All Marketing is Personal

Marketing emerged as a field of study in the early 1900’s and grew into a business school discipline in the 1950’s, largely based on the sales tactics of early consumer package goods companies such as P&G and Lever Brothers.  From these beginnings marketing has evolved into a multifaceted foundation for careers not only at CPG companies, but for tech, pharmaceuticals, B2B, even law and medical practice. As an adjunct marketing professor at Stanford and the University of San Francisco, I’ve taught courses ranging from branding, social media marketing. open platforms to marketing 101 and specialized technology marketing.


Over the past five years the value of an M.B.A. has been debated.  If you don’t go to Harvard Business School, Wharton, Stanford, Columbia, NYU Stern or a few other top-tier schools, is an M.B. A.worth the time and expense involved?  Like other professional qualifications, a degree from a second tier school is perhaps only a route to a second tier job.  There are always exceptions.


My experience working with a diverse range of clients is that regardless of someone’s education, marketing is always personal.  Marketing strategies and the resulting advertising and promotion programs are always the reflection of one individual’s taste, experience and preferences.  This is clearly evident from the fundamental changes to strategy and advertising, even media and web strategies, that shift from one CMO to the next CMO.  With the tenure of CMO roles around eighteen months, this is a lot of change. It’s a truism that CMOs and their marketing implementation are consistently blamed for everything from product deficiencies to channel problems.  As with the short tenure of CMOs, so with the short tenures of advertising agencies.  Will new advertising solve the decline in sales of brands such as Chevy?  As DDB’s founder Bill Bernbach observed, “Great advertising makes a bad product fail faster.”


Why do people buy anything?  It’s some combination of wants and needs.  Consumers are fickle, and today have ways of expressing that fickleness unknown ten years ago. A single tweet can ignite a wave of consumer action for or against a company, a brand or a product. A CMO has always had to have a finger on the pulse of consumer opinion.  Account planning (originally know as research) was created as an agency practice precisely to address this need.  But in a world of rapid change and constant disruption, that pulse has already flat-lined by the time it’s identified. Marketing at big corporations tends to start with past experience coupled with a sure knowledge of a new product’s positioning and sweet spot. Wayne Gretzky understood this error in thinking when he said, “I don’t skate to where the puck is; I skate to where it’s going to be.”


Where does this leave our CMOs?  I’d suggest the best approach would be to assemble small collaborative teams of people with diverse backgrounds, operating with limited marketing dollars and fast timetables that require close daily attention to marketing analytics and constant program iteration.  In other words, rapid changes for rapid change.  This was the strategy employed at my recent experience at Isis Biopolymer when we launched the new Biobliss brand.  We iterated, and improved, daily based on web analytics that a larger company with more marketing dollars would have spent months analyzing before implementing change.

Finally, where does this leave an M.B.A. degree, from any school?  The acquisition of skills needed by only one of a nimble marketing team?  A price of entry? The establishment of a network of classmates?  All of these can be benefits, but before embarking on the B-School route, it would be best to identify exactly where that puck is going to be and how you’re going to skate there.

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