The #1 Quality of the Outstanding Marketer – What Philip Kotler and an IIM MBA don’t teach you

by rohit on September 17, 2015

carrjump1-master675“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
– Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
( as quoted in “Pour your heart into it: How Starbucks built a company one cup at a time” by Howard Schultz, Founder CEO Starbucks Inc.)

A. The case for marketers needing to cultivate an especial attitude
It’s – I believe – taken somewhat for granted that successful marketing requires mainly (a) a knowledge of marketing concepts and the assimilation of some skills, both of which can be mastered if one does marketing courses such as those taught in an MBA and (b) a few years work experience in marketing roles.

I would argue otherwise viz. that successful – rather outstanding – marketing performance requires above all a unique attitude. (And that mere qualifications and experience produce by themselves only mediocre marketers). The cornerstone of this attitude is a personal quality I call HAH, and of which more later.

B. Five Marketing Paradigms
To derive this quality, let’s consider the discipline of marketing from five different perspectives:

1. Customer delight
“It is no longer to satisfy customers, you must delight them” – Philip Kotler, Marketing Management, 13th edition). But how do you delight them? Surprisingly, in this seminal tome – there isn’t any to do list i.e. content – not one paragraph, leave alone a chapter – on how to delight the customer.

Nor do I remember seeing in my two and a half decades long marketing career any books or articles on how to delight the customer.

Why so?

2. Customer experience
When I learnt marketing in B School back in the 80s, it was about the 4Ps, about putting together and executing clever little strategies that could give you additional market share or make your launch a success.

But marketing has changed. Marketing is now about cultivating customers. And cultivating customers means being customer-oriented, building customer relationships and experiences, not pushing products. Here is one narrative:

High (marketing) performers excelled in their ability to leverage customer insight, communicate a societal purpose, and deliver a rich customer experience…..
Marketers understand consumers’ basic drives—such as the desire to achieve, to find a partner, and to nurture a child—motivations we call “universal human truths. …Companies are increasingly enhancing the value of their products by creating customer experiences. We believe that the most important marketing metric will soon change from “share of wallet” or “share of voice” to “share of experience.”
– The Ultimate Marketing Machine, HBR July-Aug 2014 (based on a study of 10,000+ marketing executives)

How did these high performing marketers create customer experiences? To my knowledge, there is no cookbook to enable this. It is not something that one can train for or learn by experience alone.

3. The successful marketer
Again, let’s say you are a marketer working for a corporate. The chances are you were hired for this job because your employer is in a competitive industry. That is, your company created the position you hold only because it is in a competitive business. (Non-competitive, pseudo-monopolistic industries, such as say oil & gas refining or mining, don’t have any real marketing roles).

Which means the chances are that your employer’s competitors also employ marketing people. (Cf. HUL, Godrej, Marico, ITC, Colgate, P & G in the FMCG industry in India). So, as a marketer, to earn your chops, you have got to be better than your peers. How do you do it? Is it by deploying more cunning, more esoteric marketing tricks? Or by better use of marketing analytics and processes?

Nah. Your competition has hired MBAs from the same business school. Some of its marketing team may have earlier worked for your very own organization.

So how do you become a better marketer than your competitors? Will you get confined to incremental improvements, which are soon copied by competition?

How do you do outstanding marketing that’s really required here?

Tip: There is one company in the ultra-competitive, fragmented global mobile handsets industry, which accounts for over half the industry profit. How do they do it? We’ll come back to this company.

4. The paralysis of market research
McKinsey says building brands requires creating both relevance and differentiation at the same time. (Better branding, McKinsey Quarterly, November 2003). And that identifying the brand attributes that enable this relevance and differentiation can be determined by sophisticated statistical techniques and modeling.

However, getting data for such analysis often requires framing very elaborate questionnaires. I wonder: Is such a complex exercise always practical? Is there an alternate way to discover such attributes.

Secondly, even if customer insights are obtained, these have to be synthesized into identifying the marketing actions that matter. How can a marketer do this synthesis well?

5. Social media marketing
Let’s consider digital marketing, social media in particular, which every brand worth its salt now swears by, and within that let’s consider content strategy for social media. How do you (whether yourself or via your social media agency) decide what content to create and post? There is no ‘formula’ to tell you what to post that will be most liked by the consumer. You need to do some inspired thinking to develop the content.

Summing up
Each of the above five marketing perspectives – delighting the customer, creating rich customer experiences, developing a marketing organization that outwits the competition, developing brand attributes which zonk the competition and doing effective content marketing – call for an attitude which I deem to be the #1 quality of an outstanding marketer.

And a mention of this quality, as I said at the outset of this article, is missing from marketing textbooks, from the curricula of business schools and in general from most discourse on marketing.

C. The #1 Quality of a Marketer

The #1 quality of an effective marketer is an attitude I call “HAH”. Short for “Have a heart”.

“Have a heart” so that you can provide the most-est, outstanding value to your customers. Everytime. Anytime.

Outstanding marketing requires feeling, not just thinking or doing.

If you mainly a “thinker” (as many engineer-MBAs or B School marketers in India especially are), how do you ensure that you HAH? Engineers are not known to be people who ‘connect’ with other people or emote very well.

If you are a “doer” (think “sales types” and “production types”), how do you listen hard to catch that customer’s whisper?

Executives differ in the extent to which they possess HAH. (And organizations differ culturally in the extent of adopting this. Brand consultancies, can you and do you measure this?

Having a deep understanding nay empathy with one’s customers, the desire to provide real value to other people and – finally – delivering the product or service as per and above customer expectations, requires an attitude of ‘having a heart.’

In fact, the word Hindi word “Dil” captures the attitude better: I could not find an equivalent in English, other than “Have a heart“. “Dil hona chahiye” (literally “one must have a heart” )is a fairly common phrase in Hindi, unlike “Have a Heart” or any equivalent is used in English.

Put another way, to be an outstanding marketer, you need to be in touch with your feelings and sensitive to those of others.

D. The man who had HAH

So who has had HAH or DIL?

Steve Jobs. The person who built the world’s most valuable brand (Apple: Interbrand, 2014). Whose iPhones contribute 50% or so by value in their category.

Here is an article that elaborates on how product development of Apple’s devices flows from having a heart.

How does one develop DIL ? This is a separate and bigger question. Not sure I a definitive answer.

Maybe: Read the likes of Steven Covey ( ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ and his other books) or listen to the Dalai Lama (watch him speak here on “Develop the heart”).

When and how did DIL get nurtured in Jobs? Was it when in his twenties he visited India and experienced and adopted the principles Zen Buddhism? It’s something to think about…

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