Prashant Kumar is a well-known name in the marketing services industry. The former CEO of IPG Mediabrands Asia went on to establish his own venture Entropia, a full-service agency, with capabilities across across data, customer experience, commerce. In June 2021, the firm was acquired by Accenture Interactive (now called Accenture Song), and Kumar went on to become senior partner at the tech giant.
Over the past few years, Kumar says he has been keen to analyse the fast-moving world of marketing and the result is Made in Future, published by Penguin. The book is described as a story of marketing, media, and content in a rapidly changing environment, and his first book. It seeks to relook at marketing from scratch, with a view of changes in media, content, influences, and people's expectations. In this book, Kumar challenges accepted wisdom and pushes marketers to rethink their jobs in a world where data is taking centrestage, microscopic marketing is taking over from mass marketing, and the role of CMO itself is under scrutiny. Campaign Asia-Pacific spoke to Kumar about his book and key trends in marketing, branding, media and data. Here are edited excerpts.
You suggest segmentation and brand positioning 'lie challenged at the altar of technology and data'. Are these fundamental concepts relevant to marketers today?
If you look at it closely, both the concepts are creatures of the mass-media era. All mass marketing is a compromise as each customer has a very individual definition of his needs. Original marketing was by and large personal for thousands of years, so in that sense it’s mass marketing that is an anomaly born out of rise of mass media and mass production. Both these concepts need to go beyond their monolithic, static interpretations and be reframed considering their original purpose.
Have CMOs been able to ride the shift from mass to microscopic marketing?
Microtargeted marketing has been talked about for twenty years at least. However, it means little without micro-messaging if you are a big brand. Which then requires us to think hyper-relevant value propositions and personalised customer journeys. Most companies have not been able to work this all the way. What we see are old-world marketers who see the future from the lenses of the 80s and 90s, and then you have a cluster of new-age players, whose lens offers no rear view. And both have a common problem of integrating the mass and the micro… across the length and breadth of the customer journey.
What does this shift mean for media buying?
It has many implications for media buying. For one, it needs to get closer to the creatives and vice versa, as they need to operate in a smooth iteractive interplay, more designed according to the fail-fast paradigm of Silicon Valley, rather than the linear commit-and-pray model of Madison Avenue.
Awareness, interest, desire, and action used to be the four steps to gain brand traction. You suggest in a tech-driven world that this is replaced by discovery, influence, experience and transaction. Has this changed the marketing journey?
Overall, decision spans are surely shorter and a lot less linear. Durables are becoming semi-durables and semi-durables get bought like FMCGs, quite often. Also the new journey is qualitatively different, as the lean-in component of media consumption has increased vs the lean-back mode. This means awareness is no more a passive process, but a process of discovery. Influence which was the mainstay of customer decisions for thousands of years, had for some time been bypassed by high-octane, high-control, one-too-many, unskippable advertising. But that has changed now. Experience has taken on a whole new meaning today. Ironically, bulk of investment allocations in most companies still happen the old way.
You also suggest that brands are networks with shared need states, affinities and experiences. How has this shifted the drivers of influence?
Brands grow when people invite other people to join in, and fail when people cue others to leave. It underlines the centrality of human experience, social currency, and a meaningful value exchange. It also means growth roadmaps need to stimulate how people organise themselves, brands need to be more authentic and relatable, communication needs to be sharper and shareworthy and so on. Marketers become, in essence, like supra community managers managing the velocity and trajectory by deploying right seeding, catalysts, and boosters.
We seem to be moving from brands made by content to those made by data-driven experiences. Has this made it easier or harder for new or insurgent brands to unseat legacy ones?
It sure has made it easier. A lot of native insurgent brands find it more natural to design around data-driven experiences than those stuck with old legacy stories of success. Data-driven experiences also offers a lot of blue-ocean opportunities for customer value that are sure to redefine category topography and margin distribution for many sectors. When you drag yesterday into tomorrow, you forget to lay down the groundwork for day after, and then it’s too late.
As technology and media have taken centrestage, you write about how "martech evangelists have stood at podiums and proclaimed marketing dead... by treating human creativity as an error margin in the marketing equation". What is creativity's role now?
Martech evangelists have their right to frame the world, as it suits them, but creativity can be and should be at the head of the marketing table. Marketing without creativity is probably sales with good looks. Because there are finance guys, sales guys and R&D guys, and tech guys in a company who understand other elements of marketing often better. However, this requires a re-conception of the nature of creativity in these times.
On the other side, you discuss how media planners used to love the 'dream' of 30-second ads, but OTT slammed that door shut until now. As ads look set to sneak into platforms like Netflix, how can they capitalise?
It would be unfortunate if the 30s were imported, as is, to the OTT mood and mindset. What works at the ‘snack’ end of the content spread (say, TikTok) is different from what works at the ‘binge’ end, and that's different from what works in the middle. There is a hook job, there is the dwell job and then there is the dive job to be done.
How can marketers balance old market research and new offerings around social data? Is old market research even relevant?
Yes, there sure is a place for that. Unstructured data, however real-time and census-like it might be, has its own mind and mood. You ask five questions, it will answer two questions really well, one question directionally and the other two, you have to use really distant surrogates. Old research techniques are obedient order takers. They work to your brief, even if they are slow, sample-based and as recalled. So, what the world needs is a fusion of two perspectives.
You also refer to the rise of the next wave of tech with AR, VR and IoT. Given this rise of data and technology, what is the future of the CMO role? Will it be split up into multiple specialties or be subsumed into a chief digital and technology officer remit?
Good CMOs must wear a venture marketer hat managing a portfolio of marketing investment risks, balancing between today, tomorrow and day after. New technology offers new customer value and tapping that is the central job of a top marketer. You shouldn’t need another person in C-suite for that.