One of the biggest dangers in marketing today is that far too much emphasis is being placed on "awareness". Even worse, awareness is seen by many advertisers to be the one and only yardstick in determining the success of failure of marketing communications.
Try and criticise somebody's television commercial and invariably the response will be "How can you possibly say that's a bad ad? It registered enormous awareness, noting and liking."
Trouble is, that used to be sufficient. In the bad old days of regulation and isolation in South Africa, where competition hardly existed, all one really needed to do was dangle an advertising message in front of the consumer like a juicy fly hanging over an overstocked trout dam and it would be gobbled up in no time flat.
But things have changed today and so have consumers.
And that thing that has changed most significantly is the media environment. It has grown tremendously and quickly with more magazines, hordes more radio stations, another national TV station and dozens of satellite channels and the ubiquitous fast growing internet.
We're back in international sport with almost wall to wall soccer, cricket, rugby, golf and myriad other international competitions. And there just aren't really any sporting "seasons" anymore.
And all of these things are fighting tooth and nail for the consumers' time and attention.
If you want to know why the year 2007 is already flashing by at a frightening rate of knots, it is not because you are getting old. Rather blame the information highway on which we have to travel at breakneck speed to survive let alone keep up.
And frankly, whether or not huge numbers of consumers notice our ads, this facet is becoming less and less of a priority.
Mass marketing today is not about being noticed, it is about commitment.
I am not suggesting that awareness is unimportant, I am merely suggesting that it is not the be-all and end-all. That it is not good enough just being seen to be saying something but rather what we are saying. Concentrating so exclusively on awareness is like a football player being aware of the fact that there is a goal but not actually getting his act together sufficiently to kick the ball into the net.
In terms of branding, awareness continues to play a major role, although not an exclusive one, but when it comes to retail marketing it is hardly worth a row of beans if all the advertiser is saying is, "Come and buy from us because we are the best... because we care... because the customer is king..."
Frankly the consumer has grown up a lot in the past ten years. The previously timid South African who was always too scared to complain about bad service and shoddy quality, has learnt to toyi-toyi.
Retailers particularly, need to start making commitments to the consumer. They need to start making serious promises to a consumer who is simply not swallowing the advertisers' word for it that quality and prices are good.
Retailers need to stop telling the modern consumer that they "care." Everyone knows this is lip service of the worst possible kind and as a promise it no longer carries any kind of credibility whatsoever.
But the retailer who puts his head on a block is the one who is going to draw customers.
We're seeing a little bit of it happening. Things like "If you can get a better price we'll refund the difference", and so on. A small but tentative step in the right direction.
This needs to be revved up a little to retailers sticking their necks out and promising visible and serious action if phones aren't answered promptly, complaints dealt with efficiently and so forth.
The retailer who can give the consumer a firm promise of precisely what will happen if things aren't up to expectation, will be the retailer who pulls in the crowds.
Consumers are slowly but surely getting sick and tired of retailers who do them favours by selling them things. And, as the competition hots up, men and women in the street are going to be flexing their buying power muscles more and more.
And weak, fatuous, enticements in advertising just won't be enough to motivate anymore.
Something else that needs to happen to ensure that brand values are protected, is for manufacturers and distributors to take more interest in what the retailer is doing. Far too many manufacturers just leave it to the retailer these days to sort our product problems. Not realising that even though the customer might put the blame initially on the retail outlet, the product itself suffers credibility and loyalty damage.
Manufacturers and distributors simply cannot take the chance anymore of not worrying about what happens to a product when it leaves the factory or warehouse and gets put on the retail shelf.
Customers have to know that they have recourse direct to the manufacturer. Simple logic dictates that if the customer is not getting good service from the shop, at least by having a line to the manufacturer or distributor a potentially brand damaging situation can be remedied.
Marketing in this new millennium will be about exceeding expectation and that process starts with visible commitment all along the line.