Peter Drucker on Marketing

Peter DruckerLong ago Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, made a very profound observation that has been lost in the sands of time:

Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Today, when top management is surveyed, their priorities in order are finance, sales, production, management, legal and people. Missing from the list: marketing and innovation. When one considers the trouble that many of our icons have run into in recent years, it is not easy to surmise that Drucker’s advice would have perhaps helped management to avoid the problems they face today.

Ironically, David Packard of Hewlett-Packard fame once observed that “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people.” But as the years rolled on, rather than learn about marketing and innovation, executives started to search for role models instead of marketing models.

Tom Peters probably gave this trend a giant boost with the very successful book he co-authored, In Search of Excellence. Excellence, as defined in that book, didn’t equal longevity, however, as many of the role models offered there have since foundered. In retrospect, a better title for the book might have been In Search of Strategy.

A popular method-by-example book has been Built to Last by James Collins and Jerry Porras. In it, they write glowingly about “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” that turned the likes of Boeing, Wal-Mart Stores, General Electric, IBM and others into the successful giants they have become.

The companies that the authors of Built to Last suggest for emulation were founded from 1812 (Citicorp) to 1945 (Wal-Mart). These firms didn’t have to deal with the intense competition in today’s global economy. While there is much you can learn from their success, they had the luxury of growing up when business life was a lot simpler. As a result, these role models are not very useful for companies today.

There is a growing legion of competitors coming at new businesses from every corner of the globe. Technologies are ever changing. The pace of change is faster. It is increasingly difficult for CEOs to digest the flood of information out there and make the right choices.

But a CEO can have a future.

The trick to surviving out there is not to stare at the balance sheet but simply to know where you must go to find success in a market. That’s because no one can follow you (the board, your managers, your employees) if you don’t know where you’re headed.

How do you find the proper direction? To become a great strategist, you have to put your mind in the mud of the marketplace. You have to find your inspiration down at the front, in the ebb and flow of the great marketing battles taking place in the mind of the prospect. Here is a four-step process to pursue:

Step 1: Make Sense in the Context

Arguments are never made in a vacuum. There are always surrounding competitors trying to make arguments of their own. Your message has to make sense in the context of the category. It has to start with what the marketplace has heard and registered from your competition.

What you really want to get is a quick snapshot of the perceptions that exist in the mind, not deep thoughts.

What you’re after are the perceptual strengths and weaknesses of you and your competitors as they exist in the minds of the target group of customers.

Step 2: Find the Differentiating Idea

To be different is to be not the same. To be unique is to be one of its kinds.

So you’re looking for something that separates you from your competitors. The secret to this understands that your difference does not have to be product related.

Consider a horse. Yes, horses are quickly differentiated by their type. There are racehorses, jumpers, ranch horses, wild horses and on and on. But racehorses can be differentiated by breeding, by performance, by stable, by the trainer and so forth.

Step 3: Have the Credentials

There are many ways to set your company or product apart. Let’s just say the trick is to find that difference and then use it to set up a benefit for your customer.

To build a logical argument for your difference, you must have the credentials to support your differentiating idea, to make it real and believable.

If you have a product difference, then you should be able to demonstrate that difference. The demonstration, in turn, becomes your credentials. If you have a leak-proof valve, then you should be able to have a direct comparison with valves that can leak.

Claims of difference without proof are really just claims. For example, a “wide-track” Pontiac must be wider than other cars. British Airways as the “world’s favorite airline” should fly more people than any other airline. Coca-Cola as the “real thing” has to have invented colas.

You can’t differentiate with smoke and mirrors. Consumers are skeptical. They’re thinking, “Oh yeah, Mr. Advertiser? Prove it!” You must be able to support your argument.

It’s not exactly like being in a court of law. It’s more like being in the court of public opinion, especially with the rise of social media.

Step 4: Communicate Your Difference

Just as you can’t keep your light under a basket, you can’t keep your difference under wraps.

If you build a differentiated product, the world will not automatically beat a path to your door. Better products don’t win. Better perceptions tend to be the winners. The truth will not win out unless it has some help along the way.

Every aspect of your communications should reflect your difference. Your advertising. Your brochures. Your web site. Your sales presentations.

The folks who work for or with you don’t need mystical answers on “How do I unlock my true potential?” The question they need answering is, “What makes this company different?”

That answer gives them something to latch onto, and run with.

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Reduce the Fear

People often experience fear and concern over what is happening or not happening as they perceive it.  As a leader, how do you manage fear?

A good piece of advice from Olivia Blanchard chief economist of the IMF was: “first and foremost, reduce uncertainty….Above all, adopt clear policies and act decisively”. When people have a clear mission then they can transform anxiety into action and productivity.

People need the opportunity, a warning as it were, so they can put themselves in the right frame of mind. When people are aware there is a looming disaster or threat prepare themselves better and become more resilient.

To help your team master their fear, and to use it judo-like to their and your benefit, help them by taking these three steps:

  • Recognize that you and they are afraid – if you can’t be honest with yourself and them about this then you can’t expect them to be.  Being prepared to admit you are afraid and ready to face your fear is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. It also stops people from letting the fear fester causing their energy and self-confidence to be eroded.
  • Frame the situation as an opportunity – this helps people to think more innovatively and creatively.  To quote “When you focus on problems, you’ll have more problems.  When you focus on possibilities, you’ll have more opportunities”  In changing times what got you here won’t get you there.  You need to get different results, and to get different results you need to behave and think differently. As Einstein put it “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
  • Develop a sense of urgency – help them use and focus their liberated energy and enthusiasm to take action and get some “quick wins” whilst building for the longer-term.

Fear is only in our mind, so use your mind to “throw” it to your advantage.  By doing you also help others to do the same for themselves and become more resilient, flexible and adaptable in the process.

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Welcome to the Executive Insights blog!

Welcome!

My name is Andrew Cooke and I run Blue Sky GPS which brings you the Blue Sky GPS Executive Insights blog. Here we look to provide you with regular, practical, thought-leadership that you can use to improve your leadership effectiveness and to raise organizational performance.

Through the blog you can share the latest ideas, insights, tools, techniques and experiences not only from Blue Sky GPS, but also other leading commentators including Marshall Goldsmith with whom Andrew Cooke is closely allied with as an associate coach in the Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching (MGSCC) process for successful executives.  Marshall has been recognized by Harvard Business Review as the #1 Executive Coach and #7 Business Thinker globally, and is the author of many leading business books.

I am passionate about helping successful executives become more successful and, in doing so, to help them help others and their teams become more successful in turn. In doing this leadership is shared, cascaded and the skills, competencies and capabilities of the organization grown and leveraged.

This blog is not storefront but a forum and we encourage you to share your ideas, insights and experiences with others; to ask questions of the community; and to help others to help you in growing and developing each other.

I look forward to seeing you here, and I hope you enjoy the shared thought-leadership – and don’t to forget to share what you find with others!

All the best, Andrew

To find out more and discuss this and other ways to improve leadership effectiveness and organizational performance further contact Andrew Cooke (MGSCC), call Andrew Cooke on +61 (0)401 842 673 or andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

You can also find further insights and a wealth of material on business and leadership on Andrew’s other blog – Growth & Profit Solution Blog. There are also a large number of resources at his Blue Sky GPS Website, and these can be found at Blue Sky GPS Resources.

About Andrew Cooke & Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions)