacent and the least fit to deal with this will not survive.

Alison Sagar, vice president of global network marketing strategy for American Express, says: “The volume of information online and how you deal with it is a huge challenge. It must be evaluated on the quality of content and should be embraced and used as an influencer. Dealing with it as soon as possible is vital. You have to be crystal clear about what you want to get across and make sure that it is cutting through well.”

This new consumer-centric approach appears to be the doctrine for new brand philosophies across all sectors. The thinking coming out of Aurora is that if 2009 was about building confidence, 2010 is about building advocacy and managing reputations.

Simon Carter, marketing director for Fujitsu UK’s government division, explains: “It’s about associating with your customers and finding subtle ways to strike a dialogue with them. How you do it is up to you, but remember the customer doesn’t choose online or offline, it does both, and so should you. Ignore the mediums at your peril.”

So does this mean that PR will be the next big marketing tool? Angie Moxham, chief executive of 3 Monkeys Communications says “the two should work together to create compelling brand stories.”

Tom Foulkes, head of development marketing at Land Securities Group agrees. He says that “both clients and agencies will love the opportunity to work on creatives like this so long as there is passion evident, and it isn’t just latching onto the latest tool.”

Interactivity is set to grow further in 2010, opening more opportunities for consumers to engage with brands using technology. But brands will only succeed at building relationships with customers if they take the right approach, cautions Will Abbott, marketing and communications director for Freesat.

“It’s very tempting to get excited and experiment with something you don’t fully understand. You need to think wisely and find ways to be where your customers are, creating the right dialogue first time,” he advises.

Meanwhile, Mark de Quervain, sales and marketing director of Vue Entertainment, advises that brands use “clear-cut segmented marketing to maximise profit throughout the marketing lifecycle, by bringing each segment to life in a clear and understandable way that can be applied across all levels of the business” to achieve this.

The options available to marketers in this day and age are wide and varied. Indeed, digital suppliers on board the Aurora are keen to talk through them at every opportunity. However the brand guardians choose to deal with this will open up lessons for every brand.

It seems evident that 2010 will be the year of dialogue for commercial brands, extending beyond traditional messaging and seeking to keep brand equity intact. Keeping things clean-cut is never easy for even the most experienced marketer, however. And the increasing tide of consumer opinions will mean this could potentially be the biggest hurdle they’ve ever had to jump.

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