Marketing today is about Getting Found

Nimal Gunewardena makes the case for Sri Lanka’s marketers to break-out from the shackles of the familiar traditional media and embrace the new media options that the Internet has spawned – from blogs to social media – and use SEO to get found by today’s information-and-entertainment-seeking consumer.
Despite the development of digital media and the Internet in particular and the trend for marketers the world-over to use this new media with its highly popular vehicles, from blogs to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn etc., marketers in Sri Lanka have resisted embracing these new possibilities, opting instead to stay with the familiar traditional media despite its higher costs and diminishing effectiveness and returns. Marketers trained and immersed in traditional marketing methods and media seem to find it too difficult to learn about these new options and how to use them.

In my efforts as an evangelist for the use of PR to attain marketing objectives for brands that can ill-afford to use expensive traditional advertising on TV and radio, with its channel proliferation and audience fragmentation, I have been dismayed to find that even the most reputed marketing companies have given little thought to changing the status quo by shifting funds in their communication budgets from advertising to Marketing PR. Again the inertia stems from unfamiliarity with the possibilities of ‘Marketing PR’ as a tool to achieve one’s marketing objectives more effectively and cost-effectively through PR-led marketing programmes. This same syndrome of ‘staying with the familiar’, that thrives among marketing and brand managers who have fought shy of learning about and using the ‘new’, also resurfaces with New Media.
Sri Lankan marketers have cited the low penetration of home computers and Internet use for shunning digital media possibilities, despite evidence of a high degree of Internet activity in practice from office computers and ever-mushrooming cybercafes. Ad agency people also have failed to learn, master and advocate these new options even for markets and products where they make sense. A new cycle of re-learning therefore is a must for marketers as well as agency people if they are reap the benefits of the digital revolution and wake up to the realities of the information-seeking consumer of today who is not the ad-absorbing couch potato that they still believe exists.

Traditional communication using radio and TV advertising has relied on the proposition that if you hit consumers enough times with your message, they will buy your product. The related proposition that these “mass media” will deliver mass markets is true today only if sufficient money is spent to straddle multiple channels in a market where channel proliferation has fragmented the audience. The ‘push-marketing’ of old flies in the face of the new consumer who seeks information from his friends or on the ‘Net when he is considering a new purchase. It is this actively information-searching consumer that marketers need to understand and connect with.  Marketers today need to be ‘found’ by the searching consumer rather than bombarding the consumer, who by now has developed the means to block out advertising intrusions, both perceptually and with the remote control. Unfortunately the shotgun bombardment model has been applied by marketers even when they try to graduate to digital media by using e-mail ‘blasts’ to reach unidentified and unqualified ‘prospects’. Spam filters and the delete button effectively deals with such junk mail.

If the trick is to ‘be found’ when the consumer is looking for you, your type of product or information regarding his needs that may be fulfilled by your product or service, we need to be at the places he visits daily on the ‘Net – Google, Facebook, blogs and the like. How we show up in these places or how we draw him to us has generated the concept of ‘inbound marketing’.
Companies originally started by establishing their presence on the ‘Net through a website. Many such corporate websites tended to be passive ‘brochure-ware’ – company brochures on the net.  Blogs and social media on the other hand are more dynamic places where people can go to connect and chat with others, obtain and share information, learn new stuff, or simply be entertained.  So marketers need to establish their brand presence on the ‘Net through a blog that is constantly generating new stuff that people would be attracted to come and check out or through a social media site such as Facebook that people visit frequently to connect with their friends, find new friends or join groups with similar interests. These sites provide for consumers and “fans” of the brand to link to your brand and share interesting news about your brand with others. Linking and sharing are two key aspects of social media.

If ‘getting found’ by the consumer who is today empowered to search ‘on demand’ on the ‘Net when he wants to know something or check out a product is what it takes for brands to connect with consumers, then marketers need to learn how to use search engines such as Google (by far the dominant one on the ‘Net) to guide the consumer to his blog and brand. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) offers ways to do this without payment (organic search) or through paid listings such as Per Per Click (PPC) where you pay when someone clicks on the link in your advertisement. Search engines use ‘keywords’ that the searching consumer may key-in to make the connection.

Getting found on organic search results is better not only because is it free but because people tend to click 3 times more frequently on the organic results than on paid results. Including keywords, that the consumer may use when seeking information or a product or service he wants to purchase, in your pages helps you to be found. SEO media specialists will advise you and provide services to optimize your chances of being found and clicked through, based on their knowledge of how search engines work. Your chances of being found increase when links to your site appear on other authoritative sites. It’s like getting referrals from well known people.

Blogs are a more attractive form of website that you can create for your brand.  It is a place where you can and should post interesting content and articles regularly that will draw people interested in that subject area. It is like a watering hole or a clubhouse, where people can come and read interesting things you have to say about your field or the one your brand covers. Interested people can subscribe to your blog through RSS to be notified of any new content you have posted. Getting your blog linked to others of a similar or complementary nature, and promoting your posts through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or StumbleUpon helps to draw traffic to yours. Creating blog articles that are funny, intriguing, or on topics that are of interest to your consumer also does the same. You now have an opportunity to connect frequently with your consumers if you create interesting content that he will be drawn to. A frequently (recommended weekly) updated blog may take some doing, but it is the way that the new ‘journalist-marketer’ can create a following of fans and customers.

Social Media also provides the means for your presence at places where people go everyday – such as Facebook. You may create a Page for your brand and you may draw fans to your page and in turn use it to drive traffic to your blog. Here is a place where your brand can draw fans who may exchange ideas with or pass on ‘word-of-mouth’ to other fans and customers. It is a place where you can engage with your fans and share interesting, useful information that consumers may appreciate, as long as it is not an outright sales pitch!

But you need to be prepared to have complaints as well as positive comments. Fear of ‘negative comments’ being broadcast, seems to make marketers shy of interacting with consumers on the ‘Net. You need to develop the mentality that this is an opportunity to hear exactly what consumer thinks about your brand or even a problem he had with it, get useful feedback and give constructive solutions. If you do not have the confidence to discuss about your brand openly with consumers and address any concerns they may have, you may be only sweeping any negativity under the carpet from where it will anyway disseminate through word-of-mouth or a hate site. Your fears may be mitigated when you know that Google and social media have privacy settings and other safeguards to block malicious comment.
The trick is to create interesting stuff around your brand that your followers will like and share with others through posting links to your page on their own home pages. Consider the social media option as an opportunity to network with an ever widening world of potential fans as your fans promote you to their friends.

The time has come for Sri Lanka’s marketers and agencies to experiment with and discover the potential of the new media options that are on the ‘Net to connect with today’s new emerging consumer who is increasingly spending time there. The time of push marketing, a la the traditional media model, is gone. Marketers need to engage consumers in interesting two-way communications. Marketers need to leverage the most powerful form of communication – word-of-mouth. Internet media is all about the new consumer who is connecting, linking, sharing. Sri Lanka’s marketers need to demonstrate willingness to graduate from older forms of communication which show diminishing returns and embrace, learn about and experiment with the new ones that the ever-evolving digital revolution has brought.

•Halligan, Brian & Shah, Darmesh (2010) “Inbound Marketing”, Wiley.
•Get Found Online
•Social Media and Business Marketing
•How to use Facebook for Business
•The Definitive Guide to B2B Social Media

April 4th, 2010 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »

Stop bombarding eyeballs!
Start tugging heartstrings!

Engagement is the new buzzword. But there’s more confusion than practice. And marketers continue in the familiar mode of bombarding eyeballs. So why haven’t our marketers adapted to the new reality? Have they not bought the case for abandoning eyeball bombardment in favour of engaging the hearts and minds of consumers? Do they still believe that bombardment of a switched-off consumer with an interruptive, repetitive 30 seconder will brainwash them into buying their brand? Let’s assess the case for moving from the traditional advertising forms into finding greater marketing effectiveness through engagement.


Once upon a time in the last century, Sri Lankan audiences experienced TV for the first time in the late ‘70s. With one and then two channels for many years and the novelty of the new medium, families huddled together at prime time, sometimes with the intrusion of a less affluent neighbour, to watch those wonderful tear-jerking teledramas. With TV ratings running in the high 60s and 70s, as the then available diary research indicated, and TV rates unbelievably low to reflect state policy to make advertising available local small businesses as well, TV advertising soon became the most effective medium to move the sales curve. We’d make a ‘theme commercial’ and run it for an year or even two, and consumers would still watch it attentively, recall and talk about it, and it all worked very well. Even through the ‘80s and ‘90s TV rates were affordable, even for smaller brands, and effectiveness and return were unquestionable. With increasing channels and the advent of the remote control, came also the ‘Peoplemeters’ which could mechanically monitor even second by second channel surfing, though data was supplied by more usable 15 second blocks, and lo and behold – marketers had to come to grips with the reality that audiences had shrunk considerably! The remote enabled people to zap commercials and watch another programme till the one they were interested in actually started. Peoplemeter data would tell you that your TVC queued at the beginning of a long commercial line-up before a popular programme didn’t give you the return you expected.


All that is now history. Today, we have 13 terrestrial channels, and cable TV & DTH service providers offering in excess of 50 channels of quality international fare. TV ratings have dropped with the fragmentation of the audience between these channels. Only 5 programmes out of over 180,000 aired in 2007 had ratings over 15, down from 33 programmes in 2005 and 8 in 2006. 4 out of the 5 were the Sirasa Superstar finals and semis and the other was the ICC World Cup Final. Programmes commanding ratings between 10-15 were greater in number but had declined from 1,162 in 2005 to 573 in 2007, or a mere average of 1.5 programmes a day. In percentage terms, programmes with over 10% of households watching had declined from less than 1% in 2005 to a third of that figure by 2007. More than 93% of the programmes were watched by less than 3% of the audience (see pie chart for 2007 below).

Meanwhile, TV advertising costs have risen. A 30” TVC on a high-rated prime time teledrama which was Rs.22,000 in 2001 today is Rs.150,000 today. A spot on the main news which was Rs.30,000 in 2001 costs Rs.70,000 today. Of course, the media specialist agencies are now here to help you identify and make the best buys at much better rates making use of their media research and planning know-how and buying clout and or volume discounts.


While marketers have sought to combat the changes in the media environment and declining value with greater buying efficiencies, they appear not to have questioned the effectiveness of repetitive TV commercial amidst the clutter. On an average day Sri Lankan audiences are bombarded with 3,379 commercial exposures of all kinds, including 1,319 TV commercials of varying length from 15-45 seconds. A viewer watching prime time TV between 7-10 pm on any one of the popular channels would be bombarded with between 43 to 113 commercial exposures depending on the channel.


Day-after-recall rates are declining judging by international studies (see figure above) though this appears not to have been measured locally in this manner. TV stations offer freebies and discounts to compensate and get their share of the pie, though freebies need to be evaluated carefully based on what kind of spots one is getting and where. Media planners use reach & frequency models to optimize effectiveness and return. Now, to what extent marketers and their media planning agencies use the decay curves to optimize their bursts and budgets depends on the sophistication of both. Marketers also see the need to invest in multiple productions and high-impact ones to keep consumers from getting bored with their commercials and maintain entertainment value.

Of course, all this is about what marketers and their agencies can do to make good the one-way communication, which is what the traditional advertising forms are all about. But how many of the commercials and ads that we produce really engage our target audiences? In an era of commercial bombardment and information overload, how effective are we in breaking through the clutter and perceptual blocks for a start, and then influencing consumers with our messages and images to make them show up on our sales curves? One has to be really clever or ‘creative’ to do commercials that make consumers love and want our brands. Being too clever may win awards but make no impact on sales, and this is a danger that ad award contests sometimes bring about. If we are in the one-way mode, do we know whether our commercials have worked – been seen, influenced and moved consumers to love and buy our brands? Only research and the sales curve will tell you.


But moving away from the one-way bombardment model, what the new dictum of engagement tells us is that we need to ‘involve’ i.e. sufficiently engross consumers with our brand and get them to ‘interact’ with it so that they are stimulated in the mind and consequently activated in the heart. Turning products and brands into “lovemarks” this way is what will keep consumers coming back for more, showing the brand off or recommending it to others.

IPTV, when it comes to Sri Lanka soon as promised by SLT, will provide a platform for interactivity between the marketer and his audience. How those possibilities are catered to and used by marketers has yet to be seen.

IPTV : Internet Protocol TV which uses a broadband connection, set top box & TV not only provides flexible and high-definition viewing of TV channels but also interactivity between the network and viewer and several ‘on demand’ services such as additional video-on-demand entertainment. Flexibility is provided through ‘time shift’ or the ability to recall, store and watch broadcast material at a convenient time, possibly skipping commercials. Important to marketers is the interactivity provided by the two-way connection between the service provider and the viewer, which allows assessment of viewing preferences and the ability to make the viewing experience more interactive and personalized. Possibilities of interactive TV include the use of voting and quizzes as well as TV shopping and direct response marketing opportunities.

Till real interactive TV develops, and as even then it will be only for those with broadband access, we need to see what kinds of other TV options and formats may work better than commercials per se. People watch certain kinds of programmes that they like, and the new reality shows are becoming more engrossing than the teledramas. Sponsored and branded programming can keep the audience engaged with your brand for 30 minutes, which is better than 30 seconds! However, having a branded backdrop alone doesn’t have qualitative value as it just jars your brand name and eventually becomes wallpaper. Marketers and agencies need to work with content and programme producers to create programming that personifies the brand and involves the brand’s target audiences through ‘reality show’ or participatory formats. ‘Live’ phone-ins are another mechanism to make TV and radio
shows interactive.

Moving beyond mainstream media like TV and radio, creating brand engagement requires us to identify the various touch-points where the potential consumer could interact with the brand in a positive manner. We need to understand our target consumers’ interests, habits and leisure pursuits and determine which of these provide the opportunity to create branded environments and experiences where the brand becomes an integral and enjoyable part of such experiences. Branded outlets and events are such possibilities but there needs to be commitment and investment to pursue these on an owned, long-term basis rather than as one-offs.

The web, with its social media and blogs, provides us with the ability to interest and interact with our target audiences, provided they have internet access. Computer penetration and internet access locally is still rather low with less than 10% of Sri Lankan home having computers, though penetration is relatively higher in more affluent households (see chart below) and access of the internet may be much higher than official estimates (around 232,00) due to access from cybercafés and offices. ITU estimates 771,700 internet users and 63,300 broadband users as of March 2008. RNCOS, a leading global market research and analysis company, in a recently released report of Sri Lanka’s ICT market, indicates a CAGR of 144% in broadband subscribers during 2001-2007, and a CAGR of 40% in Internet users in the period 2004-2007. The digital frontier would therefore be worth exploring at least for certain brands.

Just creating a blog or a purely commercial blog does not guarantee success, and one needs interesting information, news, activities, networking opportunities and things to see, do and interact to draw visitors to it on a regular basis creating a special interest community. is among the top ten blogs and websites visited by Sri Lankans. (The other 9 include the most visited global sites such as Google, Facebook & YouTube.) Started 2 years ago and billed as the “Largest Sri Lankan On-line Community” it boasts of over 100,000 members and provides members, who can enroll free, with downloads of songs and videos directly from artists and access to a photo gallery, discussions, and articles. Members can also post topics and upload photos, respond to polls, play arcade games and communicate with other members.

These are the challenges of the new media environment to the adventurous and innovative marketer and his creative agency. Media agencies that seek to transcend traditional media need to have creative thinkers who dream up and design such creative interaction and engagement options. A true engagement agency will not be the traditional media or creative agency of old but an innovative creator of experiences and interaction opportunities.

The sooner we question our marketing communication practices and their effectiveness and move from counting and bombarding eyeballs into creating interesting, interactive branded experiences that stimulate our targets’ minds and pull at their heartstrings, the more effective we will be as brand marketers in today’s new and constantly changing world.

July 25th, 2008 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »

Marketing War vs. Marketing Peace: The challenge to win the people’s hearts & minds in the greatest marketing war of our times

A Marketing War without Marketers

The marketing war between Brand War and Brand Peace is one where marketers strangely remain unengaged. By this I mean the business sector, which is no doubt significantly affected by the ground situation, and professional marketers, who are reputed as mass market persuaders and influencers of public opinion.

The fact that the now intensified war, dubbed as the undeclared Eelam War IV, has adversely affected not only all sectors of Sri Lanka’s community at large, save for a privileged and protected few perhaps, but also the business sector without doubt, raises the question whether the business sector sees that they may have a justifiable and significant role to play as a voice in influencing policy making and national governance. The business community, reputed as risk taking entrepreneurs, appears to have decided that this is one risk that they would rather not take. Business leaders would rather refrain from expressing an unequivocal statement whether they support Brand War or Brand Peace. Whether this is due to the lack of perception about the consequences of a continuing war on the economy, businesses and the civil population at large, or whether they feel that the Brand War option is the best, or a confused state of ambivalence between the two, or fear of public expression, is yet to be ascertained.

I have, for some time now, been listening to talks at various business forums where we discuss interesting marketing strategies that we need to follow, but whether the environment or enthusiasm is there for marketers to put these into practice is in question. In a recent talk, the Chairman of CIM’s International Trustee Board challenged CIM Sri Lanka’s marketers to rise above their preoccupation with tactical marketing and consider a greater involvement with strategic issues. Such strategic issues that they may concern themselves with exist not only in the ambit of the company and the industry in which they operate but also at a national level. What greater strategic issue demands the attention of marketers as the battle between Brand War and Brand Peace? On the same occasion, the US Ambassador advised marketers to involve themselves with peace building. Now, whether marketers truly perceive that they may have a role to play, and would be challenged to explore the possibilities of such engagement is yet to be seen. To move beyond the 4 Ps to the bigger P is the challenge of the hour for marketers.

Brand War vs. Brand Peace

To set the ball rolling here is my contribution. This article is a result of some thoughts I have been entertaining for some time about application of the expertise that marketers possess and the concepts that we use to think through issues in reaching out to mass audiences to sell not only products and services but also concepts and causes. We sell our concepts packaged as brands. People buy brands, claim ownership over them, and display affinity to the brands they believe in and love. Brand Peace and even Brand War are not brands owned by companies, though activists for either concept may take charge of these and drive them. Like any brand, they may be accepted or rejected, owned and cherished or repudiated by the people at moments when they have a free choice to make.

So, in this regard, what choices are people making? Are they making an informed choice? How effective has been the information flow? Have the brands been well presented and explained to citizens? Have they understood them well and evaluated the pluses and minuses between the two brands? Have they seen the relevance of these brands to them and their future? Have there been opportunities for discussion of the merits of each brand? Are there strong champions for these brands? How equitably has the Media covered these brands? Which brand has greater share of mind and why?

Brand War seems to be Winning

For now, Brand War seems to be winning. Let us understand why and what it will take for Brand Peace to change the tide.

Why is it that people universally profess that they want Peace and yet seem to endorse War? In a recent survey commissioned by the National Peace Council and conducted by the Marga Institute, there was near universal (99%) agreement that “the prevailing state of war should be ended as early as possible and security restored in all parts of the country”.

When asked a second question viz. “Regardless of military action to end the war there has to be a political solution to the present conflict?” The percentage of people agreeing dropped to 72% while 25% disagreed. It can be surmised then that a quarter of all people believe in a military solution sans a political one. This may be seen as the core market for Brand War, amounting to a share of 25%. One needs also to understand the seeming contradiction between the universal appeal of Peace and the vote for a military solution by a quarter of the population. This could be explained by examining the Brand Essence or Promise of the two brands. In fact, both brands have Peace as their core promise or deliverable. The difference is that Brand War promises peace through war, while Brand Peace promises it through pacifism.

The market for Brand War seems to expand from the core believers of a military solution to a significantly larger majority of 68% when another question is framed thus: “In order to achieve peace, the government should continue the present strategy of weakening the LTTE militarily?” with 59% fully agreeing and a further 9% agreeing partly. Thus most people subscribed to the position that hostilities and military action should continue.

If you look at the appeal for the Brand Peace proposition of peace through pacifism or non-violence, interpreted as the cessation of hostilities, this is seen in the answer to yet another question viz. “In order to achieve peace as soon as possible, the government should offer a political solution to all communities, declare a cessation of current military operations and invite the LTTE for negotiations?” Now only 42% agree with 11% agreeing only partly and 55% disagreeing. If the ‘agreeing partly’ is taken as disagreeing somewhat, then those for a continuation of military action rises to 66%, which is similar to the result obtained to the earlier question.

An alternative hybrid brand which combines aspects of Brand War with an added ingredient of a political solution gets a preference vote from 57% (42% fully and 16% partly). However, we need to be cautious in interpreting what this really means, as this question viz. “In order to achieve peace the government while pursuing the current strategy of weakening the LTTE militarily, should offer a political solution to all communities and negotiate with all parties including the LTTE?” like the previous one, has dual/multiple propositions, and so it is difficult to interpret particularly the intentions of those who partly agree viz. what part they are agreeing to. Those who disagree may also be stating the lack of appeal of such a hybrid brand. The other aspect that has not been ascertained is whether such a carrot-and-stick approach would work in practical terms. Would a party under attack be in a ready frame of mind for negotiations unless totally weakened into submission?

Brand War – Credibility and Acceptance Factors

So, from the responses given to the survey, more people seemed to buy into the Brand War concept than the Brand Peace one. While Peace is seen as a naturally desired state and was expressed as such almost universally by the Sri Lankan people, and would have been assumed to have won favour given our religious traditions, why is it that the majority seemed to choose Brand War? The secret may lie in the way that people choose brands, more from emotional responses than from rational decision-making. It may also lie in the lack of enough comparative information about the implications and consequences of the two concepts, for rational decision-making. It may be that there was more media clout, coverage, and propaganda for Brand War against a lesser share of voice for Brand Peace. It may be that Brand War was more attractively packaged in Peace wrapping.

Would people continue to believe that Peace through War is more desirable and achievable than Peace through Pacifism viz. cessation of hostilities and negotiations, or would that change in time? What would it take for Brand Peace to gain share of mind? More lives lost and more displaced people? More cost burdens and taxes that begin to hurt the common man? The shift of violence to civilian centres closer to home? Are we now reaching that breaking – point and is the anesthesia of the war euphoria beginning to wear off as the cost of living pains begin to grow stronger? How long more before the economy begins to succumb to the cost of financing the war compounded by other cost burdens? How long more before the fallout of war irrevocably drives down businesses, many sectors of which are already badly affected and going through a difficult year, and the economy itself? Brand War, in fact, has many credibility issues including these and others – such as doubts about the viability of a military solution, the dilemma of what a military solution means in human and ethical terms, doubts about the sustenance of a real, stable and permanent peace without commitment and progress to address and resolve the underlying structural and cultural issues, and the negative effect on Sri Lanka’s external image and our isolation with growing international pressures including the possibility of sanctions and curtailment of assistance.

All these negatives seem to be overshadowed by the strengths of Brand War which result in its acceptance and preference at this time. These include the concept of a ‘Just War’ against the evil of terrorism which has perpetrated many atrocities and usurped parts of the nation’s land. The affinity to this concept is supported by the fear of the terrorist threat and justification and support from religious opinion leaders. Emotional appeal for the Brand derives from the chauvinism of the majority including vocal pro-war advocacy by anti-separatist opinion leaders, as well as the fear appeal thrust on the general population due to coercion, suppression and negative labelling of dissent resulting in the their silence, and the tacit approval of the intelligentsia including the business sector.

Brand Peace – Credibility and Acceptance Factors

The strength and acceptance of Brand War rises in direct proportion to the factors affecting the credibility of Brand Peace. Chief among the credibility issues for Brand Peace is the doubt about the LTTE’s intentions and their participation in a democratic process. In the NPC sponsored survey, a significant 77% of the respondents indicated that the government must act on the basis that the LTTE will not give up their aim of Eelam and will not enter the democratic process. An even higher figure of 84% confirmed that the government should concentrate on a full military defeat of the LTTE and recapture of all the territory controlled by the LTTE. Strangely, however in the same survey, when respondents were asked whether a reasonable political solution will persuade the LTTE to give up their separatist aim and come into the democratic system, 43% agreed. Clearly the vote for a political solution arises as people see no permanent peace in the future even in the context of a military victory unless a political solution emerges.
89% of the respondents believe that even in the event of a military defeat the LTTE could continue as a guerilla force mounting a threat to peace and security across the nation. 72% thus conclude that the best guarantee of lasting peace is a political solution that all communities can accept and that includes the LTTE in a negotiated settlement under which they give up their demand for Eelam and come into the democratic system.

But the support for Brand Peace lies diminished as long as there is no movement in the progress towards working out and offering a political solution. With the APRC remaining shackled while the military option progresses, peace remains elusive. Other factors that affect the credibility of Brand Peace are the limits of Sinhala majority’s willingness to concede devolution that will be substantive as evidenced by the stances taken by the hardliners, as well as the ability of the Tamil population at large to influence the LTTE on the acceptance of a political solution. International mediators who could have bridged the gap now remain sidelined. Some movement in this regard and revival of the peace negotiations process is essential if progress is to be made, as underscored by recent urgings of the international community including India, the EU and the US.

Peace Building

At the same time, peace-building between communities at the grassroots level must occur to bridge the distancing that has occurred and establish genuine people-to-people bonds. This is an area that has been vastly neglected and one that may be championed by civilian and business peace builders. A few years ago my agency team and I (inspired by the idealism gathered during my younger-days’ experience as an AFS cultural exchange student) put together one such programme called “Write, Visit, Play & Tell” for grassroots peace building. This envisaged encouraging pen-friendship between children of the North and South, eventually leading to visits, sports encounters and a dissemination of the stories, insights and feelings of the experience to a wide audience. Though presented to a number of NGOs, the programme failed to gain funding and went into limbo. In today’s context, such an initiative would be more difficult to implement but still remains desirable.

Peace requires much public education as well as conviction, even bravery and a sense of activism to see it embraced as a “lovemark”. War can exist in the wake of passivity, apathy and inertia of the people, while Peace demands an activist approach. The lack of sufficient brand champions for Brand Peace and the delay in the coming together of a strong and effective peace lobby has been another reason for its diminished position. True believers and brand advocates are needed among the media, civil society, the business sector and political fronts.

Though there is a wide reporting of the war on the mass media with even mobile updates of guerillas killed, peace journalism remains overshadowed by contrast. One voice that has been consistent is Young Asia TV’s “No War Zone” and related programmes which continue to explore civilian views and predicaments. While there have been a few other ad hoc progammes on IDPs etc. coverage of conflict analysis, review of structural and cultural causes of violence, and promotion of non-violence and peace initiatives have found few journalistic champions. While there are several websites and e-newsletters that advocate peace such as those of the newly formed Prayathna, National Peace Council, Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Groundviews etc., vital peace journalism in the mainstream media is essential to educate the general public.

Click to enlarge

On the political front, the approach has been cautious given the chauvinistic stance of the majority electorate. In a replay of New Coke’s “I-wanna-be-like-you” fiasco, in a brief moment of confusion, perhaps having been privy to the above-mentioned research findings, some opposition politicians recently sought to emulate the Government stance. It is only by adopting a boldly different stance, which may not seem popular but may be made popular in the future, can the Opposition differentiate itself. This requires convinced brand champions to speak out and educate people rather than play to the gallery.

Civilian organisations committed to non-violence such as Sarvodaya have gone silent, with the collapse of the peace initiatives. The new CSO Prayathna which started out as the National Anti-War front has now embraced so many issues, possibly to satisfy the wide market it was seeking, and in trying to be all things to all people, has lost its peace advocacy focus and positioning – a key precept in marketing.

The NPC and CPA, while being peace-focused and doing some extensive work on peace education, research and discussion, remain lone voices and do not appear to have the critical mass by themselves to form a broadbased peace movement. The NPC could take the lead and demonstrate its mobilization capability as it has done in the past and build the bridges to bring together all civil society, business and even political forces that subscribe to Brand Peace. Legal battles that advocate peace and related human rights issues, as filed by the CPA, also provide visibility and opinion making for the cause of peace.

Some business sector organisations that were formed in less trying days to promote peace and national oneness have also fallen silent. Today’s needs have moved significantly from erstwhile hand-holding campaigns to more involved tasks covering education on conflict issues, promotion of non-violence, grassroots bridge-building, conflict resolution and peace building in its broadest sense as outlined by Johan Galtung’s concept of a positive peace that can come from resolving and removing the underlying causes of conflict.

Peace Marketing Strategies

Whether the increasing civilian deaths and close-to-home incidents will harden the stance of the majority or make them think of the futility and costs of war and move them towards seeing the value of Brand Peace has yet to be seen. Changes in the dynamics of the war scenario and that of civilian life, which has put up with many a hardship thus far, could cause a brand preference swing in either direction. However, if Brand Peace is to overcome the attraction to Brand War, as recorded in the NPC research conducted in mid-2007 at the height of many military victories – and such brand switches are not unthinkable and may already be happening – then the citizen must make a better informed decision having moved away from giving emotional responses to making a more educated and rational decision in choosing between War and Peace.

Champions for Brand Peace have much to do in terms of citizen education and re-positioning the competitor (like ‘New Generation’ Pepsi did Coke), to show the true nature and credibility issues of the Brand War proposition, while addressing its own credibility issues. They – political, civil society & business groups – all need to come together mobilized as one alliance committed to one unequivocal goal rather than work in their separate corners. Such an alliance needs to muster the voices of a wide array of opinion leaders such as religious leaders, youth celebrities, international figures (like those gathered recently for a peace summit) and eminent local figures like the Chief Justice, who recently declared that “Any person who says that we can win peace through war is talking about something which is impossible”, to their crusade. It is an indictment on our youth and its leaders and stars, that unlike in many other situations (e.g. the Anti-Vietnam War protests in the US in the ‘60s & ‘70s), they appear not to be touched by or concerned about the war to lend their voices for peace.

Other than the unbearable burdens of war, what will finally make that swing is ‘what could be’. And that is when people buy into the Peace Dividend. Change will happen when people see the vision of a better and more peaceful tomorrow. A tomorrow where non-violence prevails, life returns to normal, civilian deaths and hardships are eliminated, burdens lessen, business flourishes, international assistance and investment flows in, the economy grows and tourists arrive.

• National Peace Council sponsored Marga Institute “Survey of Public Opinion on the Peace Process” (May- June 2007, published August 2007)

January 15th, 2008 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »

Diminishing returns of ATL advertising and the rise of on-demand and activation

The 30 second commercial is not dead. But the decline is clear. The rise of the Internet, media world changes of media proliferation and audience fragmentation, changes in lifestyle and TV watching habits, the remote control, the advent of the DVR led by TiVo all fuelled the declining effectiveness and ROI of the ubiquitous, intrusive, interruptive 30 seconder. The metamorphosis of the mobile phone into an ultra-versatile device and now the advent of DotMobi sites are driving the shift of communications to on-demand media and consumer engagement activations. If you think Sri Lanka remains untouched by these trends, think again, and act on them!

The rapid home-penetration of the Internet in economies that had affordable access to computers from the Western world to Asian economies like Korea marked the change from the passive ad-absorbing couch potato to the active information-seeking consumer. Now Web 2.0 and its stars like YouTube, MySpace, Flickr and the exponential growth of blogs are creating the content-generating consumer. Sri Lanka, with home computer penetration still under 5%, remains somewhat immune to this trend.

Most Sri Lankans still watch our teledramas and canned programmes on our national terrestrial channels, but the channels have increased and the audiences have got

fragmented. Today we have 19 terrestrial & satellite channels. In Q1 2005, 21 programmes had ratings higher than 10. By Q1 2007, this had fallen to 7 programmes. Currently, over 90% of programmes have ratings less than 3. Along with this, the cost per eyeball has risen and the diminishing returns are clear. Add to it the channel choices (varying between18-50) offered by cable operators which have taken affluent viewers away, and will soon make inroads into the middle income sector with the aggressive promotion of satellite TV, and the change merits the attention of marketers who want to retain contact with their affluent and not-so-affluent consumers.

Consumers avoid ads through various means – zapping via the remote control, perceptual blocks, multi-tasking and visits to the bathroom. US zappers had risen to 47% in 2004, but the Sri Lankan figure was estimated at around 10%, which is probably an underestimation that is changing rapidly. Day-after Recall (of ads seen the night before) in the US had diminished to from 34% in 1965 to 9% in 2000, and there is no reason to believe that Sri Lankans have better memories for more boring ads!

Radio too has grown to 28 national channels and 11 regional ones. At any single time slot, the audience ratings that a channel gets can range from zero to less than 5 at best. Radio is changing from a mass medium into a medium appealing to niche segments. Stations may want to cultivate and deliver specific audience segments rather than seeking to be all things to all people. This will then aid better targeting and more effective marketing from both the station’s and marketer’s viewpoints.

DVRs have not hit our market yet, but mobile phone penetration has been growing exponentially with growth rates of over 50% to deliver over 27% penetration or 5.4 million subscribers and counting. Most phones are now sophisticated mobile devices capable of accessing the web using GPRS and WAP protocols. Yet, web access through the mobile phone has been difficult till now because DotCom sites were made for computer access. However, the advent of DotMobi sites after the domain was launched worldwide in September last year, and the recent launch of such sites targeting the Sri Lankan market opens up new possibilities for web access and on-demand information at the consumer’s fingertips. With declining returns in traditional media, marketers may be well advised to take note of and leverage this development for their benefit.

While push marketing via traditional advertising still has value in image building for brands, the limitation of what one can do in 30 seconds poses a problem. Sri Lankan marketers are notorious for wanting to cram multiple messages into a 30 seconder! Consumers seek useful and comparative information in making their purchase decisions, so marketers may think of using these on-demand web media options which have the capability of providing more extensive content to potential buyers.

Push messaging and consumer bombardment have given way to consumer engagement as a more effective and meaningful way to communicate with and provide brand experiences to today’s tuned-off consumer. This may be done via the web, like BMW did when it created some exciting filmlets featuring their cars in action which drew consumer interest and engagement by the millions, or by creating personal interactions, using events – like Carlsberg’s night club promotions in Colombo, or brand experience locations – like Niketown stores in the US, or mobile stations like Unilever Sri Lanka’s mobile Sunsilk salons. Activation is growing fast as a new service offered by the advertising industry, given its growing importance in engaging consumers more effectively and leading them to experience the brand. In the cover story, the value of activation and their increasing investment in it is underscored by the Chairman of Unilever Sri Lanka.

The sooner Sri Lanka’s marketers respond to the changing realities in consumer habits, lifestyles and the media scene, question and evaluate their past and current practices, and seek more effective ways to bring the experience of their brands to their target consumers, the better will be their marketing and ROI.

June 3rd, 2007 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »

Rethinking Marketing and Communications for a changing world

Adapted from thought-provokers delivered at “Brands, Blues & Change-Points”

For changing times, change our approach & change the world

The times they are certainly changing. We marketers need to take note of the changing world and respond appropriately if we are to remain effective in our marketing. We need to question and change our approach to marketing and communications and move ahead from our 20th century thinking to be in sync with the new technology-fuelled, connectivity-driven world which is changing consumers and their values, media & shopping habits and their lifestyles. We need to transcend our purely commercial thinking and adopt enlightened and responsible marketing approaches and seek to change the world to be a better and safer place for all.

We need to serve the consumer better and be alive to his long-term interests. Today’s consumer is wiser and more skeptical. He figures out whether you are ripping him off, harming him and his environment or serving him well and caringly. We need to do what it takes to protect his and our planet rather than let our manufacturing activities and marketing practices jeopardize it. We need to pick up our non-biodegradable packaging. We need to listen to and address his complaints. We need to give him products that give him value and look after his well-being. This is the real CSR that we marketers need to practice rather than the highly-publicized, guilt-erasing philanthropy that passes off for CSR with many companies today.
We need to be alive to the changing world, update ourselves and be accountable. We can respond through innovative and enlightened thinking in our marketing that will challenge our capabilities and give us real satisfaction, rewards and sustainability in return.

“Come hear this ye marketers wherever you roam
Your targets are no longer babes to be sold
On your ploys, they are not captives, they have all outgrown
Assumptions about them you’re making
So awake and take note of the change that’s come home
For the times they are a changing”
- Lyrics of Nimal’s parody of Bob Dylan’s classic

Change-Points present opportunities and challenges for marketers

Change is spreading fast, not just in the rest of Asia and the world, but right here in Sri Lanka. We are now connected. Globalized. We need to recognize and respond to the changes that are happening around us.

We have ageing populations that want not only to be served but also to stay ‘forever young’. We have young consumers who want to experience and sense, be knowledgeable and educated, be cool and enjoy fame even if it is through a reality show. We have rural consumers who want to overcome their poverty and enjoy the comforts and conveniences of the modern world. We have concerned consumers who want to eat wisely, stay healthy, pamper their bodies and soothe their minds. We have people who want to be connected, and can do so through the new digital technology and connectivity, but beyond that to have their human needs of belongingness, companionship and psychological well-being fulfilled. All of these present opportunities to the savvy, enlightened and innovative marketer.

Today, we live in a world where the consumer has a plethora of choices. Access to technology has made it possible for us to make parity products. Today, we have shrinking audiences and decreasing ROI on our media investments due to media proliferation and audience fragmentation. Today, we have an information overload and ad clutter on media resulting in bombarded consumers who switch off, can’t remember our messages or get confused about our brands. Today, we are more connected than ever before via telecom, the Internet, TV and travel – through sms, mobile phones, Blackberries, e-mail, blogs, chat rooms, webcam, video-conferencing, low-cost carriers, reality shows and the like. Today, consumers don’t wait for our TV, radio or press ads to learn about our brands; they access information that they want on-demand via Google and the Internet. Today, we have consumer-generated information via viral sms, e-mail, podcasts and blogs. Such information could affect our brands positively or negatively. Today anyone can market via the Internet; no distributors needed. Today, the credit card lets you buy your dreams anytime, anywhere in the world. These changes in marketing and media, driven by technology, present significant challenges that we marketers cannot ignore but must overcome and leverage to our benefit.

Understanding and responding to the changing consumer

She’s no moron, no moron, no moron, no mo
She’s not dumb, she’s not dumb, she’s not dum-diddy-dum
She’s your wife, she’s your life, she’s your wife, oh-ho
She’s your wife, she’s not dumb, get that chum
She’s got sense, common sense, to figure it out
Sees through things, reads so well between the lines
She don’t want you to want to spell it out
Knows you better, sees through things, knows your lines.
- From Nimal’s song based on David Ogilvy’s famous line

Do we truly understand today’s consumers? Are we connecting with them? Or are we treating them like naïve couch potatoes whom we can inject our brand message, brainwash and move to act to our command? Do we regard them as simpletons that need to be hit on the head and educated about our brand? Or have we realized that today’s consumer is rather different to the one we knew in the last century? Do we realize that they are more connected with each other, better informed, more empowered, more skeptical and getting smarter all the time? Do we realize that they are like us? If this is the case, we need to change our thinking on how we speak to consumers. Or shall we call them citizens – people with whom we want to build a relationship, who also live in the real world and are concerned about it.

Consumers are changing not only in their outlook and empowerment, demands and demographics but also in their lifestyles, values, media use, shopping habits and products that they buy. Today’s consumer has lots of choice and there’s no reason for him to be loyal to any brand unless we make him fall in love with ours. Today’s consumer is time-pressed and demands instant gratification, convenience and 24/7 access to services and information. Today’s consumer is information-overloaded and has become more selective in taking in information, and permission rather than intrusion is needed in talking to him. Today’s consumer is smarter and better informed through the new connectivity and on-demand information access. He uses the new connectivity and viral dissemination to spread positive news about brands he enjoys as well as negative views about ones that hurt him.

Old Marketing is dead… Let’s practise the new

Old Marketing is dead. Here are some obituaries: “Old-style marketing is dead” says ex-Coke CMO Sergio Zyman “the tried and true tactics of the old marketing simply aren’t working the way they used to…The same dollar spent on the old tactics doesn’t give the return it did five or ten years ago…Mass advertising has lost its ability to move the masses.” In 2005, marketing guru Philip Kotler concludes that “Marketing isn’t working today. New products are failing at a disastrous rate. Most advertising campaigns do not register anything distinctive in the customer’s mind. Most products come across as interchangeable commodities”. And Rex Briggs & Greg Stuart confirm in their brand new book What Sticks that “Marketing is failing: CEOs sense it; top marketers know it; and our research proves it…The problem is a rapidly changing marketing landscape that has made the old approaches and research tools obsolete. A new approach is clearly needed.”

Old Marketing is dead. CEOs and bean-counters are saying that they don’t see the results and the ROI of marketing campaigns. It isn’t that marketing and advertising aren’t valid anymore. They both are crucial in building businesses and creating value and wealth. But we need some new thinking, based on the changes we’re seeing…some new approaches to make it work.

Old Marketing is dead. But we still pretend it isn’t. We love our 4 P’s. The 4 P’s Mantra makes us Marketing Men…and Women. So we continue to teach it, preach it, practise it as if the world hasn’t changed. But if you think about it, it soon becomes clear that the 4Ps marketing was what you did in an era when supply was behind demand. Now it is all reversed and the consumer calls the shots.

So, it is time for us to practise the consumer-orientation that we have been professing for years. We need to start from the the consumer’s point-of-view. Lauterborn has given a new alternative to the 4Ps. The 4Cs.

In line with this new thinking, we need to recognize that new marketing is not about pushing products. It is about creating real and perceived Consumer Value through brands that deliver this. The vast choice that the consumer has today and the difficulty of making differentiated products that can withstand competitor catch-up requires us abandon our traditional product marketing approaches in favour of creating brands that the consumer will trust, connect, want to experience, fall in love with and make a part of their life.

Today, technology has made prices tumble and most things become affordable to a wider market. But we see that the consumer is not keen to buy all the stuff we are making; because, now he is looking at the Cost and consequences of consuming the products that we make, like the cost to his health from unhealthy foods. Cost-to-consumer and risk have become the new surrogates for price; so, the marketer’s challenge is to minimize the risks and costs of acquiring and consuming our products.

Convenience is distribution from the consumer’s point-of-view. Still in Sri Lanka you can win the battle by just showing up in the little mom-and-pop shop where the average Sri Lankan still shops – giving him round-the-corner convenience. The urban shopper, on the other hand, finds convenience in the self-service supermarket experience. Convenience is the name of the game, and marketers have to serve up other forms of convenience such as off-the-Net convenience, 24/7 convenience, home-delivery, mobile access, credit card & SMS payment and the like, just as some Sri Lankan marketers have started to do.

Old marketing was about ‘push promotion’ – pushing ads and messages. We still push our 30 second commercials, but increasingly the consumer is not listening. Nor do they recall the ads and brands they saw the night before. They are zapping, multi-tasking and inattentive. New marketing has to move from the push-promotion mode into a Communication and consumer- engagement mode. We now have to interact with the new information-seeking consumer and provide the information he seeks when and where he wants it together with our brand experience – on the ‘Net or through his other touch-points.

“…talking, eating, reading, and using the Internet while watching prime-time TV has increased from 67% in 1994 to 75%. “ Joseph Jaffe in “Life after the 30 second spot”

A lot of advertising doesn’t work because we haven’t learnt from our experience of what works and what doesn’t, and internalized our best practices. A lot of ads don’t work because we haven’t found out exactly why the consumer buys our brand. A lot of ads don’t work because we are saying irrelevant things and the consumer isn’t listening. A lot of ads don’t work because we still believe and persist in myths and practices that are questionable: like seeking to inject the consumer with our bombast or selling features-and-benefits instead of seeking to endear people to our brand.

In this day and age of consumer-generated communication and consumers seeking information on-demand, we need to start communicating differently. We should stop intruding and repeating and bombarding and annoying people. We need to sync our communications to be in step with the consumer. We need to figure out what information the consumer wants and what media and touch-points he accesses and give it to him when and where he wants it. We need to tell him some stories about our brands that he would repeat to others. We should begin talking to him one-on-one. But that would take a database that many of us still haven’t thought of putting together and using.

The bottom line is that marketing today must respond to markets that are fast changing fuelled by connectivity, technology and the power shift to the consumer. New marketing must acknowledge that the consumer is in control and that ‘push’ is out ‘pull’ is in. Marketing must strike a balance between short-term demands and long-term needs. Marketing must seek to create the future while delivering on today’s demands. Marketing must generate sales today while building brands, driving innovations and creating value and wealth.

“…in 2004, 47% of viewers switch channels when watching either because the program had ended or to skip commercials. This is up from 33% in 1994. “ -Joseph Jaffe in “Life after the 30 second spot”

Understanding what brands really are

What is a rose by any other name
Does it change its nature, does it stay the same
It is a lovemark just like a brand is
It stands for trust, and more,
It stands for love, and yes,
It is an everlasting promise.
- From “Brands & Roses”, Nimal’s love song about brands

New marketing is all about our new insights into brands. What they really are. What they mean to people. How they connect.

Brands are no longer just trademarks. “They’re Lovemarks” says Kevin Roberts “They inspire loyalty beyond reason”. Real love is when people will tattoo their favourite brand on themselves. Martin Lindstrom’s book Brand Sense highlights research about these – and Harley Davidson tops the list. “A great brand taps into emotions” says Scott Bedbury of Nike and Starbucks fame “emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience. It’s an emotional connecting point that transcends the product.” “The brand is a contract between the consumer and the company. It’s a symbol and promise of a definable quality and experience that the brand guarantees the consumer” says Patrick Gournay CEO of The Body Shop “a great brand is more than just a great product. A great brand is something people want to be a part of and share in, in a way of expressing themselves. There has to be something about it that differentiates it, and makes it interesting, exciting and attractive to consumers. Such a brand also helps the consumer make choices, particularly in markets that are becoming increasingly crowded; it makes decisions easier for the consumer.” “A brand has to feel like a friend” says Starbucks Chairman & CEO Howard Schultz “people have more choices today than ever before. So, a brand must be a bridge of trust to the consumer.” “Brands are about people not products. Brands are about customers not companies” says former CIM CEO Peter Fisk in his new book Marketing Genius.

Brands, like Harley-Davidson for example, let you become somebody you like to be. Some brands, like TAG Heuer, show others what you kind of person you are. Other brands, like the Rockers brand that we at Bates Asia created for our client Hemas Marketing, let you belong. There are empowering brands, like Apple and Nike, that let you achieve your dreams. There are other brands that touch you through your senses. Kenzo for example is a very sensory, very aesthetic brand. There are many brands, like Omega, Rolex and others, that enable you to convey your style emulating their celebrity endorsers. Brands, like Starbucks, have become successful by providing a lifestyle that blends into yours. Brands can also engage us and our passions, like the activist brand, Greenpeace. While some brands can move you by appealing to your heart, others like Bates Asia seek to intrigue you and stimulate your mind through our thinking – our ideas, strategies and experiences like Brands, Blues & Change-Points! Then there are brands that are great at entertaining us – like Disney, for instance. Some brands can even prick our conscience and appeal to our good sense, like The Body Shop or Sri Lanka Apparel’s Garments without Guilt brand, that appeals to the buyers’ sense of ethics on the basis of Sri Lanka not having sweatshops and child labour in our garment factories. MAS Holdings’ Women Go Beyond brand is doing the same in promoting ethics and women’s empowerment together with their partners like Gap.

Looking at the future – as consumers get smarter, more demanding and more concerned about their well-being, brands will need to deliver higher capability, more convenience, greater aesthetics, more information, greater safety and good citizenship.

Changing the way we think about advertising

Ads, ads, ads – 30 second wonders
Ads, ads, ads – I’m swamped under
Ads, ads, ads
These bloody ads
Theyr’e bloody rude – no by-your-leave
They intrude – when I’m in my undies
When I’m not in the mood
To swallow these ads
Gimme back my movie
Gimme that remote
To zap those ads
Those bloody ads.
- From Nimal’s composition “Ads, ads, ads : a consumer’s lament”

There’s growing discomfort and uncertainty about advertising among CEOs and company financial people, particularly when advertising doesn’t show results. For many of them advertising investment is an act of faith. They wonder if it is a waste and if there isn’t a better way to get their sales. In fact, the question has been around for years. John Wannamaker said that 50% of his ad-spend is wasted but didn’t know which half. The new book What Sticks citing research with over 30 major US marketers and multinationals confirms this wastage and has calculated it to be 37%!

A lot of advertising goes waste because we are still blindly perpetuating past practices on use of media. We assiduously focus on our media planning and buying measures – GRPs, TARPs, frequency & reach etc. But, we have not spent enough time looking at how people qualitatively access and absorb or disregard media or what non-traditional media and touch-points they access.

How advertising is “consumed” has changed. The way it is read or unread, seen or unseen, perceived or unperceived, liked or rejected, believed or disbelieved, absorbed or bounced away, acted upon or not – has changed. Consumers have changed – they have been conditioned, and have grown in their sophistication and cynicism. So advertising has to take into account and adapt to the new realities – if it is to be seen, perceived, believed, absorbed, liked and acted upon.

Advertising in its manifestation of the ubiquitous 30 second commercial is essentially an unsolicited imposition on the viewer as he seeks to sit back and enjoy his favourite programme. It is intrudingly thrust upon him without permission. It is often repeated to the point of annoyance. Bombarded several times in a programme, sometimes even back to back! Hoping perhaps to brainwash the viewer but often with the result of turning him off! Most-times talking to him like a moron who should take in the features, benefits and uses of the product and act upon them. Often thrusting so many messages in 30 seconds and expecting him to absorb and remember these amdist the information overload and clutter that is the order of the day! Ads often insult the intelligence of the viewer and are also criticized for being untruthful, insensitive, politically incorrect or for their gender stereotyping and scare-mongering.

Ads that do not gel with consumers get zapped, bounce off their perceptual barriers, or could even create negative perceptions for the brand. So what should advertising be doing today? The roles of old have changed. Ads today need to move from informing, persuading and reminding to empowering, demonstrating and involving the consumer.

Understanding marcom tools and creating IMC programmes

IMC became a buzz-word in the 1990s. It was the next big thing. Marketing Gurus hailed it. “The old answers – to spend megabucks on mass advertising, roll out endless promotions, dispatch a battle-weary sales force – no longer work” stated Philip Kotler “a growing number of companies are turning to one promising new answer called integrated marketing communications.” “Integrated
Marketing Communications is the marketing concept of the 1990s” said Thomas Harris “it will be the marketing practice necessary for survival in the 21st century.” “Relationship marketing is the key to all future marketing efforts” said Regis McKenna. “IMC makes relationship marketing possible.”

Though we flash it around as if it were a part of our daily diet, IMC has remained a buzz-word. We have for the most part only paid lip-service to it. Marketers have been weighed down by inertia. They have not changed their thinking. Advertising remains the be-all and do-all for most marketers. They have hardly moved to learn about the other marcom tools or how useful they are. They have not made sufficient effort to understand the consumer’s decision-making process and touch-points and how they could use the right mix of marcom tools at these touch-points to create an IMC programme.

Obviously we have some issues in adoption. Marketers are still in advertising mode rather than IMC mode. Marketers are still in push mode. Marketers are still not thinking holistically. Marketers are not bringing it all together well enough. The breakup of agencies into separate media agencies and creative agencies has made matters worse. Marketers are trying to maximize the parts while failing badly in synergizing the whole.

“Companies do a poor job of integrating their marketing communications. They choose an ad agency for their advertising, a PR firm for their PR, a sales promotion firm for sales promotion etc. Not only may they end up using these promotional tools in the wrong proportions, but they may also fail to create and deliver a consistent message with the different tools” says Philip Kotler. Commenting on the conditions and processes that will drive IMC adoption Don E. Schultz says “Although IMC has been discussed over the past several years, few organizations are practising it… IMC will be adopted by organizations in industries where there is an excess of supply compared with demand…They will start initially with developing databases…From there, organizational planning will change from determining attitudes to identifying behaviours. That will provide new forms of market segmentation, which in turn will encourage the consideration of new types of media and message delivery systems that customers use…At this point, integration will become a well-accepted concept, and one that is easily and quickly adopted.”

We need to admit that consumers make sense of our brands from all the stimuli that they get and not just from advertising. We know that consumers no longer sit and wait for our advertising messages nor absorb these messages like a sponge. In fact, today’s consumer has information sources that he finds more reliable and more convenient that he can access when he wants to. For example, he may call a friend or some knowledgeable person to consult on an intended purchase. Research shows that word-of-mouth and referrals are more powerful than advertising. He also actively looks for information on the Internet and compares models, prices and features before he buys. He gets influenced by news stories he reads in the newspapers or hears on TV or radio. Negative reports may make him think twice about a brand. Positive reports may endear him more to it.

So if we are to do this IMC thing, we need to understand a few things about the consumer. How he behaves in choosing, using and consuming brands. How he seeks information and makes decisions. We need to spot the touch-points at which we could interact with him. We need to figure out what information he is seeking and respond and seek to influence at these touch-points. We need to figure out what type of communication or incentive works best at each decision and touch-point, to swing him to our brand. We need to use these touch-points to deliver and reinforce the brand experience. We also need to recognize that all consumers may not act in the same way, and that we may need to segment and do different things for different consumers.

So, IMC is not doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that in addition to our advertising. It’s about first understanding how our consumer acts, and then putting together our marcom tools in a dovetailed communication programme based on these insights. We need to understand these tools better and how they work with each other. It is only then we can use and orchestrate them to deliver the goods.

As IMC Guru Professor Don E. Schultz wrote in the September 2006 issue of the American Marketing Association News magazine “The role of integration in a pull marketplace is to help the organization better align its efforts to achieve something they have long avoided because of the 4 P’s approach: customer focus. The goal of integration today must be to help marketers understand that customers are in control. To recognize that the old-time hit-them-over-the-head reach and frequency models of outbound communication no longer work, no matter how much money is thrown into the media mix. To help organizations understand that…it is the brand experience delivered in a multitude of ways that is the only survival mode.”


1. Jaffe, Joseph “Life after the 30 second spot” (Adweek Books/John Wiley, 2005)
2. Cappo, Joe “The future of advertising” (Advertising Age/ McGraw Hill, 2003)
3. Austin, Mark & Aitchison, Jim “Is anybody out there?” (John Wiley, 2003)
4. Lindstrom, Martin “Brand Sense” (Kogan page, 2005)
5. Fisk, Peter “Marketing Genius” (Capstone, 2006)
6. Bedbury, Scott “A New Brand World” (Viking, 2002)
7. Zyman, Sergio “The end of marketing as we know it“ (Harper Collins, 1999)
8. Clifton, Rita & Maughan, Esther editors “The future of brands” (Interbrand/Macmillan 2000)
9. Roberts, Kevin “Lovemarks: the future beyond brands” (2004 Powerhouse)
10. Briggs, Rex & Stuart, Greg “What Sticks” (Kaplan, 2006)
11. Hill, Sam “60 trends in 60 minutes” (Brandweek/ John Wiley, 2002)
12. Ochoa, George & Corey, Melinda “The 100 best trends 2006” (Adams Media, 2006)
13. BatesAsia “The Book of Change” (BatesAsia, 2006)
14. American Marketing Association News journal (Sept. 2006)
15. Lauterborn, Bob “New marketing litany: four P’s passe, c-words takeover“ (Advertising Age 61,1990)

December 2nd, 2006 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »