Basics of Marketing are Boring, But they are effective
Marketers love being doomsayers, they would have you believe that consumer beliefs, behaviors, psyche are constantly changing. But is that true? We all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf.
When you enter a marketing team, whether it is on the agency side or the brand side, there are 2 kinds of charts that you always see; ones that go up and others that go down. No seriously, when was the last time you saw a flat line graph in a marketing deck?
They can look like this.
Or they look like this.
Time and again, we cherry-pick the most dramatic charts and statistics possible.
Time and time again, we shout from the top of our lungs that things have changed.
Taking an interest in understanding changes is not necessarily a bad thing. You can reap substantial rewards from catching a trend before others cotton on to it. The first mover will always enjoy bigger advantages over slower competitors.
Where is the problem Parijat then?
Our marketing industry isn’t just interested in change, it is obsessed with it.
A marketing hearing whispers about a new change is what lightbulbs are to moths. We fixate upon new technologies, new “proposed changes”, fetishize latest platforms, and fantasize about ‘new normals’ (new normal admittedly have skyrocketed during pandemic and in post-pandemic). If you ask a random marketer, the world is in constant flux with shit spewing everywhere.
Why do they do this? Easy. Change sells. Change sells very easy.
What do marketers say when they present these graphs?
“We say act now. Else you will miss the gravy train. Just trust us, else you will regret it.”
This is part of the problem with lot of modern marketers. Their process has pivoted to selling of ideas, rather than the value of those ideas themselves. You can observe symptoms of these pretty much anywhere (the number of hours spent in finalizing decks, which data would be the most provocative) but none more so perhaps than the dramatic lines of chart.
As a result, we forget about the dullest, but perhaps the most useful data out of all, data . The data that has not changed in decades.
Flat and boring charts are not sexy. They don’t instill a call to action. But they are reliable. They indicate an uncompromising and unchanging truth about the consumer or market. And that is something to build your brand upon.
So, Parijat, what are these unshaken truths?
Well, so many researchers over the decades have asked the common public their stance on several hundred statements. These statements range from political (“do you think government is doing enough”) to the personal (“I am trying to lose weight”) to the philosophical (“A car was in an accident, who do you think was driving that car, a man or a woman?”). By measuring how the public’s opinion on these issues changed over time, we can understand if their thinking has changed.
So, let’s take a 20 year period. That is a period between 9/11, War in Middle East, 2008 Housing and Global Economic crisis, 26/11, #MeToo, Trump, Modi, Right Wing rise, Covid, rise of digital nativity.
Whew! Lots of changes, right? To put things into perspective, here is that infamous article that a lot of people love to put up to showcase how much things have changed.
Were these seismic changes in the external world enough to create tectonic shifts in consumers’ attitudes and buying behaviours?
In a word: NO.
Over the course of 20 years:
45% of topics saw opinion change by fewer than 5%
74% of topics saw opinion change by fewer than 10%
By focusing on only elements that have changed dramatically, marketers are ignoring at least half, if not 75% of all consumer information that is readily available. For a category of working people that is drowning in data, we remain remarkably poor at using it.
Hopefully the following will help correct this massive oversight.
So, ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for the least dramatic and most boring charts you will ever see used in a marketer’s deck.
1. People are as scared of the future as they used to be
2. They still ‘believe’ themselves to be loyal to brands (does waiver a bit during the financial crash)
3. Debt has always been a human fear
4. People still love going to restaurants as much as they did in 2000
These might not have been the most exciting charts you would have seen, but they are the fundamentals. They’re our consumers’ unchanging constants. They are our North-stars. As marketers, we should deep dive the heck out of these data.
Unchanging attitudes can also teach us a thing or two about persuasion. Take attitudes towards gender, for instance.
In past 20 years, given so many changes have happened, it seems reasonable to expect a great deal of change in views about women.
And yet, agreement that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ has stayed constant over the past 2 decades.
This may look bleak, but its not the full story. Whilst agreement has remained constant, disagreement has increased by 10%.
Its not the cavemen who have been converted, but the fence-sitters.
A similar phenomenon occurred with the view ‘real men don’t cry’: agreement remained constant, but neutrality declined.
So, Parijat, what has changed in the last 20 years?
Well, I thought you’d never ask! A few perspectives have shifted.
1. Attitude on money: Our financial views have been greatly shaped by the 2008 Financial Crisis
2. Tightening of financial circumstances change our priorities
3. Shift from physical to digital has impacted our relationship with cash and newspapers
But wait, which topic has seen the largest shift since 2000? Over the course of two decades of continuous seismic shifts, on what topic has public opinion changed the most?
Alas, if only.
So, what now?
In the main, consumer attitudes have changed very little over the past 20 years. But marketers use the threat and/or opportunity of sudden change as a sales device. This has led to a widespread cherry-picking of only the most sensationalist pieces of data, chasing the fads rather than the fundamentals.
Which might go some way to explaining why TV ads are now twice as annoying as they were in 2000.
So, how do we fix this?
We need to stop idolizing change, and instead see the value in unchanging data. Stop proposing Metaverse as a shiny toy which will “usher in next era of growth”.
We need to stop viewing consumer behavior only in a short term window, and instead take a longer view, separating the fad from the fundamental.
And finally, we need to start showing our own senior leaderships, our CXOs, a different kind of chart. One that doesn’t go up or down.
It’s simple, really. We just need to change.