Brands & risk - the case of defensive decision making.

Digitization creates enormous amounts of data and puts pressure on various functions, including marketing, to make use of it in smart ways. However we see several players blindly following their data — only to end up in each others knee with the exact same strategy. There is a risk that more data will pave the way for more similarities between brands, something that only benefits the industry leader.

Armed with unprecedented amounts of data organizations are equipped to understand their customers better than ever. But what we see is a type of conformity that might become bigger over the coming years. 
Why? It’s so much easier to defend your decision if you have more data.

You’ve seen it. The middle aged guy grabbing the car keys to go on a trip to the sea with his little dog and surfboard.

Which brand would you connect to that adventurous feeling? No idea. All?

This is Skoda. But it could have been Volvo, BMW, Audi or any other. The data points in this direction and it’s very easy to just follow.

This type of advertising is bad for the brand and for its profits, but from a company perspective it makes sense and therefore no one does anything about it. When we make decisions, especially at work, we often aim at so called defensive decision making
This means before making a decision we ask ourselves “how am I going to defend my decision higher up in the organization”? This type of risk minimizing has been very beneficial from a historical perspective, evolution only cares about minimizing risks in order to stay alive and ignores more modern things like maximizing creative output.

It makes perfect evolutionary sense to minimize risk, but that should not be a priority for brands. I believe people and their relation to risk plays a fundamental part in why these auto-strategies look so similiar.

Data means nothing without context

No one will get fired for producing this type of advertising. It’s on strategy and the strategy is in line with the research. Everything makes sense.

Creating things that makes sense is therefore one of the most dangerous things a brand can do. We are emotional beings and sense is something we usually try to make after purchasing something. At the heart of strategy is choosing a path that creates a relationship with people and this is rarely done by making sense. While the strategy might be on point, the context of the receiver is not taken into consideration.

So if car brands are missing out on is the context of the receiver, what would it look like if this was considered? Västtrafik is not a car brand but base their whole campaign on context.

When deciding upon strategy we must consider context.

As a marketing manager for an automotive brand you are unlikely to get fired for letting this happen, the decision makes sense and therefore it will be easier for you to defend it higher up in the organization.

But what happens when marketing has made sense for years but is not contributing to profit, does it still make sense?