Marketing Inertia: Too uncomfortable to act?

“We have done enough selling, let marketing take over now” – thus suggested the boss in my earlier avatar as a sales manager. He would go on to explain further – when we are dealing with consumer choices and preferences and in various ways that consumers engage with brands, we better be focusing on the right mix of marketing programs. So, what happens when a firm does not respond to the shift in consumer preferences by way of crafting an alternative strategy and building a calibrated marketing program? They just might end up managing falling sales numbers riding on the legacy of a brand in the short term. Not responding to business challenges is an anti-thesis to the very core of marketing strategy – after all, consumer value is a dynamic proposition! Therefore, not responding with a re-crafted value proposition to address changing consumer preferences is what we term as Marketing inertia. One of the key predictors of marketing inertia is a lack of ability to respond to the shift in consumer preferences, buying processes and brand engagement. These shifts can be of lower degree or towards a higher degree. However, if the marketing program remain low key in a low degree shift situation, this could be taken as a strategic position that a firm may take to just maintain its position. But the same level of marketing program in high degree shift situation will simply be an inertia – inability to move up the marketing pitch.

           We can explain this phenomenon by using the context of news content consumption – dominated by print, TV and digital mediums. With the explosive growth in consumption on digital media platforms, the first casualty was newspapers in the USA. However, some of the newspapers embraced this shift in consumer preference and repackaged their offerings by building convergence between print and online mediums. These newspapers recrafted their value proposition and targeted young readers through cross-platform offerings. That was possible because these firms responded to the shift in a way that afforded them the opportunity to align their market offerings to the new reality (the shift). In the same industry, closer home, things look better. Well, at least for now in terms of the impact – drop in readership and advertising revenues are not indicating an existential crisis. The early trends are for everyone to see – (a) young readers not preferring to read newspapers (b) those who buy newspapers are not engaging with the medium (‘c) newspapers are no longer an essential household purchase. Clearly, some of these are manifestations of rapid penetration of the digital medium and a passive acceptance of reality – without even responding to the challenge. In fact, many industry veterans suggest that digital is a threat for English newspapers only. A few years ago, many felt that in India newspaper reading is a habit and it cannot be replaced by digital. After almost a decade of wait and watch and almost with a palpable sense of denial, leading newspapers are now warming up to the challenge. Is it too late already? No, if the firms are ready to shake up the marketing inertia.

                Even at this stage, it is possible to respond to this challenge by carefully addressing three questions: (a) what is the preferred content? (b) what is the new meaning of “engaging with news and features?”, and (‘c) what is the preferred buying process? – let me explain this part: a shift from a postpaid model to a prepaid model built on a solid subscription mechanism that makes dynamic offerings to the readers could be a new way of building readership. A direct-to reader model that serves the interest of the distribution channel but allows the firm to have direct engagement with its readership base, may sound a bit radical but a desirable shift in consumer engagement strategy. For the first two questions, the digital and print business strategists have to build convergence in their marketing program. At this point in time, this does not show up in anyways. For example, if a reader is subscribing to the e-paper, he receives a renewal notice with a payment link and the renewal is done with a few clicks on the mobile phone. Contrast this with a physical product subscription that the same reader has bought –  for renewal of subscription, a sales executive will possibly call and ask for a cheque!  which one has a greater chance to get dropped is anybody’s guess. Therefore, a clear focus on building newer engagement models, driven by a marketing program mix could operationalize the strategy recast.

A greater focus on customer helps. Focusing on outcomes such as revenue and readership is a great managerial pursuit but the strategic imperatives are embedded in this question – can we create customer value by leveraging the shift to our advantage? A yes is certainly the first step towards breaking the marketing inertia. My ex-boss was right, as he was, most of the time – enough of sales, let’s do some solid marketing.

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