Just add water

We like to believe that marketing excellence is a straightforward process to implant in our organisations, but it is far from that as Jonathan Dancer argues.

“A bead of sweat ran from his brow as Lee carefully emptied the contents of the plain white sachet into a glass of water. As a new starter at Optima Pharmaceuticals, he had been given the Marketing Excellence 1.01 starter pack on his first day. The metallic looking powder fizzed into life as it hit the water and then dissolved quickly, leaving a clear green liquid covered in a wispy layer of what looked like smoke. Gulping back the strawberry flavoured potion, everything suddenly snapped into focus…”

…if only it were really possible. We all know that it isn’t that easy to create ‘Marketing Excellence’ within a business, but it is remarkable how many people believe that creating a set of templates and some process flow diagrams is akin to finding the ingredients of a magic potion and that marketing excellence will spring up and propagate before our very eyes as if we had spoken an incantation over our companies.

The creation of marketing excellence relies on the navigation of three fundamental challenges:

1. It must be seen as organisation-wide to develop sufficient leverage

2. It constitutes a change process

3. It is a journey that is never truly complete

So, what actually is ‘marketing excellence’? I was once asked to design and run an in-house programme called ‘Advanced Marketing’ – the very title seemed a challenge. I reflected for a while and concluded that there can only be ‘marketing’ or ‘not marketing’, that marketing can certainly be good or bad, effective or ineffective, but that it doesn’t make sense to qualify it with words like ‘advanced’. In many ways, I find the term ‘Marketing Excellence’ just as troublesome, implying as it does that without this particular patina, marketing is just ordinary. It’s more helpful to see the words as a form of shorthand, a label that helps everyone to know we are talking about the same thing and heading in the same direction. Even having named it of course, marketing excellence can still mean different things to different people.

“In many ways, I find the term ‘Marketing Excellence’ just as troublesome…”


There is a more or less accepted checklist of the steps needed to achieve marketing excellence, even if what needs to be included is a little more open to debate:

• Run a diagnostic

• Develop a marketing competency framework

• Design a training curriculum

• Create standards, glossary, key models

• Review and refine the planning process

• Build a set of templates

• Agree how to source and process customer insights

• Implement and anchor in the organisational fabric

Whilst marketing excellence programmes vary hugely in both their essence and structure, they generally seek to achieve the same thing, namely an organisation-wide high quality approach to marketing. I adhere to Kotler’s definition of marketing, which I paraphrase as “a social and managerial process by which individuals and groups … create and exchange value“. Once excellent marketing is embedded, we should then be well on our way towards Kotler Nirvana.

However, the true implication of Kotler’s words for pharma – that our job to successfully create, articulate and exchange the value of our brands, with such sophisticated customers bears some reflection. It is actually a task that lies well beyond the scope of a single Brand Manager’s role.

This leads us to the first challenge of excellent marketing, which is that it is not confined to the marketing department. Our Medical, Sales and HEOR colleagues are firstly pivotal to the creation and expression of value and secondly highly unlikely to consider themselves as ‘marketers’. We must achieve a very high level of connectedness, which can only come from a clear sense or what marketing is and what it is not.

“Organisations need to understand firstly what excellence looks like, how it will feel, what it will mean and why it will be beneficial…”


The second challenge is highlighted by the check list approach. Organisations are not machines which can be subjected to a service schedule or a software upgrade, they are adaptive organic structures composed of people, groups and divergent interests. Any programme that seeks to change fundamentals such as the way marketing operates inside an organisation must take full account of the scale of change involved and adopt a structured approach to avoid or manage resistance.

Intrinsic to any change process is a powerful vision of the future and a clear situation analysis. Organisations need to understand firstly what excellence looks like, how it will feel, what it will mean and why it will be beneficial and secondly to have a clear sense of where the business is now and what it still needs to do to achieve the vision.

The final challenge is perhaps the most elusive, which is that the journey never actually ends. It will begin in any one of a number of places depending on where an organisation already is; and of course knowing where to start is just as important as knowing where you want to end up, but the fact that there is no final destination can be intimidating. Marketing excellence is above all a state of continuous improvement, a philosophy by which a team can work to increase the success and relevance of the value exchange with its customers.

There are many stock formulas and off-the shelf packages, but there will be no magic potion or spoken incantation here, marketing excellence is about hard work and universal application.


About the author:

Jonathan Dancer is Managing Director of redbow consulting group and specialises in Pharmaceutical Strategy and Marketing. If you would like to discuss how redbow can create value for your business, please call Jonathan on +44 1403 289318 or email info@redbowconsulting.com for an initial discussion.

What does the term “marketing excellence” mean to you?