Through the Looking Glass

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by: Marina Natanova

In September 2009 I left Russia for Belgium, to work for Futurelab. By that time I had worked internationally for 5 years, but the prospective of seeing “the West” from inside was thrilling. I had little illusions, though: when you see audit results * of a huge multinational across the globe, you stop feeling so bad about your own country’s opaque methods of dealing with advertising money. However even those little illusions I had, were enough to give me a surprise. 

First of all, there was of course no “West”. Russians don’t really care to treat anything smaller than Austria as a separate region, and then they like to bind those into bigger packs the size of Scandinavia, for pure convenience. Here, not only the countries were different – even the smallest provinces tend to have things their own ways, and these ways were respected. Familiar brands also turned out to be different – Elseve, which in Russia used to make my hair soft, was called Elvive here and made my hair dry as straw.

But then again, the differences between marketing here and in Russia were not so huge. Same commercials ran inside same (or very similar) sitcoms in the same overly-abundant quantities. Colleagues from media auditing field were just discovering that a mere check-up of what was wrong was not enough to make it right. Higher-level strategic advice was needed for their clients. Clients, though, did not necessarily ask for it – just like in my native land; and precisely like in my native land, they tended to go on avoiding questions like “So what exactly are the business objectives for this year’s marketing plan?”, or “How much money did you say had this promo brought to the company?” And colleagues from Futurelab were struggling to bring to the world a message, which – seemingly – was so obvious, that everyone in developed countries should have already learned it by heart: “When customers are put in the center of company’s attention, company starts making more profit”.

Learning about how to do marketing, it turned out, was just going on across the universe NOW, in a lateral, horizontal way. Young IT-start-ups got their first million before marketing gurus could even start theorizing on why and how they could do it.  It did not matter anymore, whether you were from a developing country or developed. One could learn as much about good marketing from BNP Paribas Fortis, who gave my 7 y.o. son a free bank account for his first savings, as from a small Russian bank, whose biggest marketing investment was educating and coaching their employees, who make decisions on small loans.

And still I am hoping for more learning about how things are done in a western way – I am getting curiouser and curiouser. This is why I am going to #MarketingDay  tomorrow. I will let you know….

* This being media audit: the analysis of media investment effectiveness.