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Sunday, July 15, 2012


Meditation – med-i-ta-tion (noun) – pondering of something


Nearly all of our worldwide clients have “marketing excellence” training programs. But what is "marketing excellence?" What is it that they strive to achieve? This is a meditation in search of defining and characterizing marketing excellence, and what it takes to achieve it.


What is Excellence?

Excellence is about achieving the highest levels of performance. It means being more successful, much more successful than others (namely, the competition – both external and internal).


It is not about reaching and settling into a norm of average performance but, instead, achieving a place that is near perfection, clearly superior performance in the absolute, and relative to what others are able to achieve.


It is not merely an individual accomplishment. As much as individual accomplishments are appreciated and desired it asks more. It is really about the performance of the organization at the brand, division, sector and/or company level.


It is not a "sometimes thing" but a persistent state of superior performance. It is like the legendary coach Vince Lombardi's perennial champions, the Green Bay Packers, successfully executing sweep after sweep around end to inexorably plow their way down the field to an eventual touchdown, and a certain victory. It is like the Spanish National Football team winning an unprecedented third, consecutive international title (a World and two European titles) with a score of 4 – 0, routing its opponent. It is Apple Corporation reinventing categories and consistently breaking records for sales and profits, quarter after quarter, as it delights consumers on its way to become the corporation with the highest market capitalization in the world.


Marketing excellence is not merely showing up to play or go through the motions to slog through the same, rather average (more likely, lackluster) performance. It’s about a dominating performance to bust through targeted goals, and exceed all expectations.


And, it doesn’t end with winning. It is not content unless we’ve achieved the best ever. And when we do so it leads us to demand more from ourselves, and drives us to strive and achieve new, higher levels of performance in the future. It’s recognition that today’s marketing excellence will be mediocre by tomorrow’s standards.


What Comprises Marketing Excellence?

Marketing excellence is about profound achievements in the marketplace such as:

  • Sales and market share growth faster, much faster than the category;
  • Conscious, as opposed to fortuitous, and predictable achievement of quantifiable financial and customer behavior objectives;
  • Establishing market, or segment, leadership;
  • Generating a predictable, high rate of ROI for marketing initiatives;
  • Creating a pipeline of proven innovations (e.g., new products, product improvements, marketing tactics, communication campaigns, etc.) to ensure enhanced competitiveness and future streams of uninterrupted, profitable income;
  • Widening the leadership position in the market or segment;
  • Beating competitors to the market with innovation (e.g., new products, technologies, etc.) and securing first mover advantage;
  • Establishing, and being guided by, a competitive, enduring and ownable brand positioning strategy to create strong brand equity;
  • Delighting customers to drive a significant customer preference, and high levels of satisfaction, advantage for your offerings;
  • Creating a “whole product” offering (consisting of both tangible and intangible features) that provide relevant and meaningfully differentiated benefits to the target-customer segment you serve;
  • Moving the life cycle of the brand ever higher, and extending it out to the right, to maximize its life value to the company;
  • Creating brand loyalty, thereby, immunizing customers against the lure of competitive entries (to maintain or even grow market share) or price discounting (to maintain ASP – average selling price);
  • Maintaining and even growing margins;
  • Achieving the business plan month by month, quarter by quarter, year by year – with no surprises;
  • Generating leadership communications that not merely achieve high copy testing scores in marketing research but, more importantly, drive preference for your entry and compel customers to action (in the marketplace) that overachieves the communication behavior objective;
  • Being recognized by industry authorities and competitors for best practices and superior performance;
  • Knowing the “why” behind every “what” of brand performance, customer behavior, etc., such that intelligent adaptations are implemented that build leadership;
  • Being guided by an MBO (Marketing By Objectives) plan where behaviors connect with business objectives and resource allocation is accountable for generating intended performance;
  • Integrating and coordinating all marketing activities to achieve Power Positioning, leverage a BIG Brand Idea through all communication vehicles and, as a result, fuel geometric growth
  • Integrating and coordinating with all functional elements within the organization to deliver flawless execution (e.g., no quality or product availability issues, etc.) in all marketing related activities

If we are not able to credit our brand or organization with the aforementioned achievements then, sadly to say, we have not achieved, nor are we achieving, marketing excellence.


Who’s Responsible for Marketing Excellence?

A marketing curriculum, as much as it is dubbed "marketing excellence" cannot legitimately ascribe to it unless its training results in superior performance. And, when it comes to marketing, superior performance is not merely an individual accomplishment measured by attainment of competencies, but a team event measured by marketplace performance factors.


Marketing excellence is winning performance by the team, the Brand, the Division, the Company. Therefore, the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) or the CEO (depending upon the company) is the architect of marketing excellence. The CMO sets the framework (i.e., the practices and processes) for marketing excellence. Training programs, and ALL marketers, must adhere to this framework in the same way all functional areas must adhere with the Corporate Business Plan established by the CEO. Without the stewardship of the CMO and the institutionalization of proven principles, best practices and quality processes, marketing training programs are merely window dressing, no matter how well intentioned. They look good on paper but fail to live-up to their promise where it really counts, with superior performance in the marketplace, simply because they are not faithfully adopted, and practiced, as the new standard of operations.


The CMO is the conductor; the marketing organization is the orchestra. Without the conductor the orchestra has little or no basis for comportment in a manner that will lead to a harmonious, fully integrated performance. Each musician, or marketer, will be reading from a different composition, guided by his/her sensibility as opposed to the vision, framework and guidance of the conductor in coming together to produce a great performance that will connect deeply with its audience (target-customer segment) as measured by superior business results.


Who’s at fault if the strings are not working in harmony with the woodwinds? Who’s at fault is it if the percussion instruments come in at the wrong time? The conductor is at fault as surely as the CMO is at fault if his marketing teams operate with different marketing plan, or brand positioning strategy, or creative brief, formats. The buck starts and stops with the CMO. It is the responsibility of the CMO to leverage the talent in the marketing organization to make it great.


Where does mid-level marketing management fit into marketing excellence? These are the senior product/brand managers, group managers and directors. They have a significant role in achieving marketing excellence. Their role is to institutionalize, and reinforce on a daily basis, those best practices and quality processes established by the CMO. However, left to their own devices this level of management will fail those whom are under their supervision, the CMO, and the organization. The vast majority of these managers believe they “know this stuff” and don’t need to partake in the same formal training programs as theirg direct reports. They feel that they have more important things to do and therefore can’t spare the time to train for, and lead their people in, the mission. It may be compared to a team captain who is so preoccupied with his own performance and stats that he abandons team play and his responsibility to galvanize the team in playing at its best. In many other instances it is immature development on the part of these mid-level managers regarding a lack of knowledge-based experience about what it takes to lead and advance the organization. Therefore, the CMO must ensure that mid-level managers get on board and act responsibly as team captains for the sake of superior team performance, and set an example for superior leadership.


Individual marketers cannot be excused in their responsibility either. It is absolutely unacceptable for a musician to begin a performance before his instrument is tuned. Likewise it is absolutely unacceptable for the marketer not to tune his instrument through continuous learning for self-development and growth, consistent with the CMO’s framework and direction for the organization. This is not merely about participating in formal training events and checking off that box. It has to be about putting the learning into action. It also has to be about creating expectations for a given marketing initiative and inspecting (that is measuring) for that which was expected. It’s about learning from everything the marketer does.


Barriers to Marketing Excellence

It seems there are far too many barriers to achieving marketing excellence. Several are embedded in much of what has already been pondered.

  • Not having a clear definition of what is marketing excellence and what are its components
  • No clear responsibility (and accountability) for setting goals for, and achieving, marketing excellence
  • Forfeiture by the CMO of his role in creating a framework for marketing excellence and/or enforcing it
  • Absence of someone with marketing experience leading marketing
  • Absence of a common framework for key mission functions such as marketing planning, and brand positioning and marketing communications development
  • Mid-level management not accepting its role (as evidenced by not gaining training) to institutionalize and reinforce the marketing excellence framework
  •  No, or poorly conceived, marketing training program
  • ·Focus on a competency model for training (how to play) versus a mission based development model (blueprint to win) that links directly to marketplace performance
  • Lack of intellectual rigor in analyzing marketplace results against expectations
  • Poor integration among various functional areas within the company (silo mentality)
  • Absence of adaptive experiments in the marketplace
  • No accountability for ROI for marketing activities
  • Cutting or eliminating marketing funding for market testing of marketing activities perpetuating organizational ignorance
  • Ascent of dogma versus adoption of proven principles, best practices and quality processes
  • Poor understanding or appreciation for the role and capabilities of marketing in contributing to brand and business health

… among many others.


Perhaps, at the heart of it all, is an attitude that “good is good enough.” Good is not good enough. “Good is the enemy of great.” Nothing is good enough but “excellence.” There’s another saying that goes “a client gets what a client demands (or deserves).” The CMO must demand marketing excellence from herself, her people and the organization, and accept nothing less.


The Learning Organization

The ultimate path to marketing excellence is the creation of a learning organization. A learning organization is not one that offers a plethora of marketing training programs. That’s a university of sorts. Instead, a learning organization is one that truly understands what drives brand and business development, and how to do so in a way that optimizes its performance. Similar to the litigator who never ever poses a question to a witness for which she doesn’t know how that witness will respond, the learning organization never ever launches a marketing initiative on a broadscale basis (or counts on it to deliver the business objectives of sales, market share and profits) without knowing its performance and ROI from in-market testing. The learning organization doesn’t reinvent the wheel year after year, or whenever a new marketing manager comes into the picture. It builds upon what it knows, facts, proven principles, best practices and quality processes - not opinions. It employs a disciplined process to learn from each experience, share that learning and build upon it to drive even better performance.


The learning organization has a memory that is built from thoughtful analysis and sharing of learning. It goes about studying and analyzing performance in a way that is not so different than undertaking a clinical study for a new pharmaceutical compound. It starts with hypotheses and checks them out before declaring it a blockbuster.


According to Peter Senge, author of the Fifth Discipline, a learning organization “is continually expanding it capacity to create its own future … (where) ‘adaptive learning’ must be joined by ‘generative learning,’ learning that enhances our capacity to create.” Creating a learning organization is the ultimate in achieving and perpetuating marketing excellence.



How do we go from here to marketing excellence? Here are some suggestions worth pondering and, where appropriate to your situation, action:

1.     Define Marketing Excellence – We need to get real. Marketing excellence is not just a label. It has to be about substance. Make it about marketplace performance!

2.     Provide Thought Leadership – This refers to the functioning of the organization (or your brand). What must I do to make it more productive? What must be put in place (not merely different people, which is the easy excuse for failure, but proven principles, best practices and quality processes) to achieve superior performance? This role needs to be undertaken by the CMO if s/he is to leverage the organization and build a winning team. But if the CMO is not stepping-up to the plate (or even if s/he is) then you need to do it, at your level, for the brand team.

3.     Determine where you stand – Do you know where your brand or organization stands as it relates to achieving marketing excellence? Conduct a “marketing readiness” audit for your brand and/or organization to learn where you stand on the continuum from “marketing emergence” to “brand marketing excellence.” Competency models will not help you determine it. They deal with requisite skills for individual marketers. What we need, instead, is to adopt a model that addresses organizational performance. The marketing readiness audit will enable you to gain a fix on the performance of your brand and/or organization. (If you are interested, we can assist you in developing and conducting a “marketing readiness” audit. Moreover, we will provide you with an objective view of where you stand with regard to marketing excellence.)

4.     Set High Standards – The legendary adman, Leo Burnett, stated “When you reach for the stars you might not quite get one, but you won’t come-up with a handful of mud either.” Champions set exceedingly high standards for themselves, regardless of their field of endeavor. Then they go about their work of perfecting themselves, and seeking help from others, in their quest to attain their goals, goals that also-rans consider unreachable.

5.     Institutionalize – Everybody needs to get on the same page, regardless of management level. Everyone needs to commit her or himself to not just reaching for the stars but the framework to achieve marketing excellence. S/he needs to adopt the framework, live and evangelize it. If the team does not pull together on this practice then success will be fortuitous or sporadic at best. Without institutionalization you may win an occasional game but then that’s not winning a championship. Practice is mandatory, not optional!

6.     Enlist everyone is in marketing - Peter Drucker stated that the organization has two functions: marketing; and innovation. Ultimately, everyone in the organization must be involved in marketing if it is to achieve excellence. Members of the Board, customer service representatives, finance, manufacturing, every person and department needs to consider its role, not from an individual silo, but as part of the whole in achieving superior performance in winning customers in the marketplace, to create brand loyalty.

7.     Serve Creatively – One of our primary roles as marketers is to better serve our customers than competition. But what once was the standard for service is now a commodity. It’s generic. It’s gone beyond being an advantage to being a disadvantage. Here’s where innovation MUST come into play. Ideas can have a profound impact on delighting and, therefore, winning customers. Generate tons of ideas. Take lots of shot on goal. The more shots we take the greater the likelihood that we will eventually score with a BIG Idea.

8.     Get SMART - SMART is the acronym for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant (in terms of leading to the achievement of the Business Objectives of sales, market share and profits in the marketing plan) and Timebound. Marketing excellence is about being SMART. It’s doing the right things in a way that is SMART. It’s about making marketing matter (more).

9.     Measure Twice, Cut Once – This is a practice of master carpenters. It needs to be a practice of marketers intent on creating a learning organization and achieving marketing excellence. While we may generate many ideas, these are nothing but hypotheses. Now they need to be tested for proven performance in the absolute and relative to other options. We need to pre-test with marketing research before in-market testing. Then we need to market test prior to rolling-out or launching on a broadscale basis. We need to measure for ROI. DO NOT CUT THE MARKETING TESTING BUDGET! It will undermine marketing’s ability to create future performance. We need to measure to ensure we are making our marketing matter (more).

10. Take One Step At A Time – “That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” stated Apollo 11 astronaut, Neil Armstrong, as he was the first man to step on the surface of the moon. It took many years, millions of dollars and the work of many to make this historic mission successful. Achieving marketing excellence and developing a learning organization will not happen immediately. You can’t get from here (determined by the results of the “marketing readiness” audit highlighted in point 3) to there yesterday, overnight or, perhaps, not even next year. It will require an iterative approach with clear priorities. Depending where you currently stand it could take a few years, particularly if you are stuck in stage one of the BDNI Brand Marketing Excellence Continuum, “marketing emergence.”


BDNI Brand Marketing Excellence Continuum

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Brand Marketing
Brand Marketing


 In this case you would need to move to stage 2, “brand marketing performance,” and then on to stage 3, “brand marketing excellence.” Is it possible to jump stages? Yes, but it is not likely since it requires clear priorities, focus, commitment and an incredible amount of work. Additionally, the organization needs to conduct adaptive experiments to gain the knowledge it needs to develop into a learning organization. Here’s a sample of potential priorities for brands and/or organizations to reach the first stage, “marketing emergence,” in the BDNI Brand Marketing Excellence Continuum:


Sample Stage 1 Priorities in the

“Brand” Marketing Excellence Continuum

Stage 1 Marketing Emergence
Priority Action 1

  Create MBO (Marketing By Objectives) Marketing Plans

Priority Action 2   Develop Brand Positioning Strategies to transform the
  organization from "selling products" to "marketing brands"
Priority Action 3   Set quantifiable expectations for all marketing mix initiatives
  and identify ways to measure
* Taken from the BDNI Brand Marketing Emergence Model


Perhaps, we (at BDNI) can be of service. If you’d like help in making your marketing matter (more), through developing and conducting an objective  “marketing readiness” audit, creating a specific “marketing excellence migration plan” to move your brand and/or organization through the BDNI “brand marketing excellence continuum,” developing and/or conducting training to achieve marketing’s mission, creating a competitive brand positioning strategy, etc., please don’t hesitate to let us know.


Best wishes in achieving marketing excellence!


Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney



Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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