Disrupt or be disrupted! That’s the challenge facing businesses today, so it’s no wonder that innovation is high on the agenda for marketers, tasked as they are with preparing the brand for what audiences will embrace tomorrow.
Around two-thirds of CMOs now say innovation is essential to their success. At the same time, they are under mounting pressure to deliver innovation quickly—average CMO tenures are down to just 44 months—and the competitive landscape has changed radically.
So how can CMOs stay ahead of potential disruption? And how can they capitalise on opportunities to extend brands into new disruptive territories themselves? The answers lie in getting to grips with consumers’ broader lives and the broader competition.
New Competitive Set
One of the most significant changes for senior marketers in a digital world is where the competition comes from. As Facebook says, “everything competes with everything.”
All brands share customers and audiences with hundreds of other brands—big and small. Many may not be competitors in the traditional sense, in that they’re not competing directly for market share with your brand, but they are formative in shaping your audience’s expectations.
In this change lies opportunity.
McDonald’s traditional competitor may be Burger King, but it is the broader cultural trend around food trucks that has changed the landscape in which it operates. With burgers elevated into an art form, McDonald’s looked beyond its direct competitor by introducing brioche buns and thicker patties in response to new consumer expectations—the desire to create and share food imagery on social.
The idea of businesses increasingly setting their expectations adjacently across categories and industries will become the norm in 2017. Google will compete with BMW, Facebook with Sony, Amazon with Walmart, and so on.
To thrive in this new dynamic requires a broader view of customers and audiences, and how changes in their lives represent opportunities. This means getting insights from the messy world of consumer culture and context. You can’t always quantify it, but that doesn’t mean the “data” isn’t meaningful.
Innovations In The Gap
Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen describes a simple truth—that consumers “hire” products and services to do a job. And it’s the gap between a job that needs doing and the products or services available to do it where innovation can prosper.
To understand those jobs, a business has to observe how its consumers are actually behaving in different contexts that surround the brand. This requires a different point of view than that which can be gleaned from traditional market research.
Take Dollar Shave Club’s approach to disrupting the men’s razor blade market for example. Five years ago, the brand was little more than a viral YouTube video. Today it has 3.2 million customers. During the same period, Gillette’s market share dropped from 71% to 59%.
By telling consumers that its brand can do one simple job (staying clean-shaven) more easily and cheaply, Dollar Shave Club capitalised on a number of trends: subscription retail, e-commerce, and social media. And while these trends were periphery to the razor blade market, they weren’t peripheral to the customer.
These creative disruptions were inspired by an understanding of consumers beyond the category in which the brand operated. When this perspective is taken, boundaries between categories and competitors dissolve; and the scope of opportunities for growth expand—and, suddenly, inspiration is everywhere!
The Marketing Job
How does marketing fit into this dynamic? Empathising with customers and audiences is not just about understanding the jobs they “hire” products or services to do—but the jobs they “hire” marketing to do as well.
With attention diminishing and audiences choosing which messages they opt into and which they block out, here’s the question: what job are consumers “hiring” your marketing to do?
Looking at McDonald’s again, the brand observed the rising influence of vloggers on Millennials and responded with the launch of the YouTube channel “Channel Us.” But no one really asked: “Why would Millennials tune in?” and the channel was unsuccessful.
In contrast, McDonald’s brave myth-busting campaign “Our Food, Your Questions” does do the job. Millions enjoy McDonald’s, but, for some, that experience is degraded by an underlying suspicion about what they’re eating that lessens satisfaction and the brand’s social capital.
By confronting myths, McDonald’s has succeeded in building consumer confidence and helped customers feel, and justify, that they have made a fine choice.
Clearly, the “jobs” that audiences hire marketing for are not always functional. P&G’s feminine care brand Always reflects this well. Its BeingGirl YouTube channel connects teens with other teens to share their experiences of puberty, prompting customers to choose a brand that helps them feel normal and confident throughout a difficult life stage rather than just the tampon product.
Grasping the importance of the roles that brands can play in consumers’ lives is crucial, but it also means identifying broader trends and contexts driving their behaviour and, ultimately, those shaping your marketing.
Without this view, CMOs face an even tougher task when getting innovation moving in the right direction and at the right speed.