Marketers need three brains

Harish Bhat | Updated on January 16, 2018

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The art, science and magic of creating great brands in the new age

Once upon a time, many long years ago, marketers could create a nice pack design and a memorable advertisement campaign, and they could then sit back for several months to watch their brand soar. In the 1990s, I remember creating an advertisement for a brand of tea that carried on unchanged for more than three years, with absolutely no fatigue. Each time the advertisement was aired on television, sales of the brand went in only one direction — up and up.

All this required some consumer understanding, and a good dollop of right-brained creative chutzpah, which excellent marketers possessed in ample measure. However, it was also well known that people with sound left brained numerical and analytical skills would rarely enter the marketing profession. Instead, these mathematically intelligent types would quickly head off to places like Silicon Valley, to work in the rarified world of computers and electronics.

Those times have changed, and how. Today, marketers have to deal with a host of factors that constantly swarm all around their brains like buzzing bees. Customer analytics, media planning, digital reach, social media, neuroscience-led research, spatial patterns, big data, small data, micro-segmentation, creativity, instant videos, content creation, intuition, and lots more. You desire all their sweet honey, yet you fear being bitten by these bees if you don’t treat them well enough. Marketing has become a complex, real-time science and art, all rolled into one.

Reflecting on this glorious new age of marketing, it strikes me that marketers today would find two brains too little. In fact, they need three brains to work effectively. Here is why.

Left Brain – Data and Digital

The left brain holds our analytical and logical faculties. First and foremost, marketers need their left brain to make sense of the mountains of data that reach their tables and laptop computers every single day. There is consumer purchase data, consumer research and observation data, cross-category behaviour data, media consumption data, demographic data, customer satisfaction data…an endless stream of data which marketers need to grapple with all the time. All this data, when eventually distilled, is the source of rich consumer insight and can even throw up new and emerging trends. But this requires an active left brain, or, at the very least, intensive left-brained assistance.

Such data permits our telecom marketers, such as Vodafone or Tata DoCoMo, to customise their tariff plans to sharply defined segments of customers or even offer interesting “Build your own plan” options to customers. Such data also permits retailers like Tesco or Zara to accurately understand sales patterns, and decide what exact inventory of food products or garments should be stocked and displayed every single day.

The left brain is also needed to address the exploding world of digital. Enabling effective real-time marketing campaigns on digital media is a science that involves a lot of analysis. Understanding the efficacy of a brand’s digital website or e-commerce portal in drawing customer traffic and engagement also requires a good grasp of the medium. The digital medium provides marketers the power to personalise their offerings to each customer. And digital can help shape e-shopping or omnichannel shopping, both of which offer enormous convenience to the consumer.

A brilliant example of a marketer leveraging the power of digital is Amazon. It provides personalised recommendations to each consumer, over the digital medium, basing these recommendations on past digital search and buy patterns. Another great example is the use of a digital app on your mobile phone, to seamlessly order and pay for your favourite cup of coffee in your neighbourhood Starbucks store. Digital has endless possibilities, most of which need a well-trained left brain to be pulsing all the time.

Right Brain – Design and Drama

Even as the marketer is leveraging Data and Digital with his left brain, today he also needs the creative and aesthetic faculties that reside in his right brain, more than ever before. To begin with, modern consumers, even in emerging markets such as India, are far more conscious of design, and seek out beauty in virtually every aspect of their lives. The need for appropriately beautiful design extends not just to categories such as jewellery and cars — even packets of biscuits, chocolates and roasted peanuts need well-designed wrappers today. Marketers, therefore, need to be sensitive to aesthetics and design, regardless of which specific category they are operating in. In fact, design thinking has to take centre-stage in a marketer’s life, to ensure that all brand touch points appeal in the same, consistent manner.

A powerful and relatively recent story that illustrates the remarkable power of Design is Paper Boat. By integrating design thinking into its brand proposition, Paper Boat has changed the perception of what a beverage can be. Today, every element of the brand — from tradition inspired beverages that evoke memories of your childhood, to the minimally designed pack that is virtually a piece of art, to the beautifully crafted advertising — appeals to the aesthetic in a manner that no other Indian beverage brand had ever done before. Indigo Airlines is yet another example of well-integrated design thinking, all its touch points remarkably aligned.

The marketer also needs her right brain to craft the required Drama around her brand. While she has to leverage the new streams of data and digital very well, these are only means to an end. And if that end is all about exciting your consumer, and keeping your consumer’s interest in your brand high, then the Drama of wonderful storytelling and theatre is essential — in advertisements, and in retail stores. As the famous adman Piyush Pandey says, products are made in factories but brands are made in consumers’ minds – and memorable storytelling is the key to building these brands in millions of minds and hearts.

An illustration of an Indian brand that has done this remarkably well is Fevicol. Through extraordinary storytelling rooted in humour, Fevicol has lifted the plain-Jane, boring, everyday category of adhesives, and transformed itself into an interesting brand that people love. Millions of Indians will always remember with a smile the story of the hen which ate fevicol, and therefore laid an egg which could never be broken open.

Third Brain - Dialogue

Beyond the left and right-brained skills of Data, Digital, Design and Drama, today’s marketer also needs a third brain. The reason for this — modern consumers are no longer satisfied with one-way communication from the brand, they want their favourite brands to engage in a constant dialogue with them. Driven by the ubiquitous presence of smartphones and universal access to the internet, but also driven by an urge to constantly connect, consumers increasingly wish to review their brands, provide feedback, get involved in the process of co-creating their brands, even set the narrative of the stories that their brands put out.

Marketers, therefore, have to engage in this dialogue with their customers, and will have to find multiple methods of doing so — through conventional media, social media, digital windows, and omnichannel touch points. In crafting this dialogue, they will have to synthesise the left-brained and right-brained skills of Data, Digital, Design and Drama. The third brain will have to play this critical role of synthesis and dialogue.

A wonderful example of such third-brained dialogue is Pokemon Go, the brand which took the world by storm a few months ago. This augmented reality game created a unique dialogue between brand and consumers, that seamlessly traversed between the real and virtual worlds. Another superb example of such dialogue that I came across is the story of Tipp-Ex, a European brand of simple correction fluid that has connected uniquely with consumers through its engaging, two-way stories of a hunter and a bear. Check this out on the internet, for yourself!

Clearly, therefore, marketers need three brains to address five key exciting but essential areas – Data, Digital, Design, Drama and Dialogue. On that cheerful note, let me wish you a very happy Diwali, that relaxes and lights up all our brains !

Harish Bhat works with the Tata Group. He is the author of the best-selling book “Tata Log”. He acknowledges the valuable inputs he has received from Jukta Basu Mallik in researching this article

Published on October 27, 2016

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