Customer, creativity, cost management: What every marketer should refocus on in challenging times

Focusing on the 3Cs of customer, creativity and cost management will help marketers navigate the stormy waters ahead.

Secret MarketerIt’s going to be another tough year. It feels like everything is constantly changing… again. Headwinds, my CEO at one of the companies I used to work at would call it, before announcing another set of cautious statements about our growth trajectory. Goodness, we do have some this year don’t we? Slow growth, general inflation, even higher media inflation, low consumer confidence, high taxation, cuts in the real income of most households, and in business the continued pressure of short-term commercial thinking and cash preservation. All the enemies of investing in long-term growth and a commitment to develop ambitious multi-year business plans. But what does this mean for marketing and marketers?

My answer has been to refocus on the 3Cs to deliver effective marketing leadership in my organisation. Perhaps they will help you too.

Customer strategy

Putting the customer at the heart of any marketing approach is crucial. What do they expect? What are they getting today? How can we close that gap with our proposition? How do we make our brands and products easy to find and easy to buy? Can we use experience and superior customer service as a differentiator? What role can price play in gaining more profitable volume?

In my experience businesses that address these questions stop obsessing over making their products a tiny bit better and optimising their operations.

Instead they perform the kind of commercial judo that leads to increased market share and pricing power. Leveraging all of the 4Ps, these rare businesses build and distribute propositions tailored to the needs of their customers to unlock the biggest value pools.

Not all marketers or marketing departments are in a position to action this kind of change, but they will have agency to develop a communications and brand plan that can elevate their part of the mix, while inspiring and influencing others to change. Increasingly this requires balancing short-term activation marketing at the bottom of the funnel, with widening targeting to the broader category, deploying campaigns designed to build memorability at the top of the funnel, and if possible, combined with broadened distribution to catch infrequent category buyers.

It means focusing on the strategic long-term commercial goal, investing in building your brand for that end state, then pulling all the levers and tactical plays you can to get there. It’s a different method. It relies much less on short-term tactics and agility which leave no footprint in the market to underpin sustained market share gain, but keep teams busy. A great big bunch of tired busy fools.


Most marketing activity is ignored, most brands invisible to consumers and most advertising unnoticed. I read somewhere that in the 16 hours most people are awake each day they will only notice nine minutes of advertising, of which social is about three minutes. Yet within this period they will be exposed to just under one and a half hours of advertising.

Put that way, what on earth are most brand and marketing communications teams doing? Obsessing with creating fairly anodyne long- and short-form content, organic social posts, and utterly forgettable advertising that few will pay attention to. There is a great opportunity for cut-through and standout for the brave and the bold. But developing great creative takes time, is expensive and needs real commitment.

Think of the most recent Cadbury’s commercial. You know, the one in the petrol station at night with the dad, the daughter and the bar of chocolate. It is a piece of sheer brand advertising magic – an absolute banger.

I am sure the team who created it have been working on their brand platform and approach for years. It’s not something you can just turn on. To build a brand you need great partners, a bit of vision, excellent execution and at times nerves of steel leavened by the lightest of touches.

Here’s the thing: great work is for the long term. Great ads and campaigns rarely wear out. They can run and run, building and refreshing memory structures, as well as boosting the effectiveness of performance activities. Look at Mastercard’s priceless campaign. It is 25 years old and still going strong right across the world.

Study finds ad effectiveness does not ‘wear-out’ over time

It takes a special kind of marketer to turn away from the quick fix of digital and social only campaigns. To elevate their approach above product promotions and to broaden the mix to mass market media, seeking to create a simple and enduring connection with their consumer. In short, being committed to build their brand at scale. Not every business has ambitions to be market leading, but for those that do, the results are quite staggering, when a brand-building approach is adopted.

Cost management

Credibility in the boardroom is grounded in understanding and managing your costs as a business. The corollary to growing the top line is managing costs as a key underpin to sustainable profit progression. It’s actually a cultural thing based in commercial acumen, and understanding the critical role marketing can play in business success.

For marketing this means spending budgets really efficiently to deliver maximum effectiveness. Cutting out waste can be tough in a creative and fast moving media environment, but it isn’t impossible. It does mean investing in impact over frequency, focusing scopes on the critical elements, having the force of mind to negotiate hard on media, production and agency fees, and where appropriate rationalising suppliers to leverage greater buying power.

An old and reliable formula

Of course you don’t need to adopt the 3Cs because times are hard, they work just as well when facing into sunlit uplands – do you remember them? For me the 3Cs are the ‘old reliable’ of marketing leadership. They are there for any weather. After all, in marketing I have always found that the more things change, the more they stay the same.