Marketing – Breaking The Noise Barrier


It is clear that today’s marketing environment has become more complex. With a wider range of products and services available, new marketing media channels and more discerning consumers, marketers face the challenge of having their messages rise above the clutter.

We spoke to the following alumni to gain insights into what it takes to break the noise barrier in marketing today.

– Mr Dinesh Advani (APEX MBA 2004), Managing Director of M G Shahani & Co. (Bombay) Pvt Ltd
– Mr Eugene Goh (BBA 1996), General Manager of Professional Products Division, L’Oreal Group
– Assoc Prof Lee Yih Hwai (BBA Hons 1993), Head of Marketing Department, NUS Business School
– Mr Digantoro Tarmizi (APEX MBA 2006), Regional Brand Manager in PT Sara Lee Indonesia
To get the message across effectively to the target audience in today’s information-overloaded world, the marketer has to consider more than just the traditional 4P’s. Breaking the noise barrier – or “rising above the clutter” as termed by A/P Lee – which is key to business success, is getting harder.

“Products are easily copied; Price is no longer controllable due to the increasing power of the customer; Promotion has become complex with the numerous marketing channels and niche clientele; and placement is no longer a competitive advantage with the Internet,” Mr Tarmizi points out.

Further, with a constantly changing environment, marketing plans must be robust enough to respond to these changes.

“Plans need to be altered to changing circumstances, tastes and preferences. In order to succeed, one has to be nimble and flexible,” adds Mr Advani.

Choices of media channels, having increased over the years, now provide marketers with alternatives to grab the attention of their target audience. In addition to the traditional print and broadcast, consumers are bombarded with marketing messages through emails, their mobile phones and the Internet. While these have made the marketing arena more vibrant and interesting with firms using these new platforms to churn out new marketing ideas, firms face the challenge of having to choose the most effective channel or risk their message being lost amidst the numerous messages being sent to consumers.

“With such a wide variety of media channels, identifying the right channel at the most efficient cost versus sales ratio can be challenging,” adds Mr Goh.

Rising Above The Clutter

Just how do marketers overcome these challenges and ensure their marketing message effectively stands out from their competitors amidst the noise barrier?

“We do this by ensuring that our message is crystal clear, hard hitting and extremely focused,” reveals Mr Advani.

Recounting how his company broke into Sri Lanka’s market with its range of aromatherapy products, Mr Advani shared, “With limited budgets it was important that the company made a noise so that it would be remembered. We decided to focus on the beautician and salon segment rather than the consumer segment. We were confident that if it made inroads in this segment, beauticians would promote the product thereby making it easier when it made the transition to the consumer segment.

Instead of spending a large budget on advertising in magazines and electronic media, his company conducted product seminars and workshops across Sri Lanka to raise product awareness. The media covered these events both on print and electronically. The company also tied up with one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beauticians who acted as its brand ambassador.

This strategy started bearing fruit immediately and today the ‘Aromamagic’ brand is Sri Lanka’a largest selling brand of aromatherapy products.

“The strategy enabled us to cut down on the noise and enables us to reach directly to our audience,” Mr Advani explains.

Similarly, Mr Goh shares that the key to effective marketing is in target marketing. “Know who your core target consumers are and segmenting them by age and profile. Then choose the right mix of media and point of sale activities which complement one another.”

Recalls Mr Goh, “When we wanted to launch our SFX range of hairstyling products, we first identified our target market (15 – 30 year olds), then decided on a series of advertising and sampling campaigns with hairstyling visuals. Choosing an ‘out-of-the-box’ approach, we decided to place the ads together with its hairstyling tester kits in all the toilets at the Heeren, a shopping mall along Orchard Road that caters to the same target market.”

The campaign proved to be a success as the targeted consumers were able to try and sample the products immediately in the private space of the toilets, in a shopping mall where they shopped.

From Attention to Retention
A/P Lee describes the two strategies to be “Push” and “Pull” strategies and comments that a “Push” strategy is more effective in breaking the noise barrier in today’s context. “However, the opportunities to use an effective “Push” strategy is hard to come by; especially for mass-market products, which is why people still rely on “Pull strategy (e.g. advertising on both traditional and non-traditional media).”

Sharing on a simple framework for marketers to use in devising an appropriate strategy to break through the noise, A/P Lee reflects on the consumer-response hierarchy. “First, you need to get the attention of the consumer, then pique his interest before you can persuade him and finally get him to remember your brand.”

Elaborating further on using the framework, A/P Lee advises, “In order to break the noise barrier, in light of the principle of target marketing, the media strategy chosen must be focused too.

“There is a constant tug-of-war between getting attention and getting interest. While it is easier to get the attention of consumers by sending out an interesting message (say, with shock or controversial messages, it is hard to deliver meaning at the same time. So marketers need to decide which strategy to emphasize at any one point in time. The golden axiom is never to expect a simple campaign to achieve all four things (get attention, pique interest, persuade, and achieve recall).”

A/P Lee advises that marketers can consider using multi-step or multi-prong approaches in their marketing strategy; running a media campaign that (patiently) cut through the clutter so that consumers can at least be aware of your existence. Then follow up by educating the consumer about your unique brand associations.

Alternatively, a multi-prong approach where multiple promotions tool are adopted (e.g. print advertisement, sales promotions, and digital media), each particularly crafted to achieve a level of the response hierarchy. This is commonly referred to as an integrated marketing communication, or IMC for short, approach.

Having broken the noise barrier to reach to the right target audience, marketers know that winning customers over is only half the battle won. Keeping them is a greater challenge.

“The only way to keep customers loyal to you is to treat them ‘special'”, reveals Mr Advani. “You’ve got to listen and solve any issues they may have. Understand their needs and aspirations.”

Adds Mr Goh, “Education and personalization are two key factors of success in service that gives true value add to customers and increases the retention possibility.”

It is no wonder that firms these days have begun to apportion marketing dollars to customer relationship management plans. “After all, it is less costly to retain a customer than try and get a new one,” says Mr Tarmizi.

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