The marketing composite

The recent electoral victory of Narendra Modi-led BJP (as part of NDA) presents to us a good opportunity to understand a concept that is intuitively obvious to many, and yet is often ignored in commentary surrounding marketing and communications. Let’s call this concept the marketing composite, and see how it plays out.

Modi’s campaign victory has been ascribed to many factors; with the prominent ones being – the electorate’s disillusionment with the incumbent government, Modi’s projection of a larger-than-life self image as a no-nonsense decision maker and able administrator, (acclaimed) huge media budget, Modi’s tireless campaign attending several rallies a day; for months on end, a resurgent support from the BJP and RSS ground-level cadres, a weaker opponent in Congress and a listless opposition campaign.

All the factors named above have been claimed to individually or collectively play a role in helping Modi achieve the electoral success. However, the commentary around the victory often chooses to focus on one or a handful of these factors; while ignoring the others. For example, you are quite likely to read a gripping analysis of how Modi’s image-building contributed to the electoral success that does not mention the role played by the party cadres.

This selective focus on a single (or handful) of underlying factors is entirely normal, and it happens because of the commentators’ human limitations in analyzing a wide-range of factors, with many of them possibly beyond their domain of expertise. In other cases, commentators may choose one factor to highlight that aligns well with their domain of expertise. Therefore, while people in advertising may lay claim to the effect that a clinical advertising campaign made a huge impact; those from the technology field may claim that Modi campaign’s adept use of IT and social media was the real differentiator.

Over time, it so happens that one or a handful of factors get more credit than is due. Depending upon the degree of loudness or repetition, a particular factor may even be accepted as the dominant catalyst in the marketing success. Consider the Johnson & Johnson’s famed recall of Tylenol and the brand’s later success in recapturing the lost market share within a few months – which is often taught as an advertising or PR case study – underlining the success of the communications tool. The reality, as always, is slightly more complex, and is best described by the J&J marketing composite.

But first, let’s go back to the Modi campaign. As is perhaps obvious by now, each of the claimed factors came together as a composite force in pushing the ball forward in a single, cohesive direction. In other words, the marketing composite that propelled Modi to victory is made up of each of these factors (and perhaps a few others). It also follows that while the factors can themselves be analyzed individually, their actual contribution to the larger marketing success (Modi’s victory in this case) cannot be determined without taking into account the contribution of the other factors in the same success.

Further, it is even possible to neatly slot each of the factors named above into the classical framework of marketing as a process – from identifying a widespread consumer need that is not addressed by the competition, to creating a product that is designed clearly to address that need, and finally executing a flawless go-to-market strategy that covers everything from matching winnable candidates to seats and providing the communications support. This understanding leads us to conclude that the composite in many ways signals a successful marketing process that not only takes advantage of the larger environment, but also benefits from the favorable environmental trends that may not always be within the control of marketing decision makers. Or in simpler words, a successful marketing composite is made up of a well-designed and executed marketing process that takes place in the right place and the right time.

For marketers, there are two important points to note. First, it is not sufficient to focus on one or a few underlying factors; each of the factors need to be identified and optimized for the composite to gain its form. Second, each of the underlying factors must be optimised in one and only one direction alone; this is critical for the synergistic and interdependent forces from each of the underlying factors to gain effect and add more weight to the composite.

Is it possible to breakdown the composite and analyze the relative strength of underlying factors? For example, can we compute with reasonable authority as to what extent did the advertising support Modi’s victory? Technically and statistically, it is entirely possible and calls for conducting a well-designed survey with a carefully selected sample, and then subjecting the data to multivariate regression. This exercise can help dismantle the composite and explain the absolute as well as the relative importance of many of the underlying factors. For brand managers, this breakdown may help in validating or bunking their assumptions and therefore aid better decision-making in the future.

Before we conclude, let’s sum up the key factors that made up the J&J marketing composite and helped the company quickly win back the customers of its Tylenol brand. Effective advertising and PR were certainly played their roles, but so did the famed J&J credo “doing the right thing for customers”, a determined top leadership and a series of critical decisions involving stakeholders from different departments. Consider, for example, that the VP of Finance had calculated the cost of Tylenol recall as more than the company could even afford, but it was the recall that made it to the marketing composite, and not the net cost analysis.

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