Mark Ritson: Marketers who skip brand research are doomed to fail

CMOs and marketing managers must manage their time effectively and complete a brand diagnosis within their first six months on the job, says Ritson.

FailureFor marketing managers and CMOs starting a new job, the temptation may be to dive straight into churning out campaigns and driving results for their new employer.

However, Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson has warned there is nothing more important in the first six months of a job than to research and complete a brand diagnosis.

“Your priority in those first six months is doing the diagnosis and getting your data together to work out what’s going on with the brand,” Ritson said during the Festival of Marketing today (23 March), adding that it is the “number one job” any marketing manager will have throughout their tenure.

“[In the first year], you’ve got this big diagnosis to work everything out, the first big strategy, the first big execution,” he said. “And make no mistake, if you don’t do that then all you’re doing is speeding up your eventual move on to another job. It’s crucial you do it.”

Finding time to conduct brand research properly can be a challenge for marketers, Ritson admitted, particularly for those in their first year. However, it remains “imperative” that time is found to conduct the diagnosis while running the day-to-day strategy handed over from their predecessor.

If I’ve seen one [common] thing among marketers that fail, it’s that they don’t manage their time to be able to do diagnosis in the first place.

Mark Ritson

“When you get hired into a brand, the first thing to do is to say to everyone, ‘this year is not my year. I will do it to the best of my capabilities and I will do what I can, but it’s someone else’s strategy and someone else’s tactics. You will see my impact starting in year two’,” he said.

“The good [marketers] do all the stuff on top of the water, but underneath they’re also preparing for their plan in year two as they build their diagnosis. You do still have to run day-to-day stuff but manage your time and do not neglect the diagnosis. If I’ve seen one [common] thing among marketers that fail, it’s that they don’t manage their time to be able to do diagnosis in the first place.”

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A perfect diagnosis

According to Ritson, a “perfect” diagnosis will begin with a discovery phase of researching the history of the brand, gathering secondary data, loyalist research and segment groups. This will be followed by a testing phase, including a brand survey and second stage groups.

Once the brand diagnosis is complete, a marketing strategy can be pulled together.

From beginning to end, Ritson anticipates this process will take approximately six months, advising that it needs to be ready in time to be presented to the business’s finance team before budgets are signed off.

While the diagnosis stage is a substantial undertaking during a marketing manager’s first year, in subsequent years the annual diagnosis becomes less intense and focused on tracking success.

For marketers working at brands with little budget or who cannot invest money into brand research, Ritson said there is “no correlation” between how much money is spent on research and how much insight is generated.

Instead, for those with limited resource, the priorities should be studying the history of the company, gathering secondary data, ethnography and talking to brand loyalists.

“That’s enough to get your head around what the brand is, and it’s essential,” he added.