Defining marketing excellence


Marketing excellence is sometimes confused with marketing complexity, but by implementing a clear, straightforward process that involves people from all departments, creativity can be allowed to flourish.

Perhaps the question is not 'what is marketing excellence?' but 'what should excellence look like and how would you know you had achieved it?'

If we accept Dr Philip Kotler's view that marketing is about the creation and exchange of value, we would have a good starting point. In that case marketing excellence would be a fair and equitable exchange of value that satisfied both parties optimally – but how would we achieve that ideal state?

The first major challenge to be overcome is the word 'marketing' itself. All too often marketing defines itself within an organisation by the function of marketing, the department, the people with marketing in their job title, rather than settling around the process, concept or orientation that should really define it.

"Team members from other functions may feel regretfully disconnected from marketing and believe that all things 'marketing' are someone else's responsibility"

In this way team members from other functions may feel regretfully disconnected from marketing and believe that all things 'marketing' are someone else's responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth, as it is everyone's role to engage around the customer to create and exchange value.

For marketing, as we have defined it, to work well, a number of key factors must be in place:

• High quality customer insight

• Clear and structured decision making

• High quality planning and team engagement

• Thorough and thoughtful execution

Customer insight

This has become something of a 'management Bingo' phrase in recent years. Often quoted as one of the vital ingredients, few really consider what the words mean. For anyone who has looked, an internet trawl is seldom forthcoming with answers. The best definition I have found is one by GfK: 'An Insight is a breakthrough of understanding with the potential to drive change'. The implication of this is that unless it enables an organisation to do something different, it is not an insight.

Insights rarely emerge fully formed from market research, but need careful crafting and honing from what may be an innocuous observation. This may be a whole team effort or something hypothesised by a single individual.

One of my favourite insights from the consumer world comes from Castrol Asia. The company realised it was losing traction in its truck engine oils division and wanted to take a new slant. The initial finding was that truck drivers themselves were key players in the selection of engine oil. The insightful step was that trucks held a special place in the lives of the drivers, who often spent many weeks away from their families in their cabs. Furthermore, each driver built an emotional attachment to the truck and saw it as a family member; in fact, it was seen very much as their partner in life.

Therefore, because of these feelings, a driver would spare no expense to lavish the very best on his truck. This insight enabled Castrol to launch a highly effective campaign targeted at the emotional attachment that drivers feel for their trucks and to boost sales of CRB Turbo, one of their premium engine lubricant brands.

"Behind such high quality insights is often in-depth, qualitative, sometimes ethnographic, research that really gets under the skin of customers"

Behind such high quality insights is often in-depth, qualitative, sometimes ethnographic, research that really gets under the skin of customers or users. Like all research, it is painstaking and seldom involves a flash of light.

Decision making

This can be rather ponderous in our industry. The old adage, 'success has many fathers, but failure only one' must be at the back of many people's minds when a large decision looms. Of course we all want the glory of making a successful decision, but we also know that around every real success, a throng will quickly gather to claim the credit. Similarly, we know that a less successful decision will not attract that same sea of faces looking to bask, and we may be left standing alone and exposed.

The answer is to employ robust and dispassionate decision-making frameworks that enable us to draw others into the decision and its underlying assumptions. It's just as important for team engagement as for the quality of the decision that we involve as many others as we can, both our peers and superiors, in the decision and its assumptions. The choice of models is up to us, but they do need to be both tried and tested and reliable.

Planning and engagement

The act of planning is not only a way of documenting the return on investment we expect as we enter an uncertain future, but an essential way of engaging our fellow cross-functional team members. A well-run planning process should cover all the analytical stages needed and set out the actions for the coming year. It should also help us to manage the risks we inevitably face, and set out our assumptions and contingencies clearly should those assumptions not materialise. The plan codifies our thinking and is a vital document.

Thoughtful execution

With the planning process done, at last we can get on and act! But hold on. Too many times we simply execute the same list of tactics year after year with barely a thought for their effectiveness. How often do we pause and ask whether our activities are actually aligned with the CSFs we spent so long developing. Do we ever consider whether we actually executed last year's tactics before ploughing on and attempting to do it all again? Einstein's quote that 'the definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions over and over expecting a different result' surely typifies this repeat cycle.

So for me, marketing excellence at its most basic is simply taking time and care to ensure that the simple aspects of good marketing are done thoughtfully and well, using creativity and invention to make every component as good as it can be. It doesn't have to be obscure to be good; it doesn't have to be complicated to be excellent.

As Angelique Arnold (1591-1661), the philosophical French abbess, said: 'Excellence is not about doing extraordinary things, but about doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.'


About the author:

Jonathan is managing director of Redbow Consulting Group and specialises in pharmaceutical strategy and marketing. Call him on +44 1403 289318 or email

Have your say: What does marketing excellence mean to you?


7 October, 2014