A good marketer is managing the future, not the past (exclusive interview for ČIA News)

Bram Alkema, the top speaker and specialist in management in the field of marketing, innovation and customer relationship development, will come to Prague on September 24 2014 to give a speech at Loyalty over Gold conference.

On this occasion he gave an exclusive interview to ČIANEWS. In his opinion the good marketer is managing the future, not the past. Efficiency is for losers. Strategy is the art of staying one step ahead of the need to be efficient. And good marketer does not need advertising and certainly doesn't do ROI calculations…

How has the global economic crisis of the past years signed on marketing? Have cuts in marketing budgets caused any changes in strategies? (E.g. something what was previously emphasised stays now in the background?)

Short answer? Marketing no. Advertising yes. Long answer needs to address this; marketing is not just advertising or sales promotion, you know :) . Marketing means creating customers. There are dozen ways to do so and thousands of people doing that and more of it. Distribution, proposition, pricing, revenue models are on the growth. It is the advertising budgets that have been cut partly because of the crisis. Especially in the big mass consumer brands, or the financial sector that has lost half it's power and more or less stopped advertising. The problem there is that managers of big companies primarily look back at the last year results or at their competitors in setting budgets. So yeah, the traditional advertising is down, but not because of the crisis. Advertising is a kind of dead in itself. Did you see Google advertise on TV? Ever?

The crisis brought also a wave of criticism of the Western economic model based on the "life beyond our means", indebting, selling dubious financial products… — with a little exaggeration, one could say that this criticism was also directed towards the authors of various marketing strategies. Do you agree? Why yes/no?

Marketing scientists are very much aware of the effect the crisis has on people's behaviour. There are predictable flaws in human thinking, cognitive biases, that make us buy more bad stuff if we are under pressure. It's in the books. Marketers can nudge you into choosing for better or worse. For marketing there are two reasons why this is kept in check. Firstly the 'do no evil' rule of, for instance, the biggest marketing company in the world, Google. They could have taken you to the cleaner but they didn't, ethically. The second is that the same cognitive biases, overconfidence, hyperbolic discounting, and other avoidable stupidities keep marketers from exploiting their consumers. So first there is an undemocratic but ethical restraint, second there is ignorance. I do not like them both, I do not like to be dependent on either one of them.

The real problem here is that everybody but especially politicians, religionists, ideologists, terrorists etc. uses exactly the same marketing principles. They try to get people to choose the wrong thing. Like corporations, they too read books. Marketing of ideas was invented by politicians. And worse, they show no restraint. Like genetics, marketing is a powerful tool, if allowed it will be used for the wrong things, by the wrong people. I know this argument is similar to "guns don't kill people, people kill people". I would like to think business marketing changed the world for the better, but there is no reason to believe it will continue to do so. I think it changed politics for the worse.

If you blame advertising for bad decision making, you underestimate marketing, you overestimate the restraint of bad people, you don't take governmental marketing into account, you certainly overestimate the coherence and articulation of western models. Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland are nothing like the UK or the US. So out-group biases do not help in analysis, and marketing is more powerful than you think. Education will help, asking this question will help, discussing it will help. We people, citizens, households will need to keep powers in check, and their tools and not go for the cheap marketing of ideologists.

What is the role played by social media marketing recently? Is their potential sufficiently known and used? Will, once in future, the digital marketing methods push those classic ones out of the market?

I will answer with a detour. There are three forms of communications. The first has one sender and many receivers (sermons, TV, newspapers, mass media), the second has one sender and one receiver (confessions, telephone, postcards, personal), the third has many senders and many receivers (proselytes, word of mouth, fashion, social media). The first three examples in the brackets are from the 2000 year old roman catholic church. They use a mix of all Communication forms and are probably still the most successful organisation on the planet. What I am saying social is as traditional as advertising.

We have been fooled into thinking that one way communication is the norm just by 50 years of analogue innovations in mass media. That was a fluke, an anomaly. It made us think that marketing is just advertising. Personal and social media are just making a long overdue comeback. The norm is in fact a mix of those three. So yes everything is going digital, everything will look like we have seen it before, and at the same time - no nothing will be the same.

What features are absolutely necessary for a good marketer – and why?

Curiosity. Insights. Seeking pleasure in being proved absolutely wrong. Learning your weaknesses from it. Hypothesise. Talking to customers half your time, to look for answers. A good marketer is managing the future, not the past. Efficiency is for losers. Strategy is the art of staying one step ahead of the need to be efficient. A good marketer does not need advertising and certainly doesn't do ROI calculations. Why? Counter question. Can you name one example of a brilliant marketer who was doing just that?

One of your favourable topics is the future of financial services – what perspective do you see in this sector?

They will be the next in line to be disrupted like the newspapers, music, film, traveling, retail, education and other industries before them. Intermediation, the middleman, the professional curator is the first victim of the Internet's lower transaction cost. Right now they are hiding behind governments, laws and money. It is a real doom scenario. Take a look at streaming BitTorrent, say popcorn time, and now imagine your banking to be like that. This decade there will be a day that every citizen in the world can lend, save and pay anybody else in the world for close to nothing. And then we will have a tax and pension issue. Just a cheerful prediction. Banking is obsolete, and governments cannot help for ever.

When you compare how marketing works in Western and Eastern parts of Europe, do you see any differences? What is the reason?

Again. Marketing science is pretty much the same in the sense of bringing stuff to a market. Europe is more divided in the potato or pasta eating countries, olive oil and butter eating countries, beer or wine drinking countries. But yes customers are different over cultures. So marketing is different. Eastern Europe could have leapfrogged Western Europe in many things, like China did, or Singapore, or Japan.

I think we forced Eastern Europe a caricature of what it meant to be Western. There is no single western culture, marketing or economy. The Benelux looks more like the Czech republic than the US. So maybe we sold false hope. We don't know what we are doing either, we certainly have no clue on how to explain the science behind it, if there was any. To put it bluntly. Some Eastern European countries should perhaps be copying from Singapore, or Scandinavia, not from Germany or France. But ultimately, marketing is like language, music, politics, or poetry. Czechs need to find their own, not western or eastern.

Are the huge markets of China or India similar challenge for marketers as they are new businesses trying to penetrate there? Is it necessary to choose other procedures in those countries that are culturally different from the Western ones? Isn´t it there a danger of collisions?

Same answer basically. Thomas Piketty points out that leapfrogging economies can reach double digits growth. Bleeding edge economies rarely do better than 1%. Marketing will have to be revised rather for the sheer numbers and lightning speed of sudden customers coming online, not just for culture. Western Europe had the audacity to think that all countries were the same, just slightly less developed. I hope the Czechs have the leapfrogging ability to learn from them and not make their mistakes. You've lived through such examples.

Thank you for the interview.

For more information about the conference contact:
Barbora Krásná, Blue Events

ČIA News contact information:
Helena Šimáčková
Marketing Office Manager
Mobile: +420 606 336 571
Phone: +420 224 800 977

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