The discussion was moderated by Jason Wincuinas, Campaign Asia-Pacific managing editor.
The roundtable focused on this question: Is our industry's obsession with building brands, growing sales and meeting the CEO’s ROI demands all at the same time sidetracking marketing’s end game?
Yes, according to Nigel Jones, global chief strategy officer at FCB. Brand awareness and sales growth are not the most important metrics for marketers, he posited.
"They are just using intermediary measures. They have to think bigger—what are the bigger issues that will justify them spending X amount of money with an ad agency and briefing them with just communication objectives?"
Sometimes, you don't expect an advertising agency to probe clients about this, but FCB, in the midst of repositioning itself as a behaviourial change specialist, wants to make a point.
Many agencies have been pigeonholed into being communication providers, and many clients have been accustomed to talking to agencies about just that, said Jones. Is it a matter of comfort or laziness? "The whole marketing industry has been cultured on such intermediary measures that have become a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said.
Evidence of marketing effectiveness should be rooted in the extent of change in consumer behaviour. Jones is keen to see more clients articulate measures that specify actual behaviourial change, such as getting consumers to drink orange juice in the mornings rather than evenings. "That itself, is the biggest inspiration for creative teams, rather than giving them a brief that says 'sell more oranges'".
Jacky Cao, marketing director of Mondelez's Oreo brand in China, is aware of how much creative directors "really hate" the ROI part of briefs, but for marketers, it is a necessary evil. "We have to manage it," Cao said. "We want to change consumers' minds, then their behaviour, for them to ultimately view our brand in a better light."
However, it is increasingly difficult to tell whether changing attitudes will lead to changing behaviour, pointed out Jones. The typical, traditional consumer research methods that reflect attitudes, through clicks and likes, may not reflect real behaviour.
"The type of invasive research during which we put people in a room and ask them questions is slightly strange. I'd rather go straight to changing behaviour," said Jones.
Changing consumer behaviour is easier than people believe it is, according to Jones, who was speaking in an attempt to reverse the opinion of Gary Xie, marketing director of baby and child care at Kimberly-Clark China.
"Normally, we think it takes time to change behaviour—at least one or two years with constant communications," said Xie.
The focus, it seems, is still on communications. Are marketers too focused on the means rather than the end? Edward Bell, FCB's Greater China CEO, found it interesting that in the Mad Men era, advertising ambitions started with the functions of marketing.
"Ad guys talked like business consultants in the old days," Bell said. "Advertising then became so big that all of the clients' energy was redirected to narrow objectives like awareness levels."
Jones, whom in his 30-year career has been advocating the marriage of marketing science with creativity, has witnessed client stewardship take a turn for the worse. "I used to hear clients say to agencies 'This is my business problem, can you solve it?' But now, clients ask about awareness solutions."
Are clients not interested in structuring their success metrics around bigger business problems? From the perspective of Carrie Zheng, senior consultant at R3, marketers' decisions are anchored on the business itself. Business problems in reality such as a drop in sales, an increase in price sensitivity, a need for geographical expansion, are all issues that kickstart the communication process with agencies and consumers.
In fact, brand awareness is not the conclusive goal for FMCG companies, indicated Ming Liao, head of digital operations and consumer engagement marketing at Unilever China. "Sales is. But because retail channels are not owned by us, it is hard for us to measure the last mile. So we work with many parties for awareness solutions that will improve sales."
"I would rather be given the total problem than given a little bit of the problem to solve," said Jones, addressing Liao in his reply. "It is tough to use sales hikes as a meaningful objective for creative people, since nobody ever asked to decrease sales."
Jones advised clients to tell agencies how big the task at hand is, so they can translate that into a behaviourial-change objective that leads to more sales.
For example, Watsons is the leading cosmetic and personal care channel in China. Rather than setting a national awareness target, Cao aims to know the real shopper profile of this channel. “Of course, it’s still a mind exercise based on the perception of our brand in our consumers’ minds, so the creative campaign must fly with it.”Nowadays, it is extremely difficult to be profitable in China’s FMCG sector “even if you are doing a great marketing job”, lamented Simon Cao, marketing director for skin care at Beiersdorf China, who is being judged on sales per year achieved. And this will be mirrored in the communications brief to agencies, he said, but even communications objectives are veering towards quality than quantity.
Interestingly, Vivian Tu, director of marketing and communications at Skullcandy China, revealed that folks who are really into headphone performance are not buying Skullcandy ones but those from brands like Bose. The brand is, in truth, selling electronic by-products of skater culture, and Tu asserted that this is not sustainable.
“We have to give consumers more reasons to buy, and it goes back to product development. The idea is to occupy the musical life of youths, from being a shower accompaniment to a smartphone necessity.”
Still, Tu knows deep down that some consumers do not just buy products based on their intrinsic features, and this seemingly irrational behaviour is also consistent in the luxury industry. “You cannot go to a high-net-worth individual and say ‘I want to do a focus group with you’. It’s not a rational purchase process,” acknowledged Keen Yim, director of digital marketing for Asia Pacific cum director of marketing and communications for China at Burberry.
That is why Burberry’s controversial Tmall store was not opened to ring up more sales. “I didn’t care about a single penny. Digital channels allow us to track which stage of the purchase journey the consumer is at— for us to convert them better,” said Yim.
Similarly, Skullcandy’s Tu agreed that the bigger challenge is how sales channels are managed. “We don’t know what’s actually going on with such media fragmentation in China,” added Burberry’s Yim. “I don’t believe in pinpoint strategy anymore. It’s a matter of trying things out and seeing what sticks.”
In the digital world, a fail-fast-fail-often approach is not a deficient one, contrary to popular opinion. Oreo’s Cao spends between five to ten per cent of budgetary money to “test and learn”, and “doesn’t care too much” about the results for this experiment—be it awareness, sales or behaviourial change.
On the other hand, Under Armour’s head of marketing Lydia Zhu has done away with traditional advertising to influence consumer behaviour. The underdog sports apparel manufacturer acquired MyFitnessPal and Endomodo, two calorie and fitness tracking apps, in February this year. “Our target customers are already using those apps, and we’re thinking how to fruitfully integrate our brand messenging with them. We don’t need to rely on traditional media,” she said.
The June issue of Campaign Asia-Pacific will contain complete coverage of this roundtable discussion.