Marketing Gems

Tom Peters

Power and mass are no longer adequate survival strategies. A new set of market realities is emerging, driven by new competition and new, more flexible technologies. Several innovative marketing books deal effectively with the new realities.

The first three share common themes: (1) segmentation rather than mass attacks; (2) a focus on new market creation rather than slug-it-out market sharing, and (3) the advantages of differentiation rather than commoditization.

Let’s begin with Harvard Business School Professor Ted Levitt’s latest book,
The Marketing Imagination (The Free Press, 1983). Here Levitt presents “the total product concept,” which distinguishes four elements in any product: The “generic product” is the physical item or barebones service (a flight to San Jose leaving at 10:40 a.m.); the “expected product” includes certain minimum features; the “augmented product” includes additional features to enhance attractiveness; and the “potential product” radically alters the product and market by redefining what’s possible (the way Federal Express reconceived mail service). Levitt warns, “If you’re not thinking segmentation, you’re not thinking.” In a brilliant analysis of “relationship management,” he emphasizes our typical inattention to life after the sale. Strategic management of the ongoing relationship between the producer and buyer is the key to long-term growth and profitability in any business.

Jag Sheth’s Winning Back Your Market (John Wiley, 1985) has a bold premise: “To stimulate managerial creativity by exploring ways in which dogs can be converted into stars.” The University of Southern California marketing professor and consultant admonishes us not to give up on the mature products, but to enhance their possibilities with a sparkling array of rejuvenation strategies. Sheth has surprisingly found that creating winners in declining markets leads to higher and more sustainable profits than following the same strategy in more glamorous and volatile growth markets.

If Sheth is the champion of salvaging old industries, Regis McKenna is the champion of pioneering new ones. In his book, The Regis Touch (Addison-Wesley, 1985), McKenna exhorts technology- and science-based companies such as Intel and Apple. McKenna denounces companies that expend precious energy slugging it out for a tiny fraction of a market share point. Instead he preaches market creation. To accomplish that, McKenna recommends that all marketers spend at least half their time in the field. He is adamant about the primacy of intuition and constant experimentation in fast-paced settings, and warns of the perils of over-analysis.

Marketing texts usually focus on forming strategy, to the virtual exclusion of execution. The next two books reverse that emphasis. Another Harvard professor, Tom Bonoma, makes execution sole concern in The Marketing Edge: Making Strategies Work (The Free Press, 1985). He claims that “Management often seems to dream up ‘Statue of Liberty’ plays that it does not have the focus nor the ability to make work.” He explains that “‘homework and details’ … would solve 90 percent of the problems that I regularly observe.”

Bonoma provides a long-needed conceptual structure for looking at execution. Frito-Lay is his premier example of execution supremacy, and he meticulously dissects the firm’s approach.

Carl Albrecht and Ron Zemke’s Service America! (Dow Jones-Irwin, 1985) focuses exclusively on the service element of marketing. Examples range from a thorough look at Scandinavian Air Systems to Deluxe Check to Country Fair, an upper midwestern theme park.

By contrast to the books I’ve discussed, currently popular Marketing Warfare (McGraw-Hill, 1986), by Al Ries and Jack Trout, is a step backwards. I was put on guard by the opening line of the dust jacket copy: “The true nature of marketing today is not serving the customer.” Inside the authors denounce the value of good products and good people and recommend that we must adopt a brutal warfare strategy and leave behind the nice-guy days of post World War II, when the customer reigned supreme.

The book uses military strategy as its guide, but the authors have badly misread history. To be sure the cleverness of Patton is legendary. But he was able to move around flanks with lightning speed only because of his obsession with superior training. The details of execution and support have determined the outcome of many more battles than have “mind games” that the authors ceaselessly refer to.

The five gems strike a similar theme: differentiation of anything and everything. Differentiation can be accomplished by finding new uses for products and creating new markets; by superior execution. The sixth book declares that success lies with sleight of hand strategies, presumably crafted by hordes of MBAs sorting through computer printouts for clues to competitor vulnerability. I’ll put my money on the first five. The sixth is an all-too-obvious reminder of our rather inglorious recent past.

(c) 1986 Not Just Another Publishing Company

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