Here’s to the Oxymorons

By Sandeep Joseph

New Year, Same Old Pandemic.

The world itself and the world of marketing remain upended in 2021.

What should we do, to tackle the uncertainty that guffaws in our faces?

Here are three Oxymorons for this Year of the Ox.

  1. Brand-building is sacrosanct and price sensitivity matters

Every marketing dollar is being questioned. There is tremendous pressure to deliver on sales. E-commerce could be the pivot and saviour. In all this, brand building continues to be a casualty.

Yet, long-standing research and current consumer shopping trends show that the only way to ensure long term success is to make sure we continue to build the brand and not lose sight of it. Consumers are fleeing to the familiarity of big brands, as per Unilever. So advertisers need to ensure they are seen as big, safe brands.

And yet all brands need to provide value and be sensitive to the tightened purses and stressed disposable income of their customers. Hence the need to reconcile brand building while also providing economic value and savings. Some e-commerce brands and FMCG players lead the way.

2. Media consumption habits will remain largely unchanged. Digital still rises. And a successful media mix should include more than digital.

TV ratings went up 20% during the first MCO, and then fell back 20%, to pre-Covid levels during RMCO. Traffic on roads dropped dramatically, as per Ampersand Advisory and Moving Walls research, then came roaring back to 80-105% of pre-Covid levels.

78% of Malaysians watched more videos online during 2020 than before. Content streaming and video formats rule. We’re promenading in Bridgerton, and playing chess with the Queen’s Gambit. 

Does this mean ad spends should go 100% digital?

Absolutely not.

My own experience, and our work across 30+ categories shows that a judicious mix of digital and offline media works better than a pure digital campaign, as long as there is sufficient budget. Digital is not the panacea and the final answer.

Consumers do need the credibility, scale and real-world reassurance of traditional media.

But traditional media players need to up their game in terms of accountability, pricing and data reporting, to stand a chance of getting back into reduced ad budgets.

3. Data is critical and customer experience is paramount

We’ve all heard Data is the new Oil. But while everyone tries to build their data warehouses, one of the key uses of data must be to deliver better customer experience. Customers are data points, but they are also people. In the USA, 96% of customers were willing to leave a brand because of bad service and poor customer experience.

In Malaysia, depending on category and research source, at least 22-30% of customers can be switched away from the brand they were intending to buy: in-store and online.

In store and online. Brands must use data to better the customer experience, re-engineer processes and strengthen loyalty. Else, data warehouses will merely be capturing the sound of customers shuffling away.

We need to balance conflicting demands to make these three oxymorons our friends. Then the Year of the Ox will be one to remember.

Sandeep Joseph is the CEO and co-founder of Ampersand Advisory, a strategic media consultancy that was Campaign Magazine’s Malaysia Independent Agency of the Year for 2019 and 2020. The views expressed here are his own: you can debate with him at [email protected]


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