Why Do Businesses Stray from the Proven Path to Making Billions?

I recall the adage, “Not advertising is like kissing someone in the dark… YOU know what you’re doing, but nobody else does.”

Market research tells you:

  1. If there are any kissable people in the dark,
  2. How to find them,
  3. What sort of kiss they would like, and
  4. How likely you are to enjoy it.

It is so, so easy for big businesses to make billions… why don’t they?

If research can tell you EXACTLY how to achieve your business goals, why doesn’t EVERY business do it?

THE FIRST, OF TWO REASONS, is that bad research has a GIGO effect (garbage in, garbage out). With most executives undertrained in how to brief research, appraise and assess its implementation, and interpret the findings (properly) in concert with strategic marketing know-how, research can simply go to waste.

The second reason is (in Warren Buffet’s words) because of “Corporate Cancer”… where arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency, combined with operational micro-thinking, dilutes or discounts the demand for, and reverence towards, market research.

In the high-profit, high-growth days of B2C (FMCG and Consumer durables), research was conducted with finesse, expediency, discipline, regularity and concise interpretation.

Nowadays, few executives demonstrate any respect for, tight management of, or scientific approach to the art of research … and the results speak for themselves.

We can all probably name brands that are weaker versions of what they were, and trace it back to a departure from the disciplines of marketing strategy built upon good research.

Where is the once-dominant Sharp brand? How long can Nestle last, relying on its long-term cash-cows? How out of touch and behind is Kellogg’s? What happened to Spillers? Where’s Ampol? Grace Brothers? Criterion Furniture?

The Hurdles to the Billions

Remembering that products don’t fail, businesses don’t fail, brands don’t fail… it managers making bad decisions who fail… It is possible to remove the hurdles for failure by opening business leaders’ minds to more productive and proven methods: Commissioning and utilising market research!

In 1983/4 when My Dog had failed to launch successfully for Mars, their Product Manager asked me for help. All I did was read the research overnight, and it was clear the positioning for the re-launch had to be “for fussy eaters”: 33 years later My Dog has not made less than $250M annual sales… simply founded on good interpretation of good research.

In 1994, simply reviewing the research data for Mersyndol revealed that 95% of sales came from the 5% of heaviest analgesic users, but Mersyndol loyal users were forced to buy another brand to avoid drowsiness. In a 20-minute meeting, my identification of this and suggestion of a “Mersyndol Light”, led to the launch of Mersyndol Day-Strength, that has generated around $200M p.a for the past 23 years.

All those billions came from objective interpretation of quality market research.

IF companies REALLY want the Billions, bad research won’t ‘cut it’.

Interpretation without the synergy of understanding strategic marketing science also won’t ‘cut it’. (e.g. Brand adoption theory, innovation theory, brand equity, brand loyalty, involvement, BCG Matrix, and about 100 other key models.)

But, with good market research… well planned, well conducted, well interpreted, and well respected and followed… the path to billions is simply “finding out what people want and giving it to them”.

How easy it that? So why don’t or won’t business leaders do it?

I think it would be healthy and beneficial for anyone to share thoughts, perceptions experiences, and concerns… or just comment…

 

43 years of Marketing… And it struck me that I have been obsessed with perfection of application and implementation of marketing excellence for 40 of those years – holy hell!

To be fair, my blind faith in commercially-usable academic knowledge has been the major reason I have pulled off some record-breaking successes in my career… by simply taking proven marketing science and applying it.

So, it’s no wonder that my peers shake their heads in dour and reluctant tolerance to what we call the “dumbing down” of skills and knowledge in the world of Marketing.

In particular, we’ve seen an awful downward slide in the quality and output of market research… reviewing studies done for clients who should have known better, but didn’t.

Is it the client’s fault for not have the skills to be a discriminating buyer?

Is it the researchers’ fault for not setting a standard and mentoring their clients to understand the importance of asking the right people, the right questions, in the right way?

Is it the pure academics, devoid of commercial experience, who are to blame for not delivering the education necessary in marketing graduates?

Is it the academic institutions that should be kicked for appointing inappropriate teachers of marketing for the hundreds of students who are paying for, expecting but not getting, skills that will empower them in commercial marketing roles?

Where does it stop and who will stop it?

Applying some of the theories of Marketing, we might predict that the commercial world will ultimately reject the inferior products now being delivered by academia… forcing academic institutions to return to the belief that only working practitioners marketing can teach it,  which was the original springboard of Marketing into wide-spread fame.

In the meantime, the absence of properly trained Marketing strategists, and the substitution of operational trained under-educated executives TRYING to make prudent business decisions likely to leave many of them face-down in puddles of business problems that shouldn’t even exist.

Absolutely, and without exception, any business that has been successful, accumulated profits and held major market share, should NEVER, that is EVER, g broke, die, or even experience a failed product launch.

Only when management goes wrong, get arrogant, or complacent, of suffers belligerence and apathy borne of bureaucratic inefficiency, do organisations begin to struggle or worse.

And ONLY, when leaders are empowered with strategic marketing knowledge and input, as well as authority to act and utilise this knowledge, will market leaders stop going broke, losing to competitors, or make other terminal business management decisions.

The questions is three-fold:

  1. What proportion of executives are drowning in puddles?
  2. How many partially strategic executives are face-down in shallow water?
  3. And how nay are truly able to survive in the deep?

 

Glossary of Management Terms*

December 15, 2016

* “Glossary of Management Terms” did the ’rounds in the 80’s… but still brings a smile to many – enjoy!
Delegate: Pass the buck
Pending: What the hell do we do with this?
Delayed: Forgotten
Urgent: Panic
Extreme Urgency: Blind Panic
Frank and open discussion: Flaming row
Analytical projection: Guess
Forecast: Guess
Long Range Forecast: Wild guess
Scheduled: Hoped for
Deficiency Analysis: Pointing the finger
Ambitious: Ruthless
Strategy: Low cunning
Shrewd: Devious
Profit: Profit
Profit before tax: Loss
Deficit: Staggering Loss
Industrial by-product: Our waste
Environmental pollution: Other people’s waste
Pilfering: Theft by employee
Fringe benefit: Theft by executive
Terminal payment: Golden handshake
Supplementary statistical information: Padding

The two most common threats to big corporates can be ORGANISATIONAL and/or ENVIRONMENTAL.

 

As I’ve often said, “Companies don’t fail. Businesses don’t fail. Products don’t fail. Brands don’t fail… It is Leadership and Management that causes these to fail.”

 

In Woolworths case, their internal issues are their sheer refusal to believe that anyone outside their company knows anything worthwhile. It reminds me of the saying, “Only a fool knows everything” and Woollies, for all their admirable knowledge, expertise, and ability, are sailing 5º off course, right into the proverbial Titanic’s iceberg!

 

They stubbornly have refused the recent counsel of a previous CEO who has told the Board, that WOOLWORTHS has chronic “ABC Corporate Cancer” (a term coined by Warren Buffet that identifies the destructive combination of arrogance, complacency and bureaucracy). This is clearly observable when you consider their absence of strategic leadership in overcoming the long-running Coles Price war, their botched and re-botched Every-Day Reward loyalty programs, their high staff turnover in Marketing & Strategy personnel, and turnover of Chairman and CEO.

 

So THREAT No 1, the Denial in recognising the ORGANISATIONAL aspects of ABC, is sending WOOLWORTHS cascading towards disaster. They need to embrace a humility and adopt attitudinal shift to listening to and accepting external advice.

 

The often spruiked Einstein-quote of “Doing what you have always done, and expecting a different result is insanity”, might apply in the face of their diminishing success over the past 10 years.

 

Threat No 2 is an External One. WOOLWORTHS see Coles as their major competitor. While Coles struggles against WOOLWORTHS, Aldi is left to grow consistently at 7%+… Why can’t WOOLWORTHS see the writing on the wall, or at least the significance of this trend???

 

WOOLWORTHS (and Coles) have adopted the short-term, and brand corrosive pursuit of private label and house brands, at the expense of branded products. They have made enemies of FMCG companies that they should be partnering with to undo the generic attack on brand value. They should be encouraging brand equity development and new product development, and supporting brands in ways they never have than before.

 

Instead, they connive to squeeze what little is left in profits for their FMCG partners, forcing budgets dry, eliminating insights for NPD by research, or revenue for brand equity development.

 

So THREAT No 2, the Denial in recognising the ENVIRONMENTAL aspects of ABC, is undermining their own competitive advantage and market positioning, creating an industry and a market place that is becoming more willing to reject WOOLWORTHS as a preferred solution to its needs.

 

Inevitably, of course, the WOOLWORTHS Board will retire, fat on its Directors’ Fees. WOOLWORTHS senior executives will ‘migrate’ to other retail organisations, employed due to their position and political savvy, rather than their failure to save WOOLWORTHS, and WOOLWORTHS will become a company that older people “might remember”.

 

It the poor shareholders of WOOLWORTHS , the faithful investors who trusted the Board and senior executives, for whom I feel sorry; particularly when WOOLWORTHS could return to favour dominance and mega profits, by simply jumping form their self-imposed pedestal and holding cap in hand.

 

NB: WOOLWORTHS were offered a means of generating $400M is EBIT p.a. in 2007… and two senior executives individually approved the concept… but shuffles in management and politics… combined with insurmountable corporate arrogance quashed that concept regardless. Now they’re in trouble – go figure!

Both academically, and commercially, Pricing Strategy is poorly understood.

Pricing is not a skill that is commonly well taught or well implemented – either in Australia or globally.

Even many known and vocal “pricing experts” fail to deliver much more than Pricing “tactics” and implementation methods, pricing debate and model interpretation, rather than empowering you with key Pricing Strategy for senior management decision-making that creates enduring profits.

Which is why I am conducting my upcoming Pricing Strategy Workshops, one only B2C Pricing Workshop on August 21 & 22, and one only B2B Pricing Workshop on August 23 & 24, in Shanghai.

These workshops are genuinely SO IMPORTANT, particularly for CMO’s, Marketing Directors, CEO’s COO’s and aspiring corporate leaders. They are unlike Pricing workshops you may have been exposed to before… they are the connective tissue between pricing and corporate governance, and unless your pricing is perfect, you’ll hone real value by attending.

In these workshops, the key issues, methods and functions of strategic pricing will be addressed, so executives can confidently embrace and apply real pricing strategy and innovative pricing approaches that could revolutionise their businesses and create metamorphic improvement in profit outcomes.

With many Pricing Strategy “experts” focused on operational, rather than strategic, issues… Pricing Strategy has often be seen to be simplistic and “light-on”, often relegated to the Finance or Accounting department, or subject to pressure from sales-driven executives, eager to achieve volume budgets, at the cost of profit margin.

These workshops will turn that approach on its head and open your minds to new thought, perception and paths to success that might otherwise stay hidden indefinitely.

I’d urge anyone who has senior marketing responsibility to join me.

Why not download the brochure from…

for more detail or fire some questions at me in the comment section?

I haven’t delivered this type of workshop since 2014, and there’s fresh material as well as topic matter than inspired past attendees from companies like Nestle, Subway, Dell and others. In fact, a delegate to my last workshop, who now heads up the global management teams for supply chain, said, “Your Pricing Strategy workshop was one of the best marketing strategy workshops I have ever attended!”

There are already some interesting delegates booked in … why not come and add extra dimension and deal with YOUR pricing issues?

 

When I was a boy, and asked “what do you want to do when you grow up?”, instead of saying fireman or policeman, I would say, “Be a time & efficiency expert”… having evolved into the quasi wish-come-true version of that, I find it enormously frustrating to watch, and doubly frustrating when my assistance is refused, because I can see the solutions, or alternatives, for businesses in trouble.

All around, I see businesses doing it tough, going bad, or just struggling. Other businesses appear to be raking in sales, but losing money through habitual and comfortable routine inefficiencies.

Sadly, bogus consultants, operational ‘experts who have failed to help’ and snake-oil sales folk, have all tarnished the promise of salvation, so these struggling companies – so close to the trees they can’t see the forest – struggle on… doing what they always do, and getting the results they have always gotten. 😦

Years ago, I came across research into how to stop a business bleeding, and how to turn it around, that is summarised below in 8 points…

  1. Accept you must do things differently
  2. Stop & plan: Work on the business, not in it
  3. Listen to your customer service & sales people
  4. Re-evaluate the capabilities of your advisors
  5. Listen to customers
  6. Study your closest competitors
  7. Milk every asset, call in every favour
  8. Move out of your comfort zone

But there are MANY ways to skin a cat.

I remember being served “Cuy” (cooked guinea pig, a Peruvian delicacy) in Peru at the bottom of Machu Picchu…. Having just finished the trek and in celebratory mode, I recall eating regardless of the fact it looked and tasted like rat (and probably was).  The point is, that if you can identify a different market, and position a core product in a different context, you can satisfy new customers with old capabilities (even that pesky kitchen rat!).

THIS is a skill that is beyond operational thinking. It is the domain of power for creative strategists. and goes to the heart of most of the 8 points above.

When executives, who are struggling, say, “we have leading industry experts on our Board and they can’t do anything” or “I can’t afford consultant right now”… yet their inner voice tells them they are headed for doom, these 8 points may be the wake up call necessary.

Greg Foran (President and CEO of Walmart USA, and ex-Woolworths employee) said Woolworths’ biggest weakness was the inability to change. This remains true.

Only with clarity of vision can Woolworths avert a future where Coles and Aldi become the duopoly, and Woolworths is remembered with the same nostalgia that baby-boomers remember Flemings.

The concept is best explained in my book, “The Four Faces of Marketing”, which has been endorsed by many within the strategic marketing community around the world: More simply explained in a picture, headed “The Hierarchies of Marketing”, on the web page…

http://www.launchengineering.com/marketing.htm

I believe the ONLY way Woolworths can be saved is from leadership at Board level… from a Board that can grasp and endorse strong strategic disciplines that will cascade down from very top to the very bottom of the organisational chart.

It’s no mistake that GE became the worlds largest company under the leadership of Jack Welch, with his insights into the 8P’s of Marketing… and the “scuttlebutt” is that WW is losing key executives daily!!! Given THESE EXECUTIVES, many of them toothless strategic ones, can see disaster coming; the Board needs to, too!

AS an ex-employee myself, I hold Woolworths in great esteem, and would hate to see that future rollout; but rollout it will without strategic direction NOW!