One of the marketing dictums that is probably as old as the hills is “caveat emptor”. Which translates to “let the buyer beware”. But what does it really mean?
It simply means, given the used car salesmen who seem to be all around us anxious to sell us just about anything, it is important for consumers to exercise proper caution and ensure that they are not taken for a ride. In short, it is taking the trouble of reading the fine print and protecting ourselves.
Now, let’s move on from the consumer side of the world to the enterprise side and focus on an important person in the world of marketing — the brand manager.
Investing in relationships
Today, this very important person leads a harassed life. Why do I say that? Let me take you back in time to the 1980s, when I joined advertising and a “full service agency”.
The advertising agency was truly a partner and a marketing arm of the company. In those days, sacrilegious though it may sound today, the agency actually earned a full 15 per cent commission on everything it did for the client — including printing letterheads!
So an account executive like me spent time on the client, understood the brand, and stood as an ally to him/her because it made business and financial sense. We invested in the relationship, unlike today — the client was a friend, philosopher, guide and the source of all benefits. Today, however, things have changed for the worse. And it is the clients and brands who end up facing the consequences of the changing dynamics.
Agencies forced to unbundle
The full service agency I started my career with does not exist anymore. What happened? Well, the biggest breakaway came when the emerging stand-alone media agencies demonstrated that they could plan, buy and negotiate media better than the full service agencies.
Clearly, the client was excited, because he was spending crores of rupees and any saving was welcome. Media agencies too built competencies and skill sets to ensure that they continued to deliver — they invested in technology, brought in people who understood numbers and software, and provided enormous value to the client.
However, a major portion of the agency’s revenue was being chipped at from a variety of service providers — events companies, market research agencies, social media agencies, packaging companies, PR agencies and brand identity firms. All of them took shares of the marketing pie, even as the agency watched in horror.
Of course, there are implications for the agency, which largely works on retainer fees and earns much less today. Additionally, it is also unable to recruit the talent it needs. The declining revenue, importance and role of the advertising agency today will certainly make for another story but let’s stay with the harassed brand manager, who is largely on his own in this complex, challenging environment as the agency seems to have deserted him.
Where’s the time?
Today, everything seems to be plentiful except time. More so for brand managers, who suddenly find themselves dealing with multiple vendors, all of whom seem to have an agenda of their own. The advertising agency too finds itself marginalised and not really in control of the brand.
Yes, it handles the mainline advertising but there is social media and mainline media which are largely outside the agency’s purview. It does not feel so strongly about the brand, nor does it think it worthwhile to spend its entire life thinking, sleeping and dreaming the client’s brand.
The brand manager hence ploughs a lonely furrow and bears a heavy cross dealing with multiple vendors, who often work at cross-purposes. Let’s take a quick look at this chart, which indicates the multiplicity of vendors who are falling all over the client. Clearly, the brand manager is under pressure today.
So what should he do?
Today, the brand manager is under pressure but he is the one who can control the brand’s destiny. He knows what the brand is all about; he knows its essence and messaging. It is up to him to ensure that the brand’s integrity is preserved in every single thing that gets done by different agencies. And believe you me, it is by no means easy.
Let me give you a quick example of the challenges faced by him/her. The current top model Ranveer Singh is, as we speak, endorsing six diverse brands — MakeMyTrip, Vivo, Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, Colgate, Ching’s Secret and Set Wet Deo… all at the same time!
Obviously, some smart aleck salesman is selling the celebrity as though there is no tomorrow and with no thought about the target audience or the confusion it might create of endorsing diverse brands. Sadly, brand managers have fallen for this simple sales ploy! Clearly, it is a case of caveat emptor not being followed.
Wake up, brand manager! I know you are hassled, busy and stretched. But be on your guard, lest someone take you for a ride. Or better still, hire a brand consultant!