Contact Us | User Login  
Program Competencies
Our Blog


PDF Version



Sunday, October 30, 2011



The passing of Steve Jobs, with all the media coverage and retrospectives on his accomplishments, has definitely triggered many sound-bytes—in the form of lessons to be learned from his approaches to innovation, to marketing, and ultimately, to brand-building. So much has been said that it’s difficult to find just one or two “labels” to place next to his name. For us, though, one description that is so obvious that it seems not to have been much mentioned is that, at the most basic level, Steve Jobs was an idea person. No, actually, more than that, throughout his career he was a BIG IDEA person.


Steve Jobs has also been called the consummate marketer…THE marketer of his generation, maybe for all generations. These two traits—being an idea person and being a marketer—certainly go together. Throughout our careers we have always believed that marketing people are inherently idea people, champions of all kinds of ideas: product ideas, package ideas, promotion ideas, merchandising ideas, communication ideas and so on. So strongly have we believed in this fundamental notion that we regularly exhort our consulting and training clients to “keep pushing their organizations for more and better ideas.”


What’s sometimes frustrating—both for us and for many of our younger marketer-clients--is that all too often their push for ideas receives “push back” from their senior marketing management…you know, along the lines of “Has anyone else in the category ever done this?” and “Not sure we want to be the first to do this.” Even more discouraging, many younger marketers find themselves buried in day-to-day, virtually mindless activities such as responding to 100 emails or revising report-decks for the tenth time. It seems that so many marketing organizations today are caught up the old “85% rule”: spending 85% of their time in doing tasks and only 15% of their time, if they’re lucky, thinking—about strategy and new ideas. Surely such an out-of-whack use of time cannot be the way that Steve Jobs and his teams created and designed the iPod, iPhone and iPad in such a tight window of time?


As a small but illustrative case in point (about the dearth of ideas in a category), we recently spent some time with a client in the highly competitive skincare category. In fact, this client has a number of leading brands within that category. As we mentioned in last week’s Dispatches, in a visit to their “design headquarters,” where they focus on developing both architectural and graphic designs for their skincare brands’ packaging, we were struck by a wall-display in one of their conference rooms. This display comprised print ads from many of their competitors, as well as ones from their own brands. (It’s actually a great practice to do this—to consciously gather all the communications from a given medium and put them on an office wall, and to then assess which brands “pop” from the crowd. You know, which brands have that one thing that all clients demand from their creative agencies: Impact.) But here’s the funny thing: every ad on the wall display looked virtually the same as all the others. Each had the requisite large photo of a model with amazing skin. Each had a similarly-sized, large package shot, typically placed in the lower right-hand corner of the page. Oh yeah, and each had no creative idea. Okay, the one thing that each did not typically share was a brand color (such as green for Garnier, red for Revlon, and blue for…hmmmm, well, more than just one brand). Unfortunately, a brand color does not an idea make.


So, being struck by this wall display, we asked our client the obvious question, “Why do all of these communications look the same—without any creative ideas?” The initial reply went something like this: “You have to understand that skincare is different. There are certain rules you need to follow so that consumers will always recognize our/their brand. That’s why, for example, getting the colors and layout pattern the same nearly every single time is so important. Our consumers flip through these women’s magazines and look for their brand—to see what’s new.” As for the lack of creative ideas, the client took issue: “No, having this particular model is our idea. No other brand has her under contract; she represents our brand.”


To be blunt, this kind of thinking is not only nonsense, it’s the exact opposite of what you would hear from marketers at Apple, Dove and Clinique (skincare!), MasterCard, and even from such an everyday, low-involvement brand such as Duracell. Marketers at these companies, and presumably their senior managements, seem to be much more into ideas. Maybe they have taken a long look at their own category’s “wall display” sometime in the past and concluded that you cannot possibly gain impact, let alone involvement from your customers, by taking on the look of the herd. And when so many products in so many categories today perform about the same, why would anyone invest in marketing mix elements that also look the same?


So, what’s to be done? Well, we think that just as more and better ideas are needed for brand marketers everywhere, so is a better idea needed for marketing organizations everywhere. Call it a new model, if you like. For sure, some companies are already employing a new model—one that demands and rewards ideas from its marketing organization. For this week’s Boats & Helicopters, we offer a few “basics” for implementing such a new idea, a new model for marketing.


BOATS & HELICOPTERS—Toward a New Idea for the Marketing Organization

  1. Hire different people. The old model of hiring virtually 100% MBA’s is outdated and out of synch with today’s “age of sameness” marketplace. More than ever before, marketing organizations need a steady flow of ideas—both strategic and executional—to have a chance at winning. We would propose no more than 33% of the marketing organization be composed of MBA-types. The other 66% should be designers, those with communication and digital agency experience, trend-watchers, and cultural anthropologists. 
  1. Set expectations and reward differently. Instead of incentivizing toward an annual bonus with only business performance and “project list” completion goals, reward at least 50% of the bonus on the number and quality of ideas delivered (or under assessment).
  1. Establish an idea-flow culture. This means that each marketer has some responsibility for creating a flow of ideas. It does not mean that each marketer must personally come up with the ideas…only that he or she establishes teams and supplier relationships that will keep new ideas—of all kinds—coming. To institutionalize such a culture, in fact, regular “staff” meetings that typically review project progress are replaced with idea sharing and building sessions.
  1. Present annual marketing plans differently. Rather than drown everyone with endless data and situation reviews, keep these to a pre-set minimum (say, for example, to no more than 15 critical info slides). And add a key section that outlines the breadth of ideas the brand plans to pursue, across all key marketing mix elements. Indicate, as part of this “Master Brand Idea Plan” what resources will be used to generate, develop, and test new ideas.
  1. Rename the marketing organization. While this would be the least actionable part of the new model, it could be a real important psychological one. To label a marketing organization as “Marketing Analysis & Planning” is clearly not indicative of the idea-generating responsibility one expects. Something as simple as “Marketing Ideation,” on the other hand, makes perfectly clear what the senior management, even the entire Company, expects.

Richard Czerniawski & 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

© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.

  Home | About Us | Contact Us | Site Map | Help

© 2007 Brand Development Network Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Site Web Master: Vincent Sevedge. Designed by
Call us: 800-255-9831
[Print Page]

Open 5-2008 BP&MCC Online Assessment