Why do great marketing ideas get killed so often? Why is the Chief Marketing Officer the most endangered inhabitant of the C-suite: average time on the job—a measly 26 months, versus 44 months for the CEO, 39 months for the CFO, and 36 months for the CIO? Why is there a war in the boardroom between management and marketing?
In a fascinating book, War in the Boardroom: Al and Laura Ries set out to explain why. They describe 25 ways in which traditional management tends to kill great marketing initiatives.
The authors distill several lifetimes of marketing experience in cataloging the arenas in which the war between managers and marketers is fought:
1. Traditional management deals in facts, while marketing manages perceptions. In the marketplace, customer perceptions are more important than facts: it’s doesn’t matter that your product or service is actually better, unless customers actually perceive it as better.
2. Traditional management concentrates on the product, while marketing concentrates on the brand. In the marketplace, the brand (e.g. Coca-Cola) is often more powerful than the product.
3. Traditional management tends to fixate on “owning the brand”, while marketing prefers to dominate a category of products or services. In the marketplace, if you can dominate a category, as Porsche or Lexus does, the brand usually takes care of itself.
4. Traditional managers focus on more of the same, by lowering costs or adding features or extending the brand (e.g. Microsoft), while marketing focuses on launching different products, e.g. Apple.
5. Traditional managers tend favor a full line of products and services. Marketers tend to favor narrow line of products and services that dominate their category.
6. Traditional managers naturally tend to expand the brand, thus diffusing its impact, while marketers try to contract the brand so that a tighter focus can dominate its category.
7. Traditional managers strive to be the “first mover” and be the first to have their product in the market, while marketers strive to be the “first minder”, i.e. to be the first to lodge the brand in the mind of the customer.
8. Traditional managers expect a “big bang” launch, while marketers are more patient and plan for a slow takeoff.
9. Traditional managers target the soft center of the market (the average customer) and end up in bland mediocrity, while marketers prefer to avoid the middle and target one of the ends: either the high-end (luxury) or the low-end (dirt cheap), where they can dominate the category.
10. Traditional managers typically use many words to describe their products and services (“this car has comfort, style, low maintenance, energy efficient, low depreciation”) whereas marketers would prefer to focus on, and own a single word (Toyota = reliability).
11. Traditional management deals in verbal abstractions, while marketing deals in visual images.
12. Traditional management prefers a single brand (e.g. IBM, GE) whereas marketing prefers multiple brands (e.g. iPod, iPhone, iPad).
13. Management values clever gimmicks (e.g. discounts, cashback etc), where marketing values consistency and credentials (i.e. delivering on the brand promise).
14. Management favors multiple word brands (e.g. Oral-B Cross-Action ProHealth) while marketing prefers single word brands (e.g. Crest).
15. Traditional management believes—unrealistically—in milking the brand with perpetual growth, while marketers recognize that products mature: perpetual growth of any product or brand is unrealistic. So marketers create new products and brands.
16. When a new category begins to emerge, traditional management instinctively tries to kill it, while marketing instinctively tries to build new categories, as in “blue ocean” strategies.
17. Traditional management instinctively tries to communicate the facts, while marketing focuses on positioning the product or service within the minds of the primary customers, so that these customers perceive the product or service differently.
18. Traditional management wants customers for life from a single product or brand while marketing is happy with a short-term fling, while it creates something else.
19. Traditional management loves coupons and sales, while marketing loathes them.
20. When under threat, traditional management tries to copy the competition, while market does the opposite of the competition.
21. Management hates a name change, while marketing recognizes that sometimes the name needs to change. For instance, where would Ralph Lifshitz be today, if he hadn’t changed his name to Ralph Lauren?
22. Management is bent on adding multiple features, where marketing would prefer to have one really good one.
23. Management is seduced by the possibilities of extending the brand through multi-media, while marketing is concerned about loss of focus.
24. Management focuses on milking the cash cow in the short-term (e.g. Microsoft) while marketing focuses on creating new opportunities for the long term (e.g. Apple).
25. Management does the obvious, logical common sense thing, and pursues linear thinking, with a focus on execution. In this world, one plus one equals two. Marketing, by contrast, recognizes that linear thinking doesn’t always work in a complex world in which the challenge is to position products and services in the minds of fickle clients. In this world, one plus one may equal eleven.
Strength: Brilliant, rich account of the ongoing battles
The great strength of the book is, as part of the subtitle indicates, “Why Left-Brain Management and Right-Brain Marketing Don't See Eye-to-Eye”. The authors offer a brilliant and rich account of the daily battles that go on in boardrooms. They give example after example of why managers fail to understand what marketing is driving at. Wonderful stuff.
There are two areas where the book is less helpful. One concerns the nature of the problem we are dealing with. The second concerns what to do about it.
What exactly is the problem?
Why do managers think, speak and act the way they do? The authors suggest that it is because managers are left-brainers. “If you’re the CEO of a major corporation, chances are good you are a left brainer. Before you take a decision, you want to be supported by facts, figures, market data, consumer research.” While it is clear that corporations are dominated by left-brain thinking, it is less clear why this is so. The authors offer no evidence for the broad-brush conclusion that C-suite denizens are mostly left-brainers.
A more nuanced approach might have taken into account the research of Gary Williams and Robert Miller, summarized in the article, Change The Way You Persuade (HBR, May 2002). They concluded that CEOs are not like peas in a pod, all alike:
“Specifically, we have found that executives typically fall into one of five decision-making categories: Charismatics can be initially exuberant about a new idea or proposal but will yield a final decision based on a balanced set of information. Thinkers can exhibit contradictory points of view within a single meeting and need to cautiously work through all the options before coming to a decision. Skeptics remain highly suspicious of data that don't fit with their worldview and make decisions based on their gut feelings. Followers make decisions based on how other trusted executives, or they themselves, have made similar decisions in the past. And controllers focus on the pure facts and analytics of a decision because of their own fears and uncertainties.”
By classifying all CEOs as “left-brainers”, the authors tend to fall into the simplistic linear managerial thinking that they deride.The reality is that managers are a mixed bag, with a combination of a left-brain and right-brain thinking: without some of both, it is hardly likely that these people would have advanced to become CEOs.
Why do these smart people think, speak and act the way they do? Rather than attribute managerial decisions to left-brain thinking, it may be more promising to look deeper and examine why left-brain thinking dominates decision-making.
The reality is that CEOs live, work and breathe in a world that is dominated by a common mental model. This mental model explains what constitutes good management. As a result, CEOs come to view the world through the lens of this mental model.
What is the mental model? It's not hard to find out. Reading standard management texts or attending to the articles in management journals indicates a familiar set of components. As Gary Hamel writes:
Management was originally invented to solve two problems: the first -- getting semiskilled employees to perform repetitive activities competently, diligently, and efficiently; the second -- coordinating those efforts in ways that enabled complex goods and services to be produced in large quantities. In a nutshell, the problems were efficiency and scale, and the solution was bureaucracy, with its hierarchical structure, cascading goals, precise role definitions, and elaborate rules and procedures. (“Moon Shots For Management,” HBR, February 2009.)
It is this mental model--scalable bureaucracy--that drives the traditional management behavior that the authors so richly describe in their book, and the problems that it causes.
Issue: What to do about it?
The subtitle of the book also says that it will say what to do about the war in the boardroom. Their solution? They seem to suggest that all business leaders need to do to succeed is to think like a marketer. In other words, the authors are suggesting: end the war by according the victory to marketing, and stop paying attention to those pesky “left-brain managers.”
Such an argument will hardly sit well with managers. As Andrew O’Connell notes in HBR (June 2009):
The authors conveniently neglect to examine the business from executives’ or shareholder’s viewpoints, dismissively labeling most managers “left-brain types”. They make no attempt to understand the logic behind brand expansion or management’s views on product quality.
And so the war goes on.
If the root cause of the war is a defunct mental model of management, then the solution lies in replacing it with a mental model that is more appropriate for the times—a model that exhibits the virtues of both the client-centered thinking of marketing and the disciplined execution of traditional management.
Enter from stage right: radical management
Radical management focuses the whole organization on the goal of constantly increasing the value of what the organization offers to its clients. Once a firm commits to this goal, marketing thinking makes perfect sense.
Once the firm fixes on the marketing goal of delighting clients, then traditional command-and-control bureaucracy ceases to be a viable organizational option. Instead the firm will, like Southwest Airlines or Starbucks, naturally gravitate towards some variation of self-organizing teams as the default management model for organizing work. That’s because it is only through mobilizing the full energy and ingenuity of the workforce that the firm can generate the continuous value innovation needed to delight clients. Not surprisingly, those doing the work find more satisfaction when they are given the opportunity to contribute their best in order to delight clients.
To ensure self-organizing teams are viable on a sustained
basis, work has to be organized client-driven iterations; with value delivered
to clients with each iteration, in a environment of radical transparency;
continuous self-improvement and interactive communications.
When these principles are put in place, you get the benefits of both disciplined execution and a sharp focus on marketing.
When the principles and practices of radical management are well implemented the results include two- to four-times gains in productivity, continuous innovation, deep job satisfaction and client delight.
By providing a way to garner the benefits of both the client-centered thinking of marketing and the disciplined execution of traditional management, radical management offers a way to give marketing thinking its rightful place at the very top of organizations, without jeopardizing disciplined execution. In effect, it is a way to end what the authors so brilliantly describe, i.e. the war in the boardroom.
To learn more about radical management, go to:
War in the Boardroom: , Al and Laura Ries (Collins Business, 2009)