Monday, November 12, 2007

What is the X-Factor in Marketing?

Before I went on the Diwali break, I was asked this question by a marketing magazine called Pitch. It set me thinking - what IS the X-Factor?

Is it what sets apart one campaign from another? What allows one product to be sold at twice the price of another? What makes customers queue for hours to buy – even when another product is available with identical functionality. What makes consumers forgive the occasional glitches in the service. What makes demand far outstrip supply. In short, the X-factor is every marketer’s holy grail. The elixir which when found and bottled will keep their products fresh and desirable in their consumers’ eyes. I know I am going to lose many readers by admitting this, but I don’t know what the X-Factor is. After all, if I (or anyone else) knew what it was, it would no longer be the “X” which is an unknown quantity, but, and pardon my vanity here, the Jessie Factor! But, having had the privilege of working with a number of successful brands which have at various points in their lifecycle achieved marketing nirvana, one factor does strike me as being common across their success. It is authenticity.What I mean by that is the ability to identify a benefit or value that resonates with the clients and then build that into EVERY aspect of the product or service delivery. Marketing is often treated as the icing on the cake – somebody bakes a cake and then hands it over to marketing to “prettify” it and make it palatable and attractive. So you often have delicious chocolate icing being slapped onto a mediocre pineapple cake! The customer can tell. And he ain’t coming back for a second helping. A truly authentic experience is when the cake and the icing are made for each other and live the same corporate ethos – eg natural ingredients or low-calorie or organic or vegetarian. When we engage in Authentic Marketing we have to move the marketing platform from being separate from the corporate soul. Instead, the marketing message has to encapsulate the corporate soul in a manner that is relevant to customers. Philip Kotler – the man behind the 4 Ps – now says that marketing has to be defined as “creating, communicating and delivering value to the customer”. In short, we have to manage the customer experience. So what makes a brand authentic?

  • It is the little things that matter as much as the big things. If quality is the keystone of your brand, then clients expect it in everything – your website, letters, events etc, not just in the service delivery.
  • The CEO has to believe in the brand value and ensure that it is baked into the organization. The organizational structure has to institutionalize the brand value.
  • The employees have to understand the brand value and believe in it. This needs to be a part of the selection process. For example, if you have a brand which epitomizes fun you can’t hire doleful people!
  • Your brand experience has to be seen as a series of conversations with your prospects and customers

The God of Little Things
A friend recently pointed me to a Mercedes website It is a great example of how all the little things contribute to a brand. Visit and you will find out that ostrich feathers are used in the paint-finish process, that the paints are environmentally friendly, that the cars are tested for lightning resistance…26 such facts which can persuade you to pay the premium for what is essentially a means to get from A to B!!
(Disclosure: I don’t own a Mercedes and have no association with their organization)

Brand is the cake, not just the icing

Around 18 months ago we were working on creating a new marketing campaign for Wipro Technologies. There were a number of attributes which Wipro excels in and which are relevant to customers. So we narrowed it down to those attributes for which we could find substantial corporate commitment AND which were relevant to clients. The Wipro corporate tagline is “Applying Thought” and innovation was a natural extension of that. The fact that it was an integral part of our soul was borne out by the fact that Wipro has had an Innovation Council for many years which funds employee innovation, and which has the personal involvement of the Chairman. Wipro’s commitment to the cause of innovation is also shown by the fact that we track the percentage of revenue derived through innovation initiatives. And since one third of Wipro’s revenues are derived from R&D outsourcing, there is a certain amount of innovation baked into the corporate DNA. The campaign which emerged as a result of this was “Applied Innovation”. Employees have to live the brand An integral part of the customer experience is their dealings with the employees whether they are involved or not with the service delivery. The best examples of this are successful hotel chains like the Ritz Carlton where every employee is geared to smile and help clients – whether it is their job or not. Even when the product delivered is the same the culture of employees can be the differentiator. Airlines are a good example of how this can work, but it is true everywhere, even in seemingly complex industries like IT.

Let’s Talk

There was a time when the role of marketing was just to shout from the rooftops and make people aware of the service or product. Today, our role has shifted to educating customers about the benefits of what we do and how we do it. And there are many, many ways to do it outside of TV and print advertising. In the brave new world of web2.0 there is Second Life, Facebook, Linked-in, specialist websites, events …You have to make your theme a part of everything you do and everything you say. The campaign we launched was “Applied Innovation” and rather than go with a traditional advertising campaign we decided to make it part of our customer and employee experience. So it is a part of our themes for client visits, we now have an Applied Innovation Council for clients, we have established an award with industry bodies like IAOP and ITAA (the NASSCOM equivalent in the US) to reward Applied Innovation, launched an internal award to recognize applied innovation and so on…So the icing is integrated with the cake. This post will appear in a slightly edited form in the next issue of pitch (they don’t have an online edition).

There is of course no simple answer to this question and the X-Factor is likely to be a combination of factors. So what do YOU think is the X-Factor in marketing? Which brands do you think have it?


Atul said...

when a brand connects with some inner values in itz target audience then thatz the X-factor. That inner value could be "beauty","freedom","design", "perfection" , "symmetry" etc or can be translated to a more explicit level like "quality", "cool", "hot", "hip","classic" etc

iPhone, iPod, BMW, Apple,Google, Starbuck etc are some examples

MarketingGuru said...

In my opinion the X factor is the individual - the average consumer like you and me. Today the average consumer is so much empowered, informed and interconnected that marketers can no longer get by with a one-size-fits-all communications strategy. They are having to make marketing relevant not only to the individual but to his or her circle of influence - and this mass customization is a big x-factor. Take a toothpaste for example - you now have gels, blue ones, red ones, pastes with calcuim, vegetarian toothpastes, pastes with salt, ayurvedic pastes - each finely customized to individual preferences and their influence groups.

Mr.1 said...

Very good writings!