“It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties.” - Donna Haraway
Marketing breeds complexity. Such is its nature that complexity manifests itself internally first. Projects, committees, portfolios, bureaucracies often grow weeds more than flowers leaving little time, resources or mind space to innovate.
Yet innovate we must, else it’s a slippery slope to extinction. Nora Bateson said, “the opposite of complexity is reductionism. Simplicity is complexity with grace.” I wholeheartedly agree from a marketer’s perspective.
The ask is wickedly simple. We need to separate what’s needed from what’s not—across technology, data and people. If it’s not delivering value, then it’s not a priority. No matter what the strategy, vision and brand purpose—less is more. If only doing this would be as easy as stating it.
In the brick-and-mortar era, marketers knew exactly how to drive traffic to stores. Marketing spend was simpler, more efficient, easier to measure, and much less costly. What you did was what all competitors did as well.
Then, the universe of competitors became vast, attention spans narrowed, marketing turned “always-on” and it became harder to reach customers. Today, the running cost of digital marketing is controlled by Google, Facebook, and Amazon along with other powerful players like Apple. There is a rapidly growing form of digital marketing
in which advertisers pay marketing companies called “affiliates” or “publishers” when a specific predefined action is completed—a sale, lead or click. All this brings greater complexity and cost.
What should we keep in mind to attain simplicity and avoid complexity?
Be authentic – Don’t adopt tech for being au courant
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least,” said Goethe.
Technology solutions give a competitive edge to one’s marketing. But the best fertiliser for the weed of complexity is technology for technology’s sake. I propose a new definition of ‘authenticity’.
Authenticity is the sensibility to see oneself without illusion. It leads to adopting technologies that make a positive difference to how the organisation works. This must be seen considering the organisational culture. Will the culture adopt, adapt, and change? If not, all technologies may be superfluous, ineffective and become tools for a complication, not simplification.
First, be realistic about your needs, then evaluate from the available tech landscape what the candidate technologies may solve for. Scarce resources are wasted on acquiring, working, incorporating, and instructing personnel to use technologies that don’t contribute net value.
Data is the north star
Data can drive every organisational decision. But everywhere there is a problem of plenty. Data has a flood on the supply side but a drought in processing and utilisation. To make use of data—pooling from many sources, de-duplicating it, harmonising it, and bringing it together to derive insights is the key. But people dance to the noise as much as to the signal. Let me tell you an open secret—without the right data, you can’t judge the impact of data.
It cannot be done alone. You need to think of a partner ecosystem. Shift transactional tasks that don’t need judgement down the priority ladder. Innovate for workforce agility. This is where partners come in. Develop stretch capacity plans to get to a model for handling demand peaks.
As captain of the boat, look at the horizon not just beyond the bow
Future-ready means in the next hour, rest of today, tomorrow, next month, quarter, and year. But it’s also fifty years from now. The boat will be best navigated with an eye on the horizon. If you merely gaze at the bow of the boat, you will end up going round and round in circles.
Think of the new consumer motivations
Beyond the traditional criteria of price and quality, the how, why and from whom people purchase goods and services is changing. Ease, convenience, service, personal care, trust, reputation, product origin, and now health and safety matter. It must factor into how brands connect with consumers, but also how marketing teams are organised and work. Your team should be set up to listen and adapt to what customers need.
The reality is that as people’s mindsets and buying patterns transform, marketing must follow. Complexity arrives because of ignorance. When you don’t know what matters, everything matters. When you don’t know what to measure, everything is measured.
Think of consumer experience needs before platforms
Given a plethora of shiny new marketing tools that are constantly being ballyhooed, thousands of vendors with shiny new tools come promising superior targeting, improved conversions, and better efficiencies.
To avoid the many, it is seductive to buy into the idea of a single, heavyweight, unified digital experience
platform to serve as the hub of all digital experiences and run the full portfolio of websites and digital properties. But it is a road to failure because of the cost, intricacy of implementation, and rigidity of the massive platform so chosen.
On the other hand, disparate platforms also contribute to the fragmentation of user experiences. It is a toxic form of complexity. Every touchpoint platform becomes a silo, to be managed independently which can't share resources, and must be secured and controlled on a one-by-one basis.
Consumers don’t care about your plumbing. They want water in the tap. Whatever form of digital and offline marketing
you do decide to invest in, there must be substantial testing, trailing, quantifying and enhancements to it all the time.
Indeed, the challenges are immense and the need for a simple, powerful yet flexible marketing operation is more important than ever.
W.H. Auden had perhaps also spoken for marketers when he said that ‘great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings’. It says it all.
Shubhranshu Singh is Vice President, Marketing - Domestic & IB, Tata Motors. Views expressed are personal.