"Don't expect results quickly, be prepared, be patient and be persistent."
Mihaela Mureșan is a marketing and branding guru with over 18 years of experience in the field. She is a passionate brand developer, advocate of continuous learning, mother of 2.
Was former marketing coordinator at LG Electronics, marketing manager at Ikea Romania, and deputy marketing manager at Ikea South East Europe, founder of Brand Essence, a company that helps to find your brands’ unique edges and to create or sharpen your brand identity.
She is one of the most experienced marketers in Europe with heavy experience in the corporate World. She was the mind behind Ikeas steps into online sales in Romania and drove the brand development of Ikea for over 10 years. A brilliant strategist with hands on experience. You can find Mihaela on her website brandessence.ro, on Facebook, Linkedin.
Mihaela Mureșan: Good morning, Attila, nice to hear from you! It’s also a pleasure for me to have this conversation. Thank you for inviting me.
Attila Tóth: You're very welcome. We first met last year at a marketing conference and the brief discussion we had, already proved me that you have quite an experience in the field of enterprise marketing. I would like to grab some valuable information to our listeners who are keen to learn more on the backgrounds of marketing, and digital advertisement. So let’s start from here. As an experienced brand architect and marketing strategist, how would you describe yourself and your marketing activity, regarding the last 20 years?
Mihaela Mureșan: Wow! How much time do you have? Just kidding! Well, I think, you know, many people have this kind of mottos or, you know, quotes that, you know, they choose to describe themselves in a very short manner. I have to say that I look for that motto for years, and still couldn’t find it. I didn’t know what that means by the way, I’m joking again. Well in just a few words, long story short, I would say that actually I am a person that loves marketing. The thing is, I didn’t know that from the beginning. Actually I was just yesterday telling a story to some persons that I had a training with, and I was telling them, that basically I graduated, you know, this university of finance and banking and very serious stuff, and I didn’t know in that moment that this is not something that I will do or I want to do. But I was saying that I’ve been lucky, because actually discovered pretty early in my career that I don’t want to follow, you know, the first education of background, but I would like to do something else, and that was marketing. So from this perspective I also think that most of us have a call, have a vocation, have something that they are the best of, an area which, you know, that fix them and the area where they can really perform. And it’s extremely important to discover each of us, what’s that area. And for me - now I know - that is marketing, and branding, because they are not separated, despite some discussions and this kind of business talks, where people say that “Yeah, business is one thing, branding is one thing, marketing is one thing”. Of course they are different like areas of expertise, but in the end they are so much interlinked. So that’s a very very short story about me. But I think also it’s important to say is it, when I was extremely young and I started work in my first job in marketing, I didn’t value that much that job in the beginning. I was also one of the persons that had the perception that marketing is something easy, light, fluffy and you don’t really need to be too smart to do that. That was actually my first job in marketing, so when I applied for that job my mindset was that I will do that for a couple of months, this is temporary, and then I will come back into my call expertise which was finance and all those serious stuff. But actually I discovered, as I said, quickly that is not fluffy, it's not light, it's not easy, and it’s not for everybody.
Attila Tóth: Indeed.
Mihaela Mureșan: And then I decided to continue. My first job was at LG Electronics around 19 years ago, and it was pretty classic marketing job, but still it was difficult.
Attila Tóth: Understood. So basically it was a journey where you learned marketing on the go as you were getting deeper and deeper into it. Am I correct?
Mihaela Mureșan: Yes. Actually that was the first part of my marketing career around like, I don’t know, 5 to 7 years, something like that, when I really learned marketing by doing. There were some very small trainings, I also followed some other courses in another university for public relations and communication, but it was not enough, so from my perspective everything I did in my first years of my marketing work was a lot of learning by doing and just try and see what it works and asking people, but not solid theoretical or, you know, this kind of educational marketing background. And from this perspective indeed my first strong marketing school was Ikea, because than we had a lot of trainings, extremely structured, the way the information was presented was completely different than anything I’ve seen before or I’ve learned before, and indeed that helped a lot. I think actually that was also an aspect that encouraged me now, you know later on, to do myself trainings for other people, because I realize how important is to get the information in a structured way, you know, this kind of theory and then practice, you learn a content and then you exercise it, you learn a little bit more, and you exercise again. It’s extremely important, you know, to follow this structure part. For me it was very useful, and I’m also recommending this type of learning to the people that want to develop themselves. Not just searching on the internet - that’s okay as well, you know, to see different, to read books, read articles, or to see youtube movies. It’s important to have a structure, to have a path. What, you know it's called in HR, this kind of development path. Because you can’t learn everything at once, and you also need to practice. Marketing is not only about theory, it’s actually the theory that was written after the practice. So maybe that’s the only area. They started first with doing, and then with conceptualizing.
Attila Tóth: True. It’s always changing, so I think you touched on a good point here, that marketers who want to learn more and want to achieve more and be more successful in their activity, they need to understand that this is something you must do, you need to put it in practice, and you have to be brave and bold to get your ideas out to the market, otherwise you won’t get the necessary experience. So basically what I tested that theory is very far from what’s happening actually in marketing, be it digital or be it traditional, theory was created some time ago, of course you can read articles, and - as you said - you can find some relevant information on the internet. However, if you want to be successful, you have to be brave enough to fail, and to learn from those failures. I think that’s a very good point you touched.
Mihaela Mureșan: Yeah, actually, if you allow me, I would like to develop a bit on this, because I also believe a lot in courage in marketing. But not just courage, for the sake of it, it’s not about creativity, for the sake of it, because that - from my perception - is another mistake, you know why, it’s extremely important to have a point of view, and follow your point of view. In branding especially is a lot about that, branding is having a personality, being unique, creating this kind of memorable identity, but before this it’s about having a true point of view. It’s something you believe in, and that takes courage. And that’s why - and thank you for bringing this - I always encourage the persons and, you know, everybody I work with, to not copy that much what others are doing. Because everybody is so much into what competition is doing. And now maybe we can go a little bit into the real reality: we are doing that, because others are doing that. Well, but nobody did that before. So these are things that I’m hearing like everyday, and it’s not about having the courage to just be different, for the sake of it, it’s about having the courage to formulate your point of view, and who are you as a business, as a brand, what are you giving to the market, to the world, and be brave enough and tell that. Follow your own story and your own path. And that can be completely different than what others are doing, and in the end that will actually pay off much more than just, you know, just follow this “these are the rules in the market, we are doing like that”, and we’re just staying on the safe side, and we’re good. Well, staying on the safe side it’s not safe in marketing.
Attila Tóth: Indeed. I think this is a very strong position, you can learn from Mihaela that whenever you want to be different, it’s not about just for the sake of it, but you need to be different in order to grow. And this growth-mindset is many times confused with following the competition. I experienced the same as you said, specifically in the balcanic area and specifically in Asia, so East Europe and Asia has this marketing thinking of copying what others do, and do it likewise, maybe slightly different, but surely likewise. And definitely that will not bring the results everybody’s dreaming of. So if you do the same thing that the competition is doing, why are you expecting different results? In order to be different, you have to be different in thinking and different in acting.
Mihaela Mureșan: Exactly.
Attila Tóth: This brings up the next question on my mind: did you encounter any difficulties when you were at Ikea on being different, or did the leadearboard have an an opened mindset? Did you have free hand to do anything you’d like, or how was that experience?
Mihaela Mureșan: Well, I have to say that maybe I was lucky. Because Ikea as a company and also as a culture, encourages a lot this… It’s not freedom of work, but it’s freedom of thinking, because there are frames, it's still a corporation, there are rules, there are procedures, processes are pretty well in place, but in marketing - and maybe that’s also important, because a lot of people ask me: “How did you do marketing, you know, like advertising in Ikea? Did you have something, you know, that global sentiment, then you just translated, or something like that - and this is what I’m extremely proud, because at least, you know, at least here in Romania, but as far as I know, in other countries as well, we did everything locally. So it was not that we got, you know, a piece of communication from global and we adapted. Ikea used to be at least - I don't know much, I mean, it's not fair to say it's like that now because I left it three years ago, but - when I worked there it was extremely important to localize everything. Ikea was somehow conscious about the differences between markets, you know, taking Western Europe and Asia or, you know, exactly what you said, or North America, the markets were pretty different and then the responsibility of the marketing person was to localize the communication for that specific market. And it was a lot of trade that he had to take into consideration the market maturity, you know, the brand maturity, how much was the brand known on the market or what is the stage of the reputation, what are the strong points, the weak points. There were a lot of figures behind that, we are measuring actually everything. And according to the local situation, we were not only, how to say, allowed, but also required to localize the communication and the whole marketing activity. Which actually meant the reality that, for example, for us each campaign - and at some point we had one campaign at every six weeks, so a very high frequency of communication - we had to do every time a full new brand campaign. So we started from zero in all the full brief messages, insights, everything, every time. And that gives you also the quality of it, you know, because you just don't go into that machine of adapting, translating, copying again or, you know, what to do last year, or these are the things. We had to think and create every time something new but relevant for the market. That was not easy, but I think it also paid off not only, you know, building the brand, but also it paid off - and I have to say that - for me and for my team, because we learned a lot. In the end we were also saying at some point that we are a marketing factory, like. We can know we got to the speed of producing high quality materials in an extremely efficient way. So you learn how to do that, it's not like that from the beginning. So in terms of creativity also, as I said, we had a big area of freedom, but it was also important for us, and I still remember how we used to work with the agencies and challenge them, because, you know, at some point all the creative guys come with some different “out of the box” ideas that they think they are great. But they had also the brand frame. And the brand frame, like it does not the brand book, but the brand frame, meaning what are our values, our brand messages, who we are and who we are not, and all these kinds of things. And having these frame actually had all of us, including the agencies, to steer their creativity, as I said before, not for the sake of it, but for the sake of the marketing activity that we were pursuing. And that's also extremely important because I've seen for many companies, and now don't want to say names, creativity sometimes bursting out, you know, but the reason when you do that and you get out from the brand frames is that you say something, you are memorable, it’s what we call in communication: you produce enjoyment, but you might lose the opportunity to link that creativity with your brad, with your point of view, and you might also loose the opportunity to create real engagement for your brand. It can be on like these kind of short term enjoyment, wow, so nice, so pleasant, so exciting. But then you forget the ad, you know, what was the ad for? What was the brand? You recognize, it’s kind of better?
Attila Tóth: Yeah. I think a marketing mistake that many, many people do that they create something unique, but then don't connect it to the brand. People remember the commercial or remember the advertisement.
Mihaela Mureșan: Yeah. Pleasant and exciting. Yeah. But they don't connect it and they don't have any reaction, like for the brand. They don't change any behaviour, you know, towards the brand.
Attila Tóth: Yeah. It's a good point, and you said so many valuable ideas, I want to grab one out and dive a bit deeper on it. You highlighted the importance of localization. I think there's also a gap in thinking when marketing teams think about localization. Because usually it's not as in your story, but it's more like somebody from the head of the company, from the headquarter is sending the directions, and then people need to translate and publish the material, and that's it mainly. And that's - what I see for example - very much happening in the automotive industry. So there's a big brand and you can see that the same kind of advertising and the same wording is appearing in Germany, in Hungary, in Spain, in the US, and there are only little adaptations, and they are lacking out the personalization part. So how did you realize the importance of localization? Was something instinctual or did you do any research on it? What was the background of it?
Mihaela Mureșan: We used to do a lot of research. So, you know, having the figures for the brand, and it was also interesting in Ikea, that as I said, we were able to localize but in the same time we had access to everything from the other countries. So that I think was extremely precious because I could see also what other countries were doing in terms of communication, but also I could see what are their scores, you know, in marketing and brand performers. So I could connect their kind of communication or advertising with local market specific, and with those scores. And that was extremely useful, so basically it’s like you learn by doing, but you need to observe and you also need to work with their timing, I think that was extremely important in Ikea because it had plenty of data, and the brand itself was measured in very deep way. So I will just give you an example, maybe it's easier like that. Basically, when you open a new market, you have to do some free key offerings. You need to do some specific way of communication. You need to introduce the range, for example, and you need to explain the Ikea concept. Why is that? Because it's a new market, and you know people don't know much about that. People don't know the brand, people don't know the range, and they don't know how to buy, you know, the products. So then you need, and is not manually saying, but you should also understand that by being local that you need to do that first. So for the first couple of years - it’s not months, it's years, that's another thing - you just keep explaining that, keep explaining the range, keep explaining how to shop, keep explaining the Ikea concept. Then you might move in a different stage, which means that people already got more familiar with the brand and the range, and they maybe expect more from you. They don't want you to explain again how to show because they know that already, they've been just thought, they've got familiar to the brand, to the product and then you need maybe to get into another area, which is offering them more solutions and more inspiration. Then talking about local, what kind of solutions do you offer them? Now, being in Romania, we have a specific of having small apartments or small houses, small homes, you know? Not that small like in Japan, but still smaller than in America, for example. OK? So then, solutions you show are not definitely huge, are like, you know, medium to small size, and you need to think about that you need to create those solutions which most probably are extremely different than the solutions you present in U.K. or in Canada. Yeah, with the same brand, with the same range of products. Because it could have an extremely small kitchen for Bucharest and you can have a huge kitchen for, I don’t know, US. And it’s still Ikea, and it’s still the same brand, and still the same product range. Only the way you show it it's localized, because you need to think to the local consumers, what do they need, what are their preferences in terms of styles. It's a lot. So you need to combine all those data, all those information, and being local helps a lot. I'm not saying that, you know, having a marketing manager from a different country can't work. I don't say that. But maybe takes a little bit more time for learn, you know, like what is the local specific.
Attila Tóth: Absolutely.
Mihaela Mureșan: Yeah. I hope I answered your question. And I can’t say, it's a moment when I realized the importance of localization, it's just.. if you want to be relevant, you need to think to the local consumers. Then you gave this example with the cars, with the automotive industry. I can't say, it may be that sometimes it works, you know, maybe it's a different area than home furnishings, and it can be that can present one, you know, these kind of generic model to more than one market because that model is relevant for all. But you need to be sure, you know, you need to be sure that you don't present a huge model to a country which has extremely small streets or something like that. I'm just, you know, dramatizing a little bit, but you just need to check. Sometimes it can be that you can have a piece of communication that works for more than one market, but I think the responsibility of the marketing department is to make sure that that works for that market.
Attila Tóth: Certainly, and that's what I wanted to get as information for the listeners, because what's an important takeaway that marketing communication cannot be generalized, so you cannot communicate the same way for market X or market Y. You have to always localize it and find the sweet spots for the audiences that makes them interested about your brand and makes them connected to your brand. So thanks for the details.
Mihaela Mureșan: Yeah, I can talk until tomorrow about that, there are so many examples.
Attila Tóth: I believe you, with your experience you probably have an example for each and every use case in marketing. So, yes, we touched on the localization and I think it's a very interesting topic, and marketers specifically who are responsible for multiple market activities need to look into it deeply and need to understand that each audience can have a different behaviour and can have different needs, and although you are still one brand, you should tackle these needs and connect with your audiences in a localized and personalized way. So as a next topic: could you tell us about the biggest success in your marketing, launching maybe new brand or just putting together a new campaign? What was the success you are most proud of?
Mihaela Mureșan: Well, there were many nice campaigns with success. There was one, so we were actually launching Ikea brand in searching two new markets, together with my team, we launched it basically in Romania, but also in Croatia. But I think the dearest project to me - usually these kind of things have also an emotional and personal touch - was not necessary launching the new country, the brand in the new country, but when we launched the Ikea e-commerce online shop, here in Romania. And that was extremely special to me because it was not the classic marketing way of doing things. We had to earn extremely limited marketing budget, so basically it was a marketing launch without budget.
Attila Tóth: Interesting.
Mihaela Mureșan: Yes. So that was based a lot on the operational efficiencies of the product itself, the whole logistic and operational product that based the online shop. And also it was based on the already existed power of the brand. So basically many large e-commerce Ikea brand in Romania was pretty solid, and no matter that we didn't allocate a promotion, like advertising, marketing, classic, budget for this channel for one year, so for one year was zero marketing budget, let's say zero base. The growth was significant, so it really grew like, you know, magic. And for me, it was the only special, extremely special time in my life, at least until now, when I was in the middle of organic growth. So you see, I'm not telling you about extremely creative ideas, I'm not thinking about that. For me, what was the magic of it was to see how, you know, the baby's born and it grows without, you know, helping, like without marketing budget, without vitamins or supplements or anything, just organically and extremely healthy. And that was because of the power of the brand. In the market, there was already a huge demand for Ikea, and when we launched it, we didn’t need to promote it. It just grew like that. Maybe you were also here when that happened in 2014. And for me, that was the kind of success that I really value, you know, just to see that when you when you plant the seeds in the right way, when you build a brand and it grows, then whatever you do good in continuation of that, it would also grow nice. So, yeah, that was for me one of the really special achievements that I was part of.
Attila Tóth: Interesting story, I mean, I was not expecting to hear an organic success story.
Mihaela Mureșan: I know, but there are all kind of marketing campaigns with creative ideas, and yeah, well, it's nice, but it's not that special, you know, because this is the kind of project that actually nurtures the whole, you know, big, long term journey that, you know, a brand can go through. Yeah. So it's the effect.
Attila Tóth: It's very interesting, and I thank you for bringing this up. Many times people expect organic growth, but the problem is that they don't have the brand power what you built up beforehand. So I think what's important to understand here is that this organic success comes after years and years of heavy activity in developing your brand, and it's not something that happens from a day to the other or a month to the other. It usually takes years. But the end of the day, you can reach to a point where you have the brand power that has that organic impact.
Mihaela Mureșan: Exactly. Yeah, actually, of course there was of cost. Only that the cost was in the beginning in building the brand. So it was not like, you know, for free. It was for free for that year, but it was also based on the.. I wouldn't say cost actually, neither expense, I would say investment.
Attila Tóth: Exactly.
Mihaela Mureșan: It was just based on the whole brand investment done up to that moment. Exactly what you said. So nothing comes that easy, actually.
Attila Tóth: Yes, surely. Because many people think that marketing is a little black box. You invest in it a million euros, and you take out five and that's marketing. But in real life it's nothing like that, it's a journey. And in the journey, there are ups and downs, and the example you just told is a really strong proof that investing in your brand will have a strong impact if you reach a certain level. What I see that many marketers are getting frustrated very soon and stop investing the necessary energy, time and money in their brands because they think it's not bringing results. And of course, branding is not about short term. So on short term you cannot reach amazing results, you can definitely have some creative ideas, and have successful campaigns, but what you just said, it's a really clear example, that if you invest heavily year by year and you put the right people on it, you create the right content and then the right mindset to develop your brand to a point, where one day you will have that free year of results without any investment.
Mihaela Mureșan: Yeah. I think you've said something extremely interesting. You said something about many marketers that stop quickly or that they don't continue the journey, or something like that. And I was just thinking while you were talking. I think one of the most important traits, let’s say, for a strong marketing person is not necessarily to be an expert in that field, you know, in digital, or in media, or in creativity, content or anything like that. It's actually extremely important to have the patience, but also the power in sense of persistence to convince the rest of the company, like the management team or sometimes the CEO, the German engine, the entrepreneur, the whoever takes, you know, the big decisions in that company, that they have to go to a long term journey. And that's not easy because that actually requires strength, strength from that person, you know, to not give up, do not give up after one campaign, OK, you have three weeks at campaign, you put that budget, no results like in terms of sales - because usually this is how we measure it. It’s much more than that. And I would say that the most successful marketing people, if I, you know, sorry, may say that, is not about being a specialist or an expert in a field, but of course, to surround themselves with that kind of team, but to have the power and the strength to really convince the organization, let's say, that this is a journey that takes some effort in some time, and to bring the organization with them on the journey. And that's definitely.. I would say that's the most difficult thing in marketing.
Attila Tóth: Absolutely.
Mihaela Mureșan: So to be creative and have nice ideas - believe me - is not that difficult.
Attila Tóth: Indeed.
Mihaela Mureșan: And Romanians are extremely creative. And we know that. Yeah.
Attila Tóth: Yes. Undeniably, many times the challenge is to keep on going and to not to stop, even if you don't see the results. And I think the critical point is to know, when you are going in the right direction, but the results are not visible yet and you still need to go because many people think that “OK, there are no results, we should stop immediately.”
Mihaela Mureșan: But you're so right. You just said it, Attila, you said that actually the results are not visible. Actually, if you allow me, I would like to go a little bit into the KPIs here, because people like figures and we all love KPIs, because KPI is and everything we can measure in and we make visible, that gives us, you know, that gives us certainty and that gives us a confirmation that we are doing something and we are in the right direction. Thing is, when we say that we don't see results, we are not measuring the right KPIs. We don't see sales, that's one thing, but we might see some other results if we know what and how to measure them. And I'm coming again to the brand building, not because that's my passion, but it's so important. Brand building you don't see. And let me just give you an example, which I also use when I'm having trainings with teams, you know, this kind of marketing and branding trainings. It's also about Ikea because that's the case where I have the most, you know, biggest period of time with KPIs and historical figures. So when you open Ikea store in Romania in Bucharest in 2007, the whole brand awareness - yeah, that's easy, everybody knows what brand awareness is - is how many people heard about Ikea. It was 25% in Bucharest area. 25. Only one quarter of the Bucharest inhabitants the year before opening, heard about Ikea ever. And now it's 90% in Bucharest. Everybody knows about Ikea. And for us now at this point it's sometimes extremely difficult to imagine that there was a point, a moment back in time when people didn't know about Ikea. You know what I mean? Because we forget, in our mind and our way of behaving is somehow weird for these short term, you know, surviving an all kinds of things. And we forget that there was a point in the past when things were not like that. And that is the journey. And also, I am telling this to marketing people sometimes, and: “well, what do you mean people didn't know about Ikea?” No, they didn't. You understand what I mean? So then it takes a journey, and you need to get also the team - meaning the management team and the CEO and everybody - with you as a marketer on that journey, as a people. It's OK, we don't have results now, people don't know about us, we sell little, but let’s take it step by step. And then you can also measure, coming back to KPIs, things that are not immediately visible like in sales. Actually, it's a result of some other steps, you know, in conversion funnel, let's say. You know, we don't do the whole customer journey right now, but we could maybe at some point. Because you need to accumulate some other aspects. You need people to hear about you, then you need people to know what you are selling, then you know people to get interest in what you're selling, then you get people to get closer to you, getting contact, pay a visit, get on website. And then you might sell. So when you say that we have a campaign, but we don't see results because you don't have sales, that's not fully true, because you might have some other results. Maybe you get through that campaign more people hearing about you, more people getting more interested in what you're selling, and maybe more people getting closer to you, like leads, yeah, we’re talking now in digital area about leads, we're talking a lot about leads. What are leads? Leads are people - and basically they are not figures, they are people - keeping closer to you, and maybe they didn't buy anything yet, but then the question that you might ask yourself is why they didn't buy anything from you? They get closer to you, you have these many leads, but they didn't buy, or you have these visits to this traffic, to your website, or you have these, I don’t know, phone calls to call center, whatever, depending on the business specific is B2C or B2B or... So then you need to put your question: what is their barrier in their mind to get even closer to you? And based on that answer you’d take the next steps. If the barrier is about awareness, then you need to continue being visible. If the barrier is about interest or consideration, how we talk in marketing, then it's not about awareness, they know about you, but they are not interested in you. Why are they not interested in you? You need to map these barriers and keep going, keep making effort to bring them closer. But you need to analyze a little bit and you need to be again, patient and persistent.
Attila Tóth: Good point. I really like the terminology you used here: barriers; you have to understand these and you have to be able to step over these. But let's dive a bit deeper. How would you recommend for a marketer to find out these barriers? So let's say they have a good brand awareness campaign, but there is still a barrier that people are not subscribing to the campaign or they're not giving their information in the call to actions. So what would you do to investigate the details of the barriers?
Mihaela Mureșan: Of course, the easiest way, but also the most expensive, is to have market research, market study, and see, you know, out of the people that have heard about your brand, how many got closer, and the ones that didn't, why? So like asking. But I would also recommend a different way, a different approach here. It's something that for me it helped a lot, because it's not always that you have time and money for doing market research, and I think a good marketer is sometimes, you know, beyond data. So data is good, is helping and is giving information, but we can do something else. And that's observation. Or somehow get into your public audience and try to sense what's happening there. And when I'm saying sense is a mix of questioning, asking people, but also with observing. It's also important to know what are the solid behaviours that exist in a different category. If people are used to buy shoes in a specific way, like just just an example: they are used to test them or to touch them, then you can't do something completely opposite. You need to understand what are the main behaviours in your category first. Then everything you do, you need to keep that in mind, you know, what are those behaviours. Then if you still follow these solid behaviours and you don't have any results, you need to look what's happening there. Maybe what you are telling, what you are giving is complicated. It's a lot about time nowadays. If you are giving a good solution, a good product or good service, but the way you approach that thing is complicated, it takes time, it takes effort, it means hassle for the consumer, for a potential customer, that might be a barrier. So you need to think always time, convenience, easy, hassle free. When you have 10 clicks and you ask them to fill a form - sorry, people might not want to feel a form. I don't want to, you know, to destroy some digital tools, but you need to think about the person in the other side, not about your digital tool or platform or everything like that, but just think about the consumer. And then you need to be very clear about what’s the value that you offer, why that person would buy from you and not from somebody else. If you have a clear answer to that question, then you might identified the barrier, OK? So you need to put yourself into the customer's shoes, to make this exercise of observation step by step and be honest. Be honest until the end, because - and I'm not saying that, you know, just because it's an impressive word and because nowadays everybody is talking about transparency and the ethics and things like that, no - being honest sometimes is difficult because we are so subjective as a human, you know, persons. We are so much in our own box, let's say, it's a lot about how we perceive the world, that sometimes it takes huge effort to imagine that some other person would do things differently. Because we are not our customers, we are, you know, very subjective. So then just making this effort of putting ourselves really objectively, in our customers, potential customers shoes, it might gives us the answers for the barriers. Of course, if we have money, we can have a market survey, and definitely that will help. But most of us don't have huge budgets. So that is.
Attila Tóth: Yes. Thanks for sharing this strategy. It's a very good one. Just one touch I would like to add that be it marketers or be it sales representatives, they think they know their customers because they have a projection on them, but actually don't take their shoes, as you explained, and be honest with themselves, and ask “OK, what are the points where we are not serving our customers well enough” For example do we need our customers to make 10 clicks just to get to a subscription form? So basically this honesty also means facing the issues you have in your internal procedures, in your internal products, maybe in your communication, and be brave enough to say: “OK, this doesn't make sense, how can we make it easier?” Because many times I see that these projections about the customers create an ideal path to do the sales, but then reality says something different. In reality people are not getting engaged, are being lost in too many clicks, thus are not filling the subscription forms. So I think this honesty and transparency is also about facing the issues and problems you have internally as a brand, and be open minded to talk about them and to be open minded to find new ways of doing it in a better way.
Mihaela Mureșan: Yeah. And actually that's why marketing is basically a strategic function, because marketing is not only about communication. Communication is the last part of the marketing journey. But marketing is such in strategy manner, starts with really understanding the business, the value we’re offering, and we need to check before communicating anything, that those things are happening in reality. Exactly what you said, we need to change the operational part, we need to check the products, the prices, we need to check that what we promise is valid. Because otherwise we sometimes in communication make promises that are not kept in reality, and that have the worst effect that we might expect. And we just need to check, and it's also marketing responsibility, as I said in the beginning, to have the responsibility and sometimes, yes, the courage, the gut to say “guys, I will not communicate that because I know it's not fully true. You need to solve this operational part, you need to solve the stock's problems, the logistics, the delivery problem, and then we can communicate.” Because if we promise something that we can’t offer, then this will come back against us, and it will take even a longer time to repair that issue. And it is not easy.
Attila Tóth: And it’s not cheap. Yeah, it's a very good point because many brands overpromise and underdeliver, and it should be vice versa. So that's underpromise and overdeliver. But this also comes from a pressure in terms of competition, because when you have your own brand and you want to position it and you look in the landscape of competitors, you see that everybody is promising so much, and there is this pressure from outside, however, here again, the braveness and the honesty to be maybe a bit not so overpromising and to be more honest, on what you can deliver is more important. But again, this takes courage when you see that on the other side of the fence, people are promising everything to get the attention of the audience.
Mihaela Mureșan: If I may say something here.. This is actually a point of view, which I am spreading very, very often. I hear so much companies and marketers and sales people talking about competition. And you've just said. You just said that “okay, there is a pressure in the company because the competitors are also promising many things.” I would say the things we'll get much better and the success of the companies and brand will significantly improve if there will be a change in the mindset, and if that pressure from the competition would disappear, but it will be replaced with sort of the pressure from the customers. If we’ll not think so much about competitors, but instead we'll think much more about our customers. You know, it sounds basic, but it's not. In reality, exactly as you said, companies are afraid of competitors. Let's stop being afraid of competitors, but let's start being afraid of what our customers are saying about us or are perceiving us or are considering us. If we just change this mindset from the competitors to the customers, forget about competitors for one month. One month you just focus on your customer, no thought about competitors. You understand? It's just shaping or shifting the energy. Shifting the energy, the mind energy, because it's a lot in a company that talk so much about competitors; energy is going on that fear. Energy of that company, energy of that team. But instead, if we just cut that thought and think about customers using the same amount of energy, you know, will be much more successful in the end. Just make this exercise for one months, not more. I know I'm dramatizing it, but this them for the good cause.
Attila Tóth: I totally agree. So whoever is listening to this, take this test for one month. Focus on your customers and forget the competition. Both Mihaela and myself are granting that you will see some amazing things happening.
Mihaela Mureșan: Exactly. Or they will discover something amazing they maybe didn't have the patience discovered up to know, all the time being focused on competitors.
Attila Tóth: Indeed. And on that note, as we are discussing on customers, what do you think, did we overcome the ancient perception that the customer is always right? What is your personal strategy to say no for a customer that is not on the right track or is building something and giving feedback that is not appropriate to their brands or for example Ikea in your past?
Mihaela Mureșan: I think the principle of customer is always right is still there, and it is still valid because any business will basically grow based on their customers money. And it’s not about money, but it's about the connection and the relationship and everything. But still there are situations many will have to decide that it's not like that you don't want the customer, maybe that's too much, is too forced, it's that actually your vision and your point of view is not fitting that customer perspective. And that's OK. But for saying that “no”, you need to know what’s your point of view and what's your direction. Maybe Ikea is not the right to bring into the picture now, but for example, during my work now in brand essence with this kind of consultancy and marketing and branding, it's happening to me that people approach me, like, you know, again with very for short term expectations like “help me to have a sales increase or help me doing this campaign” or somehow short term actions. And I usually say no to these because it's not about the campaign, and actually they are also surprised when I say “I don't know how to do this campaign and I don't know what you can't communicate on Google or on Facebook. Because I don’t know what's your strategy, and I don't know if you have a strategy or if you have an idea bigger than that you want to sell next week about this.” And that's a very polite way to say no, but it's still a no, because I can't do execution until we are not clear of what do you want to do for a longer term, and until the entrepreneur of the company is not clear about their direction. If you don't have a business strategy or a business direction, if you don't want what's the value you are offering to the market, if you don't know what's your point of view and what are the main messages that you want to transmit, then I can't have an answer about what's the best way for you to have a campaign, because that answer doesn't exist and it doesn't come immediately. And yes, there are companies and people that say they would have a different expectation from me, and they were expecting that I solve the problem immediately, because I am an expert and that's it. No problem, it's still a no.
Attila Tóth: So basically what you say is that the customers are right, but the question is, do they expect the right thing? Because what we see and what brands can experience is that customers are not always expecting the right thing. Here the critical point is: whether you decide to say in a polite way that you are not the right person or you are not the right team to work with, or you start educating them and explaining to them why their question or why their objection is not valid. And there is again a barrier here, for us marketers to do something that is not easy to do because educating the market is quite a heavy investment. But many marketers think they can skip this part and think they can magically get just the sales results. So we touched on a very important aspect that strategy is critical, and without strategy you are not going anywhere. And if you haven’t done a strategic approach to your marketing in the last five months, than you'd better start doing it because otherwise you will not be able to grow and achieve such successes as Mihaela did with the IKEA e-commerce store launch, having after years of investment the magical organic results. To have that true magic, you need a strategy beforehand and you need to execute your strategy. So, yeah, certainly customers can be right, but they might not ask the right questions.
Mihaela Mureșan: Or they don’t know what to ask, and that’s also true.
Attila Tóth: Yeah, I think strategy can be a two hour discussion in itself, but as a learning…
Mihaela Mureșan: That's another word, you know, that gets really abused away. What’s a strategy? It can mean so many things for different people. So maybe no. In another podcast we can...
Attila Tóth: We can pack all the strategy parts as well. But definitely it's something marketers should have in their mind as top priority, because without the strategy, you're just doing ad hoc investments and you're not creating something that is lasting.
Mihaela Mureșan: And if you have success, it’s just by coincidence and it can happen one, and you’re happy and say “wow, we had such wonderful good results with this campaign”. But then that doesn't happen again. “Well, it didn't work again like the first time.” You know, I'm hearing this from time to time and they. “Why do you think is that?” And they don't know because they don't have any direction. So. That's the point.
Attila Tóth: Yes, surely is a good point. I want to steer a bit to the digital part, as many of our listeners are keen to learn more about digital marketing, but strategy is very closely related to digital. I wanted to ask you, how do you see the openness and responsiveness of the markets right now in Central East Europe, implementing digital tools, following the digital marketing trends? What is your experience on this?
Mihaela Mureșan: Well, I think we are still in that storming face about digital. You know that the four phases of having a theme performing, and those are the forming, storming, norming and performing. So I think from the digital perspective, we are in the second phase, we are formed a little bit. We know that there is something digital around us or in everything we do. But we are still in the storming phase because we don't know how to do things. And when I say “we”, like the companies, let's say. Of course except the few big ones which maybe have already some processes in place and some ways of working and some tracking measurements and so on. I think it's - we are in the point that - it's pretty obvious for everybody that digital is here and we can't ignore it anymore. There are still few, but I think less and less, that consider “digital is not must have, it's just, you know, something that we’ll do later, my audience is not on digital, I’m selling B2B” and, you know, these kind of things. Yeah, you might sell B2B like business to business, you might have a sales team to do that, but still you need to have a digital presence. Digital presence is not a “nice to have” anymore, is a “must have”. Used to be “nice to have” five years ago. Now it’s “must have”. But from that to the digital landscape, the full digital landscape, I think most of the companies started already to approach digital in different ways. Communicating through digital channels because yes, the audience there, the audience is on website online, the audience is on social media, so we need to approach them through those channels. But what do we still like? I think in this area, I think there are two main parts, and one is about measuring. How do we measure our success in digital? Because it's much more than having - what I said earlier - leads or reach or traffic to the website. And it's actually a lot about integrating data. We are putting the systems together. I’m saying systems is about putting your website with your CRM, with your ERP, for example, if you have an e-commerce or e-commerce business or shop online, you need to track much more than just a few figures, and that's not easy. It again requires investment and patience and also some expertise to put data together. Yeah. And the other obstacle that I’m seeing - so that's one part, like somehow technical - the other obstacle that I’m seeing is the approach to the people working on that. Because many companies are still underestimating the human resource needed for digital. They think that you can have one person doing it all, posting, making content, making graphic, putting pictures on the website, making social media posts and everything. It's not like that. Actually, we need to understand that the whole digital landscape that exists today is such a complex thing and it's much more complex than the media landscape that we used to have ten years ago, for example. And still for the media landscape ten years ago we had some different specializations in place. We used to have creative, media, some other persons in the marketing function, for example agencies, that work for that. But nowadays, this is the paradox, that the area is much more complex, but the tendency is to reduce the number and the quality of people working in that. And in the end it doesn't work. It doesn't work because you can't have a person - you might call him or her, doesn't matter, digital specialist, digital whatever - but you can't have one person doing it all. This person doesn't exist. You need to build basically an ecosystem of resources made by people, you know, budget somehow and other resources - technical resources - that work. And that's not easy. So that's why I say that we are in the storming phase. We are looking for solutions, we are desperate to find the best ways, but we are not in the norming phase because we still don't know what's the best recipe how to do things. And it's definitely, you know, different from business to business, from company to company, depending on each specific. I don’t know if I answered your question, but this is how I see this landscape today.
Attila Tóth: Yes, absolutely. And this issue is not only an issue in Europe, we are working with multiple brands worldwide and we see that there is a fake expectation towards digital. So people think that digital is easy and it is meaning it will require less people, less money, less investment, but it's not true. Digital is more complex in its way and it will get even more complex in the future. What it's easy in digital is the end result, because with digital you can be more user friendly, more customer friendly. But for you as a company, for you as a brand, digital is not an easy topic. Digital is a very heavy topic, which you have to investigate both technology wise, so as you just said, connecting your systems and making sure your data is connected and your data is meaningful, not just having data for the sake of having data, but to have something that you can build on. And the next steps in marketing are towards digital data driven marketing, meaning, you have your ERP, you have your CRM, you have all your online set up, you collect all the data, and based on this data, you optimize your activities. You define your next strategies. And you have a continuous, let's say, live feedback about your marketing, and that's an ideal scenario where all your systems and all your teams in your marketing departments are working together to define something that's happening on the market based on the market data inputs, because that's what really is the power of digital, that you can have an input and you can have a digital footprint of what's happening outside in the audience. And you can learn from that.
Mihaela Mureșan: So you agree that there are not so many companies that achieve that level of putting things in place. Right?
Attila Tóth: True. I think even the top brands are now facing this challenge and they are working hard and investing heavily in digital. And I would put a parallel here: I think it's something like traditional cars vs electric cars, traditional marketing vs digital marketing. It's coming, people are aware of it, but they don't know how to use it, the infrastructure is maybe not appropriately normalized to it, but if you are not doing it, then you will be leaving out something important and your competition will get miles away ahead and you will not be able to catch them easily.
Mihaela Mureșan: True. So nice example, thank you.
Attila Tóth: Good. Yeah. We've started from a marketing journey and ended up in digital marketing and electric cars.
Mihaela Mureșan: But that’s about marketing. Marketing is everywhere.
Attila Tóth: Yeah. I think this correlates really strongly that marketing is about lifelong learning. So it's not something you learn at the university and then you're an expert and you do it five years and then you're a senior expert, because the ecosystem of marketing is changing in every year. And digital is putting even more innovation to it, so if you stop learning, you will be left behind.
Mihaela Mureșan: So true. Maybe from this perspective, I think it's one of the most challenging areas. You just can't afford to stop learning.
Attila Tóth: Yes. Truly. I think whoever wants to be a good marketer has to have this passion for learning, because this is not a stable thing, here you need to adapt to be agile and to be open minded for new things. Otherwise, you will not be successful. Time is getting by and we are close to running out of it, but just a final question, because we talked about success and about the good things, but I'm the guy who really likes to tell also the shady parts and the heavy investment behind and all the struggles, you as a marketer can face. So maybe can you tell us an example, what was a failure or a setback in your marketing activity, that was really hard to work on? And how did you get out of it? How did you see the light at the end of the tunnel?
Mihaela Mureșan: Oh, yes. There were many, many situations like that. The thing, for our audience, I would choose one which somehow tends to become a pattern also for me, you know, in the past. Yep. Simply because I am pretty ambitious, and perfectionist in a way that I want to do things in a good way, in a professional way. And sometimes I might push my teams, for example. And one of my failures in the past was when I pushed my team so much in a moment when they were not ready for that. And there was about my own patience in growing people, you know, sometimes things in our mind when it's about people are not happening that fast as, for example, it happens in technology. Technology, internet, information, all these things are moving quickly. People mind is somehow a bit more slower. So when you want to grow a team or, you know, to help a person to develop, although that person might have huge potential and it's there, you need to be patient. And this is one of my big failures in the past, and also, I found myself again on the edge of a similar situation recently. When I push my team a little bit beyond their, you know, their limits and somehow I ask them to grow faster than it was possible. Maybe this is not the example again that you would expect. But for me, I think in marketing, it's extremely important to have a great team, to base on a team, to not just be.. I don't believe in solo players, you know. So it's important to have the patience and to allocate the time, to grow that team in the right direction, to help them support them, to supervise, to help them to get their own wings, and then you can maybe, step a little bit back and they can act independently. And not everybody understands that they also were sometimes entrepreneurs or different person, that they're expecting so much from their teams. Yeah, “but they should do that”, they say. Or, you know, “I hired him or her for this social, digital, whatever position, and he or she doesn't deliver”. But many times they're these managers expectations are so artificial. They don't know the feel, they don't know the work itself, they don't know the time and the effort, the resources that are truly needed in that position. And then people get burn. They get burn and they don't deliver, and they don't perform, and they get demotivated and so on. So maybe that's one thing that I would recommend, you know, and especially in marketing, when it's not only this technology in the digital field that is growing quickly, but the sorts of the overpressure: that we should deliver based on the speed. And people are still people and the human nature is still there, so you need to take things a little bit slower. Growing people takes time, like you grow children. You can't speed growing a baby just because technology is faster today, you just can’t. He still needs to sleep that amount of hours, he still needs to eat that amount of food, then you know, all these things. It's you just need to think about yourself as a person and then also put yourself into your team shoes.
Attila Tóth: It's a very good example. If we take in consideration the smart phones we have, personally, I think that the opportunity that anybody can call you at any time is not a good thing. Of course, technology wise is good, technology helps and makes it possible to call anybody at any time. But I don't think that's a good approach in the perspective of human beings. It's our responsibility as human beings to remain human, to keep our sanity and keep our humanness, and use the technology for technology and not mix the human kind with technology in terms of “OK now, I can call you anytime because you have a mobile phone”. No, you can call, but the idea is that technology should make our living better and not make our living faster, because living fast is not something we should aim for. At least, that is my personal perspective.
Mihaela Mureșan: And I agree so much with you. Thank you for that.
Attila Tóth: Technology is good. I'm not against it. I'm an evangelist of digitalization. However, we should know what to use and when to use it and how to use it.
Mihaela Mureșan: Maybe this is the first area to say no from time to time, you know. To have a reasonable decision and to say “no, I need that little bit of more time” and everything you’ve just said.
Attila Tóth: Good. As we are getting at the end of our time, I would just ask you one last question: What would be one advice to the marketers who are listening to this show? If you had just one main idea and one critical idea for everybody, what would that be?
Mihaela Mureșan: I think I've said it already somewhere in the middle of the discussion, but if I would think back to my journey through these years, and if I would need to assess, you know, the successful parts of it, let’s say, they all have two things in common, and that those are patience and persistence. So be patient, but be persistent. It's what you said also: don't stop, but with a good and solid direction. So that'd be mainly my advice for the marketers that start nowadays. Don't expect results quickly, be prepared, be patient and be persistent.
Attila Tóth: In this fast world I think you have to be strong to be patient and persistent, and I fully agree. So thank you for that. And yeah, on that note, thanks for giving all these valuable inputs. I'm really glad we had this conversation and hope we can continue maybe on the strategic parts on a different recording, but thank you for joining us today and have continuous patience and persistence in whatever you do.
Mihaela Mureșan: Thank you also for the excellent conversation that we had. It was a pleasure, and definitely when the time comes we can continue with the other topics. Good luck to all! And have a nice summer.
Attila Tóth: Thanks.
Mihaela Mureșan: Thank you. Bye-bye!
Attila Tóth: Bye-bye!