David and Goliath : Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants – Book Review by Guy Tomlinson

Posted in Marketing book reviews, New product development with tags on September 30, 2014 by Guy Tomlinson

An inspirational read

This is an inspiring read for anyone wishing to start a business or grow bigger. Malcolm Gladwell is staff writer on the New Yorker magazine and author of the best seller ‘Outliers – the anatomy of success’. He is also one of the most insightful people on the planet – I’m working my way through all of his books! The book reveals an armoury of ideas that could help shift the balance of power between the minnows and the mighty.

The art of battling giants

While we all know that David did triumph over Goliath, the book is also heavy with facts, and describes many unfamiliar aspects to this story!

Packed with insights

Did you also know?

That Richard Branson one of the world’s wealthiest multi-billionaires is dyslexic? We’re treated to many examples of individual success that arose through personal disadvantage.

In a story about a US schoolgirl league basketball team that was light on skills, the coach equipped the team with disruptive tactics and a hard working ethic which enabled them to beat better ranked opponents.

To raise awareness and gain public sympathy for the US civil rights movement, the organisers of an Alabama demonstration tricked the authorities into a confrontation which led to lots of bad PR (and inspired a step change in support for the civil rights cause).

The Impressionist painters were originally refused access to the Paris Salon exhibitions of the day so they started their own show. By creating a new pond in which to swim allowed them to be seen and grow big.

Marketing Inspiration

By applying some of the themes in the book to businesses, here are a handful of lessons that can help minnows triumph over the mighty:

  1. Competing on different terms, for example using different strengths, to your adversaries can provide an advantage.
  2. Sheer tenacity and drive can triumph over complacency or unwariness. Working harder can also be both a recipe and message for success (cf. ‘we try harder’ – Avis).
  3. Superior knowledge of your opponent can provide an edge.
  4. Weaknesses can be a source of hidden strength. Look hard to discover what they could be.
  5. Avoid being hidebound by current industry conventions and think differently i.e. ‘zig’ when everyone else is ‘zagging’. Virgin Atlantic, for example, was devised by a group of Virgin employees with no airline experience whatsoever. This helped them establish a distinctive new offering.

Gladwell, Malcolm, David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (2013)

Humour in Advertising: What works?

Posted in Marketing communication with tags , , , on June 23, 2014 by Guy Tomlinson

Did you know? In North America, 52% of adverts are considered ‘funny’ or ‘light-hearted’ and just 48% have ‘no intended humour’ whereas in Asia Pacific just a third are considered humourous (1).


humour in advertising

Incidence of humour in advertising

But does that mean you should use humour, or that humour always increases sales? We investigate to help you spend your ad budget wisely!

Funnier ads are more memorable

According to Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising survey humour resonates more than any other type of content (2).  According to Millward Brown’s advertising awareness tracker, the more humourous the ad, the more impactful it is likely to be i.e. the more likely the ad is to be recalled (1).

Impact of humourous advertising

Impact of humourous advertising

This is because humour is disarming, involving – it lowers barriers to engagement. To draw an analogy with human inter-relationships, we’re generally more attracted to ‘funny’ people! So it may be unsurprising that humour is used in almost half of the world’s advertising.

Response to humour and some humour codes differs by region

The relative impact of humour differs by region of the world. Humourous adverts have much higher impact in North America and Europe than in Africa/Middle East, Asia Pacific and Latin America. The North American and European regions also have the highest incidence of humourous adverts which suggest these factors are related. These Western regions also have the most developed economies (larger gross domestic product/capita) and much higher expenditures on advertising than other areas (3). The advertising industries are equally larger and more developed – having spurred, and grown to respond to, increasingly competitive markets. Conversely, consumers are less exposed to advertising in less developed markets. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that ads have a lesser impact because there is a lesser need for more ‘sophisticated’ messages and/or consumers are less responsive to ‘humourous’ messages .

Cultural differences also have a bearing. In less open societies, for example in parts of Asia and the Middle East countries blue humour (references to sex, body parts) are taboo (4). Sarcasm is not appreciated in China and irony (feigned ignorance) appears peculiarly British.

Conversely some humour codes appear universally appealing. For example, slapstick (childish humour), such as ‘pie in the face’ gags as ‘performed’ by clowns. Also poking fun at minorities; Pommies (the English) in Australia, the Irish (in England), the Belgians (in France), the Spanish (the Portuguese), the Poles (the USA) and the Germans (Poland). Though in our UK experience, there is an increasing fine-line between poking fun and xenophobia (a reflection of an increasingly diverse and politically correct society).

Humour doesn’t always drive brand engagement

While humourous ads are more impactful, they are slightly less persuasive (1). Humourous ads are seen as less credible and relevant. There is a fine line between distracting and engaging with humour – the former risks the brand message being overlooked, and the credibility and relevance of the message being impeded. Further, once a joke is made and understood, repetition risks boring or annoying. Nevertheless the difference is small which suggests there are many humourous ads which are persuasive. Here are four ads from which made us smile and allow us to uncover more lessons:

Heineken (Heineken) (UK)

Heineken is one of the world’s most popular lagers. Created by CDP, their ‘refreshes the parts’ campaign was one of the longest running in advertising history (30 years).

Why does this ad work?

The campaign idea and message reflects the most universally appealing benefit in the category – ‘refreshment’.
Strong secondary benefits – social desirability and cleverness; antidotes to the ‘down-trodden’ married male stereotype.
This ad ‘refreshes the pets’; it twists the original strapline and parodies the Dulux Paints’ campaign – this is also evidence that the long running joke was wearing thin. The campaign was dropped in 2005.

Old Spice (Procter and Gamble)(Global)

Old Spice is a men’s fragrance. When acquired by P&G in the mid 1980s it had a slightly faded image.

Why does this ad work?

We’re unsure of the extent to which this drives sales and question how aspirational this ad is to men! We suspect there is more to this ad than meets the eye!
The target is more likely to be females who wish to buy a gift/make a statement to their partner rather than males.
The message is make your man a dream man (dream he is a real man, make a joke to your man that he isn’t a real man and express a desire for a real man…).
This ad has spawned a significant number of spoofs and is a huge social media talking point.

Comparethemarket.com (UK)

Comparethemarket.com is an insurance comparison site competing in a market where the cost per click for ‘insurance’ terms is very high.

Why does this ad work?

This ad  campaign (VCCP) has driven significant online traffic directly to two websites and fuelled a burgeoning industry of meerkat toys (Aleksandr Orlov and his family). It has injected a stand-out personality in an otherwise ‘low interest’ and price driven category.
The benefit of cheap car insurance and distinctive personality is appealing and engaging. The joke is that ‘compare the market’ sounds like ‘compare the meerkat’ in Russian. Having researched this ad in Russia, the humour only works in the UK!

Head and Shoulders Anti-Hair Loss Shampoo (Procter and Gamble)(UK, US)

Head and Shoulders Anti-Hair Loss Shampoo is a relatively new product (2009) that’s available in the UK and US.

Why does this ad work?

First up we’re not sure whether the ad drives sales but it is hilarious. Since the ad was created (Saatchi and Saatchi), the product appears to have been repositioned from anti-hair loss to hair endurance. The former benefit (being to avoid a negative) while the latter is a positive benefit. In our experience positive benefits are more appealing than avoiding disbenefits.
While the absurdity of the idea is amusing it impedes the relevance and credibility of the message. For example, the idea of ‘loving your hair before it leaves’ undermines the core proposition of ‘anti-hair loss’. Nevertheless this is a slightly taboo subject area, and the ‘off-the-wall’ humour and gentle tale is dramatic, disarming and engaging. This may even reduce self-consciousness and increase propensity to discuss the subject more openly. Let us know what you think.

Marketing Inspiration
1. Consider using humour in markets that are plain boring, commodity-oriented and rationally driven. Humour works in many ways to lower barriers to engagement, inject personality and increase brand stand-out.
2. Humour needs channelling with care to ensure the brand message is clear and persuasive.
3. Humour can be both simple and complex. It is coded – so make sure you know how it works before building it into your strategy.
4. Explore and test a series humour codes and personalities in markets where humour is highly prevalent, for example, beer (UK).
5. Not all humour travels. Use humour with more caution in less developed markets. It is fine to develop an over-arching international strategy using humour yet allow localisation.
6. Humourous campaigns sometimes wear out quickly. Make sure your production budget is big enough to keep the idea fresh.


(1) Millward Brown. Does Humor Make Ads More Effective? (2007) Humourous adverts are those considered ‘funny’ or ‘light-hearted’ as opposed to having ‘no intended humour’. Impact is based on Millward Brown’s Awareness Index (AI) and is calculated by looking at the rise in prompted ad awareness per 100 GRPs that is generated above the base level factoring out “diminishing returns” i.e. that it is harder to go from 60-70% than from 20-30%.
(2) Nielsen’s survey of Trust in Advertising (Sept 2013) is based on 29,000 respondents in 58 countries.
(3) Banks, S. Cross-national analysis of advertising expenditures. Journal of Advertising Research 26 (2), 11-24 (1986)
(4) McGraw, Peter; Warner, Joel. The Humor Code – A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny (2014)

The author, Guy Tomlinson runs a 2 day Marketing Communications Masterclass - to help marketers create cut-through communications. Check dates and availability here.

Brand naming: What’s in name? It’s a Hullabaloo. #HCAFC

Posted in Brand positioning with tags , , on January 27, 2014 by Guy Tomlinson

Hull City Association Football Club was founded in 1904. In August 2013, Chairman Assem Allam (1) submitted a request to the Football Association to change the club name to Hull Tigers Ltd. And all hell has broken loose. Dr. Allam says that the name change will be shorter and snappier, and more marketable. Lobbying Group ‘City ‘Til We Die’ say ‘no’; it has almost 6000 members and is growing. The FA will make a decision at the end of the season. So what’s in a name – a brand name?

There is no record of the first person to shout ‘Up the Tigers!’ but the first reference in print to ‘The Tigers’ appeared in the Hull Daily Mail in March 1905. In the season that Hull City first wore a black and amber strip. The first ‘Tiger’ badge appeared on the strip in 1947, and over the years it has taken many forms (2).

Brand naming

The first appearance of a tiger on the Hull City kit

As a marketer, my experience is that the most successful businesses and brands are customer driven. All marketing activities should be designed to meet customer needs, improve stand-out and increase appeal. And the proposed changes are patently unappealing to a sizeable proportion of the fans. Many say they will boycott matches and refuse to renew their season passes.

As a marketer and Hull City supporter, I’m curious about the business case. If there is evidence that a name change will benefit the Club, Dr. Allam seems reluctant to share it.

Dr. Allam has lived in the City of Hull since the 1960s. He’s a successful businessman and his investment in Hull City has helped it reach the Premiership. He says the word ‘City’ is lousy and common and if he doesn’t get his way he’ll leave (3). This is a very emotional response. His words don’t sound like those of a Hull or Hull City supporter to me.

On the plus side, the hullabaloo surrounding the name change has given Hull a bit of publicity. Not bad for a team, only in its third year in the Premiership. And high brand awareness is an important characteristic of a strong brand.  Fortunately, there is much more to a football brand than a name. Product performance has thus far held up, thanks to Mr. Bruce and the team. The Club has built huge equity in entertaining and bringing generations together. Through highs and lows. Not just the roller coaster ride in winning and losing, but through going to matches and putting money in a bucket to pay the team’s wages. And that says a lot when folk don’t have much money. Bonds don’t get much stronger.

There are many examples of brands repositioning to attract wider audiences and improve performance. Hull City AFC, as all clubs, has evolved over generations. Inspired, almost entirely, by ownership, management and team changes. There are also examples of brands undergoing complete makeovers without changing name. Witness for example, Lucozade. There are football clubs that have changed name, and lost their fan bases (Wimbledon FC), yet were born again with a new fan base (MK Dons). And original brands that rose again (AFC Wimbledon, the Dons). Hull City is the Tigers. The words “City” and “the Tigers” are used interchangeably on the terraces. In overseas countries, the Club can be positioned in a myriad of ways to drive local demand.

On the down side, Dr. Allam has alienated lots of supporters. I’m unsure whether he has attracted any overseas. Football clubs belong to supporters, largely local communities, as well as owners. The supporters and owners are also part of the brand – not the brand itself. Dr. Allam’s investment is welcomed but his tone is not. What the fans are really rejecting is Dr. Allam’s arrogance and implied transience.

The change in the East Yorkshire county name should be remembered. In 1974, East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire were forcibly changed to Humberside. For the next 22 years those who moved away sent letters home to the old address. In 1996, Humberside was abolished and the original county names restored.

What’s odd is that no commercial evidence has been forthcoming to support a change. Though there are now a few who are putting their heads above the parapet expressing support for the change. Though their claims appear subjective, which suggests they may be PR inspired (4). Without hard-nosed evidence this compounds my belief that the case for change is flimsy.

I wonder whether Dr. Allam has been seduced into announcing a name change by a new design idea. Taking a look at the present badge, it is easy to imagine the streamlining possibilities in dropping the AFC. This is how designers think. Presently, there may be a small Google ranking benefit, and page view increase, by funneling Hull City and the Tigers searches into a single Hull City Tigers url. But this may be undermined if it changes again.

Brand naming

Hull City AFC badge 2014

Some say the name change is a sublime masterplan to build awareness? Whatever the answer, success in the home market will require a change of tone and a credible message. It is not too late to ‘fess up’.

Marketing Inspiration
1. Branding, like marketing is widely misunderstood. Brands are not just logos or names. Marketers must never forget this point and help others understand.
2. Brands live in the hearts and minds of customers – the supporters. They are the summation of all thoughts and feelings – including memories – through tough times and good.
3. Football club brands have symbiotic relationships with communities. Clubs represent communities, communities support clubs. The brand is a shared interest and experience. The community is part of the experience i.e. part of the brand. This is why supporters have strong relationships with clubs; they wear the kit, the colours etc. Everything that the brand stands for runs though supporters like a stick of rock. It signals I’m like you, share your beliefs, hopes, and fears.
4. Changing names for community embedded brands should be undertaken with caution. There is a risk of destroying community engagement. When an owner dictates a course of action it signals, someone or something has different beliefs, personality traits. That I’m not like you and that detracts from the shared brand experience.
5. It is dangerous to make decisions on gut-feel, dangerous to invent spurious logic to support an idea, and dangerous not to be transparent. It is better to use research and evidence to make decisions. This will ensure that all risks and pitfalls are identified and mitigated.
6. The start-point is to think about the perceptions brands wish to create. To build on strengths and refine weaknesses. Perceptions are created by the product – the team and the team performance. Perceptions can be influenced by promotion and without changing names. This is why the advertising industry is a multi-billion business.
7. If you need a business partner, remember brands are more than logos.
8. If you seek free publicity, stir up a storm in a teacup.

(1) Dr. Assem Allam is a successful entrepreneur. Born in Egypt, he studied at Hull University in the 1960s and decided to stay in the City of Hull. His business Allam Marine supplies and sells generators. At number 214 in the Sunday Times Rich List, and a philanthropist, he has made donations to Hull FC, the University of Hull and Hull Truck Theatre Co. among others.
(2) http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/Hull_City/Hull_City.htm
(3) http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/25341248
(4) The work of a public relations company

Guerilla marketing

Posted in Creativity, Marketing communication on June 25, 2013 by Guy Tomlinson

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, one of the world’s most wonderful museums had an idea.

To celebrate the reopening of our museum, let’s bring the art to the people and then, hopefully, they will come to see more – at the art gallery.

They took one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings ‘The Night Watch’ (1), brought to life the characters in it, and placed them in a busy mall in Breda. The rest you can see for yourself!

Marketing Inspiration

Great marketing just requires a great idea (sometimes!)

(1) Painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1642 “The Night Watch” is one of the most famous paintings in the world. The painting is renowned for three things: its enormous size (12 ft × 14 ft)), the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait. The painting may be more accurately titled The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out.

Investing a Brand with Personality

Posted in Brand positioning, Marketing communication with tags , on March 28, 2013 by Guy Tomlinson

Kulula – The Airline That Doesn’t Take Itself Seriously

Having identified a gap in the market for a low-cost airline to bring air travel to the South African masses, Kulula.com launched in July 2001. It operates on major domestic routes out of Tambo International Airport and Lanseria on the outskirts of Johannesburg.  As building a business based on price alone would make it vulnerable to attack from more established airlines, it has hewn a positioning based on ease, inspirational service and safety. This is summed up in its name which means ‘easy’ in Zulu. Though most distinctive are the personality traits of the brand.  Being totally honest, straight-forward and helping people lighten up.

Kulula.com is an airline that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its humourous personality is evident in all aspects of the brand experience:


Launching with a budget of just 3m rand (c. £200k) demands cut-through communication. Their super heroes launch campaign with catchy jingle espouses “Now Everyone Can Fly”. Watch the launch trailer and note there isn’t an aircraft to be seen.

Product and service appearance

Similarly to easyjet’s bright orange in the UK, Kulula has adopted a distinctive lime green livery.  The unconventional markings include ‘this way up’ and arrows pointing to parts of the aircraft, for example, rudder, nose cone, sun-roof and where ‘the big cheese’ (‘captain, my captain’) sits.


Public relations

In 2010 South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup and Kulula.com ran a campaign describing itself as the “Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What”, which took place “Not next year, not last year, but somewhere in between”. Another advert announced “affordable flights [to] everybody except Sepp Blatter” (the FIFA president), who was offered a free seat “for the duration of that thing that is happening right now”. Obviously, oblique references to the World Cup which FIFA intervened to stop. Thus creating even more publicity for Kulula.


Kulula flight crew are encouraged to be friendly and let their natural talent show through. This is evident in the entertaining in-flight “safety lecture” and announcements. Here are some examples that have been heard or reported:

“Welcome aboard Kulula 271 to Port Elizabeth. To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seat belt; and, if you don’t know how to operate one, you probably shouldn’t be out in public unsupervised.”

Meet Kay Lula … the hostess with the mostess …..

“Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we’ll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Kulula Airlines.”

“Your seats cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.”

“Kulula Airlines is pleased to announce that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!”

“We’ve reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants.”

Here are some comments heard after a few extremely hard landings ….

“Please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And, once the tyre smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we will open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal..”

“Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.”

The airline has a policy which requires the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exit, smile, and provide a “thanks for flying our airline”. In light of a particularly bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment. Finally a little old lady walking with a cane disembarked saying,

“Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “Why, no Ma’am,” said the pilot. “What is it?” “Did we land, or were we shot down?” said the little old lady.

Part of a flight attendant’s arrival announcement:

“We’d like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of Kulula Airways.”

“As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses.”

“Please be sure to take all of your belongings. If you’re going to leave anything, please make sure it’s something we’d like to have.”

“Thank you for flying Kulula. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride.”

Marketing Inspiration

  1. Designing brands with personality, i.e. characteristics, beliefs and behaviours enhances stand-out.
  2. In a world awash with corporate grey, a rich and clear personality, injects colour and breathes life into brands. Executed effectively this maximises impact, engages and forges a strong emotional connection with customers.
  3. When problems occur or disasters strike, as are prone happen in the service industry, a self-deprecating or humourous personality can defuse issues and provide a stress release or antidote. 
  4. As Kulula says “smiles and jokes are free” (1). And great ideas make budgets go further.
  5. A humourous brand message and personality is entertaining. In turn this creates a talking point and encourages sharing via social media and email.
  6. And leave readers to question whether this is an April Fool’s joke or not….


  1. www.kulula.com

Thanks to Joe Flynn for inspiring this article

The Marketing of Christmas with Music

Posted in Marketing communication with tags , on December 10, 2012 by Guy Tomlinson

SFX: Christmas Bells: Ring, ring. Ring, ring!

Music has long been associated with Christmas, and Christmas with music. The first specifically Christmas hymns (carols) for Christians appeared in the fourth century. Music is also a terrific gift; the size of the market increases in the run up to Christmas and record labels battle to win the coveted #1 single and album slots. Marketers are also catching on to the power of music at Christmas.

For the last three years, John Lewis has been top of the pops in using music to market their business. The Gabrielle Aplin cover of ‘The Power of Love’ used in John Lewis’ 2012 Christmas campaign by Adam & Eve/DDB knocked Olly Murs off the top of the official UK singles chart on 10 December. You can watch it here.

John Lewis’s sales for the week ending Saturday 8 December rose 15% year on year to £142m. John Lewis is attributing this to the success of its “omnichannel strategy”. It says sales were driven by customers looking for that special Christmas gift, including gloves, cashmere, lingerie, handbags or jewellery. The strong performance of gloves as a gift coincides with the Christmas ad showing a snowman making a long journey to get a pair of gloves for his snowwoman.

In 2011, John Lewis used the Slow Moving Millie soundtrack, ‘Please, please, please’ to promote its Christmas offer. This has amassed nearly 5m You Tube views.

Ellie Goulding’s haunting cover of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ was used in its 2010 Christmas ad. But can you recall the ads pre 2009?

Our Christmas card to you!

Since we founded our marketing consultancy in 2005, we’ve included lyrics from Christmas songs in our cards. Finding lyrics that convey the right sentiments is a tough task! Matching words and pictures is equally difficult. This year we’ve selected lyrics from a song written by Leigh Haggerwood called ‘My Favourite Time of Year’. Disappointed at the high-jacking of the Christmas charts by likes of X-Factor, Leigh wrote this song to reflect the true values of Christmas. Funded without the backing of a record label, and promoted only by social media it charted at just 40 in December 2010. You can watch it here. ‘There is goodwill in the air tonight’. We wish you a Merry Christmas and Prosperous 2014!

Marketing Inspiration

1. Music elicits powerful emotional responses and influences behaviour. It’s also powerful in rekindling memories. Thus if used correctly the sound of sleigh bells can have a powerful effect on tills.

2. Remember the narrative. While many John Lewis ads pre 2009 also used music, for example, Taken by the Trees version of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ in 2009, Virginia Labuat’s version of ‘From me To You’ in 2008 and Prokoviev’s Romeo and Juliet in 2007, none are arguably as emotionally engaging and heart warming as the more recent ads.

3. Ensure consistency in communications (through different channels and over time) to help get the message across, be understood and acted upon.

Marketing Strategy: How to ‘Bottle’ Marketing Success?

Posted in Strategic marketing, Successful marketing with tags on October 29, 2012 by Guy Tomlinson

What enables some businesses to weather the changing economic climate and the cold wind of market forces, while others wither? The most successful businesses grow income and budgets steadily, while the weakest are left with diminishing income and budgets or none at all.  Just as Darwin observed, the fittest survive or thrive, and the weak are acquired by others or become extinct.

Popping the cork to celebrate marketing success

Popping the cork to celebrate marketing success

There have been many studies over the years. Some such as Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (1) have revealed some of the business success factors such as having an ambitious and engaging business goal, but the role of marketing has received less attention.The pre-eminent role of marketing is understood and acknowledged by leading consumer goods companies. It is most influential in the most successful ones, such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever. However, the discipline remains less influential or plays second or third fiddle in companies operating in sectors such as business-to-business (b2b) and utilities.

The effects of marketing communication campaigns are well documented, some showing positive results, some negative. Though it is harder to find empirical evidence to demonstrate what aspects of marketing drive business success, and inform what businesses should do strategically. This article draws on a number of studies published in the last few years and attempts to unearth ‘hard’ evidence and ‘lift the lid’ on what really works.

Booz & Company (2) have surveyed over 30,000 businesses and in 2006 identified that businesses with ‘healthy marketing DNA’ were almost 60% more profitable than their competitors, and that those with ‘super DNA’, some 9% of the sample, were 20% more likely to exhibit superior growth. But what is ‘healthy marketing DNA’ and how can it be ‘bottled’?

Decoding Superior Marketing DNA

Here’s a summary of the three marketing functional characteristics that correlate with businesses outperformance:

1.      Ability to measure contribution to business growth

While a challenge, successful business development requires sophisticated measurement and modeling to correlate marketing activities to sales. As long ago as 1955, Peter Drucker famously wrote ‘what gets measured gets managed’ (3). Yet still in 2005, a CMO Council study of US CMOs (4) revealed that more than 80% of organisations had not developed meaningful, comprehensive measures or metrics for their organisations. Conversely, the 20% of organisations that had instituted useful measures substantially outperformed their competitors in terms of revenue growth, market share and profitability. The importance of measuring ROI remains high on CMO’s agendas. According to IBM’s Global CMO Study (2011), nearly two-thirds (63%) believe that measuring marketing ROI will be the most important measure of success in the next 3-5 years (5).

It is disappointing therefore that many organisations continue to hire marketers with lots of experience in a business sector and then just rely on them to make judgment calls on what to do and where to invest. This is a false economy and contributes to the perception that marketers are ‘fluffy bunnies’. It also compounds the perception that marketers are unworthy of a place at the board-room table.

2.      Broad capabilities, scope of operation and ability to influence senior decision makers

In some organisations marketing operates solely as a communications or promotion department. In others, as a management ‘gopher’, responsible for tactical initiatives, and reactive to management demands.  Organisations with marketing functions that work closely with the CEO, operate across the organisation, and assume broader strategic responsibility, are more successful. Their roles include, for example, business analysis and development, product innovation, and approving large investments. This allows them to grasp customer insights quickly, communicate and make decisions based on those insights across organisation boundaries, and implement its marketing model. Looking at this another way, marketing functions in outperforming organisations are also better at engaging management and employees.

 3.      Deep customer understanding, adding value proactively

Successful business development requires deep business and customer understanding, and strategic know-how to design, promote and deliver experiences that customers want.  Outperforming organisations invest significantly more effort in capturing and using customer information to drive decision making and foster customer relationship. IBM’s CMO study confirms that market research is the single most important source of information to influence strategy decisions (cited as important by 82% CMOs). Reassuringly, 63% of CMOs believe they can grow their influence by being the voice of the consumer (5). Research by The Chartered Institute of Marketing adds that the marketers’ influence is also greater when competition is intense and the market turbulent (6).

Marketing Inspiration

Unlike the DNA of living organisms, organisational DNA can be changed. This starts with understanding where the business and marketing capability is now, needs to be and should be. From The Marketing Directors’ research (7), there are just 14 executive marketing directors on the main boards of the UK FTSE 100 companies. At one level this might suggest that marketing is relatively unimportant in 86 of those companies.  Yet the role and ability of marketing to drive business growth is widely misunderstood. All marketers should embrace and address the challenge to explain what marketing is, can and should do to drive business growth.

Effective and superior marketing involves understanding customers, accumulating facts, and influencing and making decisions based on those facts, to advance the growth and profitability of organisations. Marketers should view themselves as the voice of customers and directors of organisation growth. To do this they should invest more in understanding customers and use this information to make strategic decisions. In turn this will advance their case to sit at the boardroom table.


(1)   Porras Jerry and Collins Jim I, Built to Last, 1994. Involved researching and analysing pairs of companies in  18 industries, covering their history, organisation characteristics and financial performance from as early as 1915 to 1990.

(2)   Landry Edward, Tipping Andrew, Dixon Brodie, The DNA of Marketing, Booz & Company and the Association of National Advertisers, 2006. Based on over 30,000 responses to an online survey in 12 languages

(3)   Drucker Peter F, The Practice of Management, 1955

(4)   The CMO Council, Assessing Marketing’s Value and Impact, 2004

(5)   Korsten Peter, Heller Baird Carolyn, et al, From Stretched to Strengthened, Insights from the Global Chief Marketing Officer Study, IBM, 2011. Based on face-to-face conversations with 1734 CMOs in 64 countries. In this study outperforming organisations are rated 5/5 in terms of performance by their CMOs, though additional tests were undertaken to ensure this correlated with superior financial performance

(6)   Argyriou Dr. Evmorfia, Leeflang Prof. Peter, Saunders Prof. John, Verhoef Prof. Peter, White Paper: The Future of Marketing, The Chartered Institute of Marketing, 2009

(7)   Arnold Tim, Tomlinson Guy, The Marketing Director’s Handbook, 2008

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