Once upon a time, a young media planner worked on a brief for the launch of a flagship shampoo for one of the world’s largest packaged goods companies. The launch was significant as it was the first launch of the product globally and so all eyes were on it. She worked tirelessly and eventually presented an internal approved strategy and plan to the Chief Marketing Officer. 

At the end of the presentation, the Chief Marketing Officer acknowledged the good work, thanked the team and then proceeded to explain why there was a need to spend the entire year’s marketing budget within three months in a coordinated multi-prong attack that involved a trade distribution onslaught, pricing innovation, 360-always-on campaign, real time tracking and most importantly, knowledge that the market leading brand from the main competitor would not be able to respond to this onslaught fast enough and hence allow the said flagship product the rein to gain the necessary market share to drive repurchase. 

The story had three happy-ever-afters. The first was the flagship product grew from strength to strength and remains a market leader. The second was the Chief Marketing Officer became a global category lead and yielded sustained business for the agency. The third was that the young media planner learned, first-hand, in real practice, the value of a holistic go-to-market strategy and plan to win in the market.

Fast forward to 2019 and there has been a series of new dynamics in the marketing arena:

With further complexities present in marketing in the digital economy such as the need for increased speed to market, technology galore, customers’ declining attention span, organisational constructs that are siloed through the marketing value chain, competition from traditional players and swift new entrants and a shorter time span to deliver results, to succeed in marketing has never been more challenging.

And when things get challenging, the return to first principles becomes valuable as it ensures that marketing returns to its core of being the management process responsible for the identification, anticipation and satisfaction of customer requirements profitably, as the Chartered Institute of Marketing defines it. Here is my list of five key first principles to turn to, even in the most challenging times:

  1. Create and own a compelling customer value proposition for each of the audience segments that are essential for the growth of your brand and business.
  2. Tell the story of this value proposition consistently and experientially across relevant and meaningful consumer touchpoints and most often in an omnichannel ecosystem.
  3. Build for growth and profitability – it is not one or the other; do not optimize your brand out of consideration and preference.
  4. Drive innovation and differentiation in a brand’s go-to-market strategy – writers Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin’s famous book, “Differentiate or Die” released in 2000 has oddly never been more relevant.
  5. Ground measurements in business and brand impact and reality, not vanity.

This quote in 2008 from Abby Joseph Cohen says its best: 

“Perhaps the most important thing we all do is to identify critical variables. If you are doing any sort of analysis, there might be hundreds of available data points – many of which can be measured with precision. And you may get precisely the wrong answer. Instead, I think investment professionals need to identify those few variables that really do matter.” 

Ten years later, the mastery of this view and this ecosystem remains valid and essential for how a brand and its Chief Marketing Officer can not only survive, but thrive in the digital economy.

Audrey Kuah is a member of IAB SEA+India’s Regional Board and Managing Director, Global Data Innovation Centre and Executive Director, Media, Asia Pacific, Dentsu Aegis Network.