Marketers need to pay it forward

by Nigel Hollis | April 22, 2019

When you are responsible for a brand, it is tempting to believe that its success or failure rests entirely in your hands. Not so. Discouraging though it may be, this year’s performance is largely a done deal. But you can have a lot more influence on what happens in future, although it might be your successor that benefits.

The Kantar Analytics Practice models changes in sales against changes in promotion, media spend and brand equity. Useful though this analysis is, helping to identify how best to grow sales both directly and indirectly, even the most sophisticated modeling rarely explains more than 60 to 80 per cent of a brand’s total sales. This is not the fault of the model. It is simply that a large percentage of today’s sales owe their origin to something that happened outside the last three or five years.

Today’s base sales are largely determined by what your predecessors did in the past: how well they built out the offer and its infrastructure, how well they marketed the brand and how well they anticipated today’s consumer zeitgeist. Their actions are become influence people’s experience of the brand, whether simply seeing it as part of the world around them to using it on a day-to-day basis.

Think about a brand like Louis Vuitton. It has existed for 165 years. It is virtually impossible for anyone alive today in a developed market not to have been exposed to Louis Vuitton at some time in their life. Other brands may be less long-lived but still possess a history that ensures they remain successful today. Unilever’s Dove has been around for 65 years, Apple for 43 and even Tesla, a relative newcomer, has been around for 16 years. There is no way that people’s contemporary understanding and desire for these brands is not influenced by experiences that happened three, ten or even longer ago. When people state that brands live in the mind of the consumer, they are referring to the accumulated knowledge, experience and emotions that originate from a lifetime of brand exposure.


Similarly, today’s actions have big implications for the brand’s future success. How you invest in consumer insight, leverage those insights to create meaningful innovation, build brand equity and activate it will determine your brand’s future. The immediate return may be small, limited by the number of people shopping the category right now, but the real benefit comes when people predisposed to buy your brand by what you did today finally decide to buy the category. And that means building positive intuitive feelings toward the brand, establishing a clear role for it in people’s lives and then making sure they can buy it easily when the time comes.

So rather than being discouraged that today’s brand performance is largely the product of your predecessors, perhaps you should be reassured that you can pay it forward, and, by recognizing that this is what marketing does maybe do a better job than they did. So how do you feel about this? Discouraged or reassured? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Ed C, April 22, 2019
    I agree, this would be beneficial to brands as well as brand stewards who are forward thinking. But I think that is the challenge, in that for whatever reason, many are more focused on short term gains. Why don't more eat healthier, exercise/meditate with increased frequency, or invest a greater percentage of today's earnings, given that the long term benefits of each appear proven? "The tyranny of the Urgent will always outshout the essential nature of the Important" seems to be more lived by than the opposite.

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