Brave Marketers Need A New Capability Stack!

My seven year old nephew recently invited his friends over to his birthday party. The plan was to dance and make merry, typical stuff that kids that age are supposed to do! There is nothing unusual about dancing to your favorite music, isn’t there? However, in this case the kids were asking ‘Alexa’ to play their chosen music from their online music libraries, that was being blasted from a blue tooth connected speaker that one of them had brought along! The party was a huge hit. `Alexa’ saved the day and reminded all the adults in the room that the world around us is changing rapidly in ways that are increasingly harder to predict.

Life at the workplace is no different. Are Airbnb, Netflix, Snap, Amazon, Facebook, Google etc. competitors or opportunities to reach out to customers and create new value? Companies are quickly transitioning from products to platforms and are rapidly pivoting to find themselves creating new revenue streams or simply discarding ‘time-tested’ formulas for success. Our mobile first, socially connected lifestyle is a classic example of how products have converged and services are delivered. The fact is, customers are demanding it since all of us are benefitting from the frenetic pace of innovation around us. Marketing as a function therefore needs to evolve and capabilities need to develop for us to be able to successfully navigate through these dynamic times. Is there a new capability STACK that we need? Here’s my view:

The classic 4 Ps (Product, Place, Price and Promotion) that we learnt while growing up have three new additional perspectives – People, Planet and Profitability. It’s important that marketing leaders steer their organizations and brands to develop a deeper sense of purpose that guides their everyday actions and are able to balance the needs of all stakeholders for the long haul. It’s important to continue delivering shareholder returns but equally thinking through our impact on society through fair trade and equal opportunities. The important point here is to re-tune the belief system and make that come to life through our brands and marketing efforts. The world does not need another ad or pack design or a promotion. However perhaps the world needs to learn to live, love and work together to forge a brighter future for our children. Does your brand have a point of view on it? Do you practice it? Is there a roadmap for change?

The success of Pepsi’s decade long ‘Performance with Purpose’ strategy bears testimony that in the long run sustainable business choices create better financial and social outcomes for all stakeholders.

Our digital and physical worlds paradoxically represent two parallel yet converging universes. We spend a part of our day connected to the world through social media where thoughts get exchanged at the speed of light and then slip back into our physical world of disconnected realities. We see all around us evidence of personalization at scale from healthcare, banking, clothing, cosmetics, travel, entertainment etc. Technology is making the costs of customization lower than ever before and hence the segment of one is likely to become the new normal across every industry. Marketing leaders will need to spend a disproportionate amount of time and budgets towards delivering personalization at scale and making their brands fit seamlessly into the lives of our customers. The average Joe who is likely to be a highly personalized Facebook, Netflix & Amazon consumer is not likely to be madly passionate about mass market brands that follow an assembly line model to deliver another bag of chips, a bar of soap or the millionth bicycle! Understanding what technology and capabilities are needed to deliver customization to every customer will be a critical decision for future success.

In a hyper-competitive world, catering to hyper-connected consumers we have to use every bit of information available to make an impact. Marketers have to understand, anticipate and react in real time to customers’ demands and develop the ecosystem to cater to this reality.  Companies such as Google and Facebook have over the last five years been able to steer away marketing budgets that were captive with the traditional media for decades. The primary reason has been the access that they have given brands to predict and participate so much more actively in the customer decision making process. This requires a new breed of marketing managers who replace opinions with facts and develop brand stories that are in many ways data with a soul.

Customer Experience:
To me, the best marketing campaigns are passionate endorsements from engaged customers. We always knew that for most industries word of mouth is what builds brands. Industries such as hospitality, travel and F&B today have realized the value of a TripAdvisor review and this is likely to become all pervasive in the years ahead. Marketing leaders will have to think beyond campaigns to understand the full customer journey based on what the customers need and developing strategies across the delivery chain. The brutal truth is that nobody raves about the average. To create fans we have to consistently enhance human interaction and deliver a market leading customer experience.

The best advice I got in school was to keep reading. Because the better informed you are, there is a higher likelihood of taking better decisions. I can’t help but emphasize as a banker that an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest! The fact is that there is so much happening in our industry and beyond that the role of the marketing leader is often all about joining the dots. Our role is increasingly similar to an orchestra conductor who is constantly tuning different capabilities to drive a better rhythm. The fact is that we don’t have much of a choice if we aspire to stay on top of the game since the world’s knowledge is doubling every year. If we don’t sharpen our saw, within no time our edge is likely to get blunted. I strongly believe that knowledge is the power that has the capacity to build or destroy with equal effectiveness!

Marketing has always been about telling a great story. It’s always been about speaking the language of the heart. That will not change in a hurry. We have to make our customers passionate advocates of our brands to ensure that we stay relevant. So we must continue telling stories that the world wants to hear. The world wants to hear Elon Musk’s vision of setting up a colony on Mars. The world wants to hear about Cardi B’s rise to fame. The world wants to dance to the next K-pop tune. The world wants to see the next Google IO conference. The world wants to attend the royal wedding. So what’s your story going to be?

It’s exciting to see that our jobs are in a state of perpetual motion. We are truly lucky to be well placed in our industry to drive change. It will be interesting to see how the marketing leaders of tomorrow will leverage this mixing deck of the capability stack and create new opportunities for their businesses, customers and society. Sometimes the questions are complicated but the answers are simple.


Vikram Krishna, EVP Marketing & Head of Customer Experience, Emirates NBD has been announced as the Chair of The Marketing Society Braver Conference on Wednesday 14 November. The Braver Conference is an unforgettable day inspiring us all to become braver in work and life. For more details visit Braver Conference Dubai

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