How Marketing Can Help Change the Future of the World.

A Presentation to the key players in  Leading Hotels of the World In Dublin, Autumn 2010

I was dipping into a book the other day by Tom Peters, the management guru and author, called “Thriving on Chaos”. It was written in 1989.

In 1989 we thought the world was a pretty hairy place with events like these:

  • The fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • The Exxon Valdez oil disaster.
  • In Beijing the student protest and massacre inTiananmen Square.
  • Earthquakes in America and Australia.
  • Pan Am filing for chapter 11.
  • The Soviet Union‘s withdrawal from Afghanistan after 10 years.


Yes, and déjà vu to us now.

But while some things seem game changing, like the overturning of political hierarchies in the USSR and China, Pan Am apart the global economies were relatively stable.

Yet compared to what the world has seen since 2007, events in 1989 were extremely nasty storms not the hurricanes we’ve been recently experiencing.

“It’s the economy stupid” said Bill Clinton when asked the key to winning the US Presidential Election.

The uncertainty of recent times is epic.

We have twice looked over the brink of global economic meltdown.

And are again in Europe…is anyone here from Greece by the way?

Europe has not gone through such fundamental change since the Industrial Revolution….the old order of stability and predictable cycles is over forever.

But I feel a huge sense of optimism.

Because I believe in the brains, humanity and resourcefulness of the human race…I also believe in marketing.


Apart from anything else, let’s face it, to stand here and give a keynote address in the lair of the Celtic Tiger, albeit a Tiger temporarily neutered, proclaiming we are all doomed would be depressing and put you off your food.

As Kevin Roberts CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi put it:

“For the first time the consumer is boss, which is fascinatingly, frightening, scary and terrifying because everything we used to do, everything we used to know, will no longer work.”

So forget what you knew yesterday. The world is a changing place. And the consumer won’t put up with old excuses.

Anything can happen…and will…in life and in markets.

 Because uncertainty is the one thing you can be sure of.

But most of all we (and our peers) need to understand that it is marketing brilliance which inspires my optimism and that will get us out of the mess the creative financiers have got us into.

If I do nothing else I want you marketers to go back and say to your Finance people after this event in Dublin (after this we’ll call everything AD – afterDublin):

“if you think you have a right to the baton of change hand it back right now. It’s the consumer who is boss and it’s we, in marketing, that represent, understand and interpret what they really want.

That should make you really popular.

Today I’m going to focus on these things.

  1. Change. This extreme world is so fast moving that strategies become outdated even as you write them. In the late 20th Century as Paul Volckner and Tyoo Gyohten observed in their book “Changing Fortunes” it was fast-moving enough: “What is long term?” they said, “Probably ten minutes – that’s the way the market is moving these days.” Today it’s more like 10 seconds.
  2. Talent and teams. What it takes to market with brilliance when there is so much choice of media and everyone has such strong opinions. Our understanding of the people who buy into and buy our brands is what marks us out. And why ultimately we are irreplaceable.
  3. The role of inspiration and creativity. I love what Maurice Saatchi said – “creativity is the last legal way to gain an unfair advantage”. Our task is to engage our customers and inspire them. To present our brands in the best and most relevant light. Too much marketing today is frankly dull and I have found customers do not respond to dull things.
  4. The big issues of today. Those things on all people’s minds, to a greater or lesser extent that will influence or even transform the future of the world.
  5. Winning qualities. Those things that in my travels I observe as characteristics which help people succeed. No point having a great brand, a great plan, great creative work and to lack the personal sales leverage that will help you get internal buy-in.

Incidentally a key winning characteristic has to be having a highly developed sense of humour to debunk the seriousness which pervades marketing but not people at large…I even saw Jeremy Paxman laugh a few times during the election and Silvio Berlusconi does it a lot – shame about Mahmoud Ahmadinajad ofIranthough – so depressing.

But before I start, a word about Leading Hotels of the World – your brand and your issues.

Robert Pirsig who wrote the immortal “Zen and the Art of Motor Bike Maintenance” talked about the intuitive sense that people who were naturally born to manage great premium brands need to have:

“Quality doesn’t have to be defined…you must understand it without definition.”

This is true of literature, music, art, wine, beauty in any sense…you have to have an eye, a nose an ear for it.

The not-so-good or the mercenaries who don’t live the brand values get the sort of withering review that Lloyd Evans Theatre Critic of the Spectator gave “posh hotels” last week:

“They certainly like to create the illusion of limitless choice with their 24 hour service, but the reality is they only give you what they feel like when they feel like giving it to you. The contract is based on mistrust rather than hospitality. Their motive is self interest and the visitor’s only means of leverage is bribery so he never quite shakes off the feeling he’s a hostage, albeit with a walk in shower and some handy little bottles of triple moisturising hand wash.”


That and AA Gill’s restaurant review of Petrus in the Sunday Times Magazine two weeks ago:

“Everything about this restaurant, this food, this service, is hopelessly passé, utterly has-been. So, so, completely, defunctly dead. It’s sad that anybody could still want to create a room this inhospitable and offer an evening that implies such an utter lack of sensitivity or understanding or contemporary awareness…”

Double ouch.

Being a leading anything is not enough unless you live up to your reputation and the expectations of your customer, 24/7. Remember Kevin Roberts – “the consumer is boss”.

And don’t worry about being paranoid – Andy Gove co-founder of Intel noted that “only the paranoid survive” – and he survived brilliantly so I’m inclined to go with his sentiments.

You live in that Japanese world, ”kaizen”, of “continuous improvement”; of an ever upward climb up a mountain called “quality”; of being able to see what Tom Peters said is true – “you can’t shrink your way to greatness”;  of being unapologetic about luxury; of having your fingers firmly on the pulse of zeitgeist…what AA Gill was so outraged about first and foremost was that Petrus was marooned in the past with no sense of the contemporary context.

The best hotels, the best anything in the world will always seduce the customers who want quality.

The best survives. Mediocre does only for a while.

(And let me pause on mediocre. When Michael Parker became CEO of Nike he phoned Steve Jobs at Apple for his advice. Steve said he had one thing. ”You make so much great, sexy desirable stuff can you just get rid of the crappy things?” Death to mediocre from a master.)

Use as your battle cry that of the unknown heroine who has been much quoted (not least in the Huffington Post by Gretchen Rubin):-

“those who say money can’t buy you happiness don’t know where to shop”.

The toughest thing in the life of the luxury brand right now is the image of indulgence that can be purveyed in a world influenced by the Asian mantra of “better, faster, cheaper” – yet the good news is the Chinese are now the second biggest consumer of luxury brands in the world (accounting for 27.5% of global spend amounting to $9 billion, just behind Japan.)

So to paraphrase Clint Eastwood…”do you have a great brand, punk, well do you?”

Over the next decade the biggest marketing issue will be “how strong is your brand?” Is it strong enough to keep its most loyal customers loyal, pretty well come what may? Is it responding to the times in which we live? Does it parade both confidence and humility? Is it maintaining its ability to create news and interest? Is it an inspiring place to work?

A successful brand is also an entity which recognises that there are real people with strong views out there.  They are not “footfall”, nor “consumers”.

Stanley Marcus, owner of America’s best department store chain said “consumers are a statistical abstract;  what we have are customers”.

Let’s put the marketing challenge we all face into a broad context.

  • Everything is veering Eastwards towards Asia.
  • In the UK we have powerful creative and cultural industries and are number one in the Arts.
  • Europe remains the most desirable holiday attraction and culture and contains pockets of global manufacturing and inventive supremacy.
  • The world is opening up – the old hegemony is dead.
  • Our educational systems are what will save (or not) western society.
  • We need to train our guts more than our brains…especially as marketers.
  • And we need to foster positive thinking and proclaim extinction to negativism…. my bete noir is the cynic…the tsunami of enterprise.
  • Yet everything right now suggests we are, to use the technical term, knackered.
  • And we are running out of money which should remind us of what the physicist Lord Rutherford said: “we have no money so we shall have to think.”

So let’s think…

Let’s think about change. We all say we like it but virtually no one in the west actually does. What people really want is more of the same (unless you are poor and live in Asia in which case you want big change). But the truth is unless you embrace change you will become not just disadvantaged – you will quite simply become irrelevant.

In the past 50 years we have moved from Clockwork Orange to Orange Broadband. Our cars work (even poor old Toyota works brilliantly and what an example they are of the unthinkable becoming fact; of all Gods having feet of clay). We have in the west more choice than ever; a Tesco Superstore has 30,000 stock keeping units. Amazon has transformed the book market so books are cheaper than ever before as is a Michelin star lunch if you shop around and good Australian Merlot costs £5.

Oh, and you have to re-apply for your own job every so often which makes the art of doing CVs and interviews more important than anything else.

Technology has changed the way we think, work and talk to each other.

The modern way of working is not 9am to 5pm – the 35 hour working week with an hour a day for lunch – increasingly it’s a 60 or 70 hour week (but who’s counting?) with a complete blur between work and leisure. The Blackberry means people never stop working. But they don’t wear ties and they use every second they have to talk, to work, to learn and to think new stuff. (What do you think is happening at Google, Apple, Nintendo right now?)

In knowledge economies the thirst is always for more knowledge.

If you are to believe the Future Foundation who were asked by HSBC to do a study of the Future of Business in Britain, it is these characteristics especially its being a knowledge economy (over 40% of the working population have a degree) plus a rebelliousness of attitude towards bureaucracy which makes them identify Brighton (where I live) as one of the Super Cities of the future in Britain (alongside Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool and London).

And, at last week’s General Election in the UK, Brighton voted in the first ever Green MP. That’s real rebellious attitude for you.

Change is (of course) not just a product of the web, of social networking and a world where Generation Yers carry neither a watch, diary, pen nor a notebook because everything is on their I-Phone.

Change is always more about people than technology.

People who want to create a new status quo (in case you hadn’t noticed not many of these live in the public sector; they are mostly entrepreneurial SMEs, the sort of people I was describing as living in Brighton) people who live in one of these three niches:-

  • early adopters
  • opinion leaders
  • the bright 20 to 30 year olds (or people who think that young). These are people like Ed MacKay the legendary American Advertising man who believe “there’s nothing new under the sun but there’s always a better way” …always a better way – that’s what makes life so much fun.

In this changing world where the customer is boss they are experimental and promiscuous. The tendency to try out new things is rife and the success of new brands is intriguing.

Until a few years ago the top brands were typified as having been around a long time. Indeed of the top twenty, only two – Google and Microsoft – were post World War2 creations.

Today you can add Apple, ChinaMobile, ICBC, Walmart, Blackberry, Amazon, UPS, Tesco, Visa, Oracle and Verizon to that list…so now only 7 brands as opposed to 18 are pre 1940.

Thing are changing fast.

Finally our lives in a blink have transformed from ledgers, pen and paper, mental arithmetic, telegrams and phone boxes to Skype, broadband, GPS,  mobile communication and mobile libraries of music and literature: an open world and a real global world.

The working and social lives of the next generation have begun to transform. But I bet the best is yet to come.

But although this is a better and more enjoyable world – trust me I’ve lived in both – it’s more stressed and tiring than ever. The challenge is to deal with the speed of an accumulating workload. No one ever quite feels they are on top of anything. They are victims of a tyrannical virtual in-tray.

How does this impact on us as marketers?

It means we have a series of consumer issues to respond to:

  • stress and worse
  • making choice easier
  • being on the customers’ side
  • making being away from home a seamless not a challenging experience
  • living up to our reputation (an expensive advertisement or brochure are wrecked by two or three reviews saying “rubbish experience; they were rude and casual; I hated my cramped, noisy room”.)
  • trust is key. Reviews like that are destructive as are an unremitting list of 5* accolades which will be judged as a cynical fix. If I ask a friend who likes my book to review it on Amazon  I ask for 4*s or even 3*s and then to praise it. Research says this carries much more credibility.
  • being appreciated by PLUs (people like us) – often our best research is asking ourselves what we, ourselves really think

A final comment on technological changes.

Never talk about a digital strategy. It’s as odd as talking about a walking strategy or a poster strategy. An oxymoron. Digital is another medium – a useful, fast, conversational one, great at transmitting opinion but not the only show in town.

Not all information transmitted fast is good; pausing and thinking has a place.

My next theme is talent and team play.

It was Michael Jordan, the genius basketball player who said “individuals win matches but its teams and intelligence that win leagues.”

Yet we still harp on about leadership and not on teambuilding and diversity of teams.

Because we’re running out of management diversity – and here’s a statistic that really, really frightens me – 100,000 new MBAs are unloosed on us every year. By 2015 it feels like everyone will have an MBA…I exaggerate obviously…

And this lack-of-diversity issue scares me to hell.

Recently I was on a panel selecting a very senior executive– I’d been there watching as we, like moths to the flame, were drawn to CVs which showed the preferred candidates had done a similar job before, were a safe pair of hands, were dullish, were absolutely everything the Seth Godins of this world don’t want – were “Mr. Yesterdays” (yes, generally Mr and, do you know, it’s the women on our panel who were the most un-persuaded by female candidates not the men.)

This is a talent issue.

The “talent” word has been worrying me ever since I heard the “we must pay the bonuses or we’ll lose the talent” argument.

Because wasn’t this precisely the talent that had, with mathematical genius, steered us into the iceberg?

And then I found a book by Malcolm Gladwell called “What the Dog Saw”– a collection of his essays from the New Yorker Magazine.

And there’s one in it called “The Talent Myth. Are Smart People Over-rated?”

It’s about that blinding revelation that McKinsey and others had about “talent” in the 1980s. They had it was said:-

“a deep seated belief that having better talent at all levels is how you outperform your competitors”

This led to a seminal book – “The War for Talent” which alone has created the new orthodoxy of American Management.

Quotes inspired by this mind-set abound:-

“we hire very smart people and pay them more than they think they are worth”

That’s from Richard Foster’s presciently titled book “Creative Destruction”.

This comes from a guy at General Electric:-

“don’t be afraid to promote stars without specifically relevant experience, seemingly over their heads”

Gladwell tells us about one particular company that bought “The War for Talent” mythology hook, line and sinker and became the ultimate-talent- company, stocking it with the very best college and MBA graduates they could find.

That company was Enron.

Gladwell observes the absence of correlation between IQ and performance in the workplace and he quotes Richard Wagner, a psychologist at Florida State Universitywho said this:-

“in terms of how you evaluate schooling, everything is about working by yourself. If you work with someone else it’s called cheating.

Once you get out in the real world everything you do involves working with other people.”

If you are in a service business your people are your key brand-asset, indeed most people I know in start-ups are convinced that the “employee first, customer second” viewpoint is right. By the way if I ever hear the term “human capital” again – the definition so loved by certain groups of HR professionals – I think I’ll have a heart attack brought on by rage.

All the great teams exist where good people with a common cause work together to create something special. Recently I went to the Google European HQ in Zurich. It was astounding at a number of levels – free Ben & Jerry, free fruit, free Lindt chocolate (well it was Switzerland), great food (free), a gym, a chill-out room, a games room, a tech bar to sort out laptops and mobiles, a library and coffee bar, crèche, masseuse, doctor and so on.

You know I got the sense that management there loved their people and vice versa.

Walking through the place with their office manager who assured me they didn’t throw money at this so much as bought cannily and struck up trading alliances I felt first this behaved like a small, family business and secondly there was a strong sense of those three ingredients that define a great brand (the Google brand is ranked number one by Millward Brown at $114 billion – 33% more than the number two IBM)…those three ingredients are

  1. Pride
  2. Energy
  3. Humanity

As regards leadership the two best I’ve come across on this are from an ex senior Government official from the USA called John Gardner who said (and I haven’t seen this bettered)

“the first task of a leader is to keep hope alive”

And from the late great Anita Roddick who founded Body Shop because she really, really believed it and presided over a green empire with beliefs like this – the best observation ever made about Market Research:

“managing your business using research is a bit like driving using the rear view mirror”.

Next inspiration and creativity.

I truly believe there is more inspiring stuff around than ever before in my lifetime.

  • The sheer hunger and energy inAsia
  • The enterprise and open mindedness of Generation Y (as the Dalai Lama said “minds like parachutes operate best when open.”)
  • The liberating sense of independence on the part of so many consumer groups – they act as bosses.
  • So much that is new and accessible – it’s impossible to be immune to ingenuity.
  • The speed of everything.

In the Nike Annual Report of 2004 this appeared from Tammaro Marinetti the Italian playwright:

             “A new beauty has been added to the splendour of the world- the beauty of  speed”.

Speed, yes, and creativity.

It would be surprising given my background in advertising if I didn’t think creativity was pretty important stuff.

A creative phrase or insight can inspire, enlighten and change people’s minds and moods.

And having just referred to Nike let me quote from one of their ads. It featured Michael Johnson, the Olympic sprinter.

“There are two sides to a sprinter. The side that wants to crush his opponents and leave them blue and lifeless by the side of the track…. and the other darker side.”

I think that’s very creative – funny, challenging and true.

You know our creativity is innate.

Ken Robinson who describes himself as an educationist spoke about it engagingly on TED – the website on which thought-leaders speak – and if you don’t know it check it out.  So – Ken said we are born creative, behave creatively when we are young and then it’s educated out of us. He described our educational system as being designed to create University Professors whose bodies only exist to transport their big and clever heads from one meeting to another.

So how do we get this innate creativity released again and how do we show we care?

The Partners – a Design Company – conducted a recent piece of research that showed 96% of companies thought innovation was vital to the future of their company, only 40% had anyone nominated to champion it internally and just 10% ever discussed it at Board Meetings.

Let’s face it – creativity in most businesses is a nice-to-have, not a must-have when it comes to the crunch.

And anyway how do you begin to create a mood of creativity in your business – a mood from which lots of business-creating and cost-saving ideas emerge?

You have to institutionalise three things:-

  1. Create a radical change to the look, feel and ambience of your workplace. Most offices are devoid of a real sense of welcome idea-appeal and sex-appeal. Most executives are walking spread sheets.
  2. Make it a norm for all your key people to get out of the office for at least a day a month to visit places they haven’t been before; cities, competitors, shops, conferences and determine they are going to see or learn ten new things. I ran an “offsite” for a company in Oxford recently and created what I called “The Big Walk” which involved groups going round the City to see and experience new stuff – to open their eyes, ears and minds and to start paying attention again. They came back transformed and overflowing with thoughts.
  3. Run regular “Creative Workshops”. Learn how to do them so people want to be invited and so they begin to become events with an increasingly positive ROI. I wrote a book on these events recently. Done well they are inspiring and productive. Better than that people surprise themselves with how good they are.

And, you know, quite often you’ll find the great thing about creativity in business is that a just small change makes a big difference.

The small differences that Apple makes seem to change many people’s lives.

Steve Jobs on the redesign of some computer keys said “they look so beautiful that you want to lick them”.

And artist David Hockney has discovered the I-Pad is a brilliant way to paint with your fingers…he is so besotted this may be the only way he paints henceforth.

Creativity needs champions, a small investment in office design and a real belief that it can provide that magic accelerator to your acquiring an “unfair competitive advantage.”

And it requires a diversity of involvement.

Put seven clones in a room and you can predict what they’ll do.

Produce another clone.

Follow the advice of Wall Street Journal writer G. Pascal Zacchary:-

“diversity spawns creativity, nourishes the human spirit, spurs economic growth and empowers nations.”

I know creativity and human ingenuity can help transform this rather tired, money-driven world. Just look at the most creative businesses and you can see, smell and hear the buzz – Facebook, Amazon, Disney, Innocent, John Lewis, BMW, Nokia, L’Oreal,  – there are plenty with creative verve but I foresee a whole bunch of very creative start-ups over the coming year.

Remember this prediction about creative companies with creative ideas that improve customer-service, that invent new products and ways of improving quality and productivity.

Such is within all our command if only we opened our minds to the idea of making new connections and being both curious and observant.

Big companies tend to be uncreative only because they’ve been told that “small is beautiful”.

Go back to your businesses next week determined to put new creative colour into your lives.

What are the big issues of today?

Get these wrong and the media and smart public will crucify you.

  • Green – it’s not a USP or a nice-to-have it’s an essential – check out Tetrapak for the way to be green as though you mean it.
  • Quality – the trouble with educating your customer is they always want more. Now Gieves & Hawkes has become a mass market quality brand.
  • My Brand – people relate to their Ben & Jerry, Green & Blacks, Merci, Innocent, Apple andMont Blanc as though they were in love.
  • Price“if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it” is no longer true. Everyone negotiates. Everyone. Why do you have to pay £100 for a great meal.  This week inLondon, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon were promoting 2 courses for £19 and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze 3 courses for £22.50.
  • Authenticity – do not lie to the consumer. Make sure the stories are true – like the story of Werthe’s Echte or the provenance of Chateau Leoville Barton  or the stories behind Heinz.
  • Trust – the very essence of a great brand is that you can trust it. That’s why Persil is so powerful and why BMW shines out as a great brand.

I want to leave you with just ten simple things to do or think about when you leave here that may and should help you to be better at what you do and just make your life a little easier.

This is all part of the Ed McCabe “there’s always a better way” scenario.

  1. Play to your strengths. I have always found in mentoring people that the quickest way of overcoming weaknesses is to affirm and develop strengths. It also increases self-confidence which many people need. No. All of us need more self-confidence.
  2. Know where you want to get. That’s English for “have a strategy”. As Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, said “if you don’t know where you’re going it doesn’t much matter which road you take”. I think Pearson and Sony always have a clear sense of where they want to get but not many do.
  3. Learn or die. A CEO of a big insurance company told me he was too busy to read nowadays. It’ll be food and drink he’ll give up next. Or breathing. Constant learning and re-learning is not an option for you guys it’s a must do. Do you think Peter Lederer, Chairman of Gleneagles, ever stopped learning?
  4. Learn to listen again. Use what I call “active listening” – that’s listening and hearing and understanding (understanding even the subtext). It’s hard to do because we’ve all got too used to turning “transmit” up and “receive” down. Over time P&G and L’Oreal have listened brilliantly to their markets.
  5. Love your job. If you don’t you’ll do it badly. Radiate that you do. At an advertising agency I ran, sometime after I had gone on to other things, someone told me they’d have worked there for nothing they loved it so much. I wish I’d known that then.
  6. Help your boss (and your peers). We spend too much time in our lives (and especially at work) trying to make ourselves look good. Reverse this tomorrow by trying to make your peers and your boss look good. Start being more helpful. Remember your enemies are your competitors not your colleagues. Stuart Rose at Marks & Spencer has been brilliant at securing lifelong loyalty from great people.
  7. Be a great team player. It’s smart today to be a team player. This is what Charlie Mayfield Chairman and CEO of the John Lewis Partnership in the UK told me. “It’s all down to the people; I’m here to facilitate their development and help them shine.”
  8. Be alert and super-reactive. When things are changing so fast we all need to be tuned into to changing direction or reformulating. It was the quote from J. “Moms” Mabley:- “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got” which endorsed my sense of the need to be assertive. Jack Welch who used to run General Electric described this as a game of ice hockey – very fast, very dangerous and with no rules.
  9. Be a good storyteller. We are living through a thrilling narrative. Capture the drama of the times in the way you communicate. And do yourself credit in the way you present yourself and your team. You are a brand no less. Start enjoying being distinctive. Great story tellers like Tim Bell who runs Chime Communications or the people at Morgan cars.
  10. Be a Magician. John Sculley ex-Pepsi, ex-Apple said:- “we need impresarios and wizards nowadays”- and it’s on recalling that, I sense the shortcoming of the “War for Talent” is that it only identifies the need for “wizards”. What we need are Renaissance men and women who can do and want to try and do a lot of different extraordinary things.

Marketing is a 24/7/365 passion – a passion, no less.

Every second you see an example of it and wonder – “why did they do that”? Or “that’s wonderful!” or “if only we’d thought of doing that.”

It is not a communications job alone (and I hate the Marketing Communications title – it implies the poor incumbent has one arm tied behind their back). Marketing requires total involvement in everything.

Marketing is a love affair with the people who buy your brand. Whether in the hospitality or fmcg business when someone begins to buy into and then buys your brand you enter into a special relationship.

So my parting words of advice.

Get in the right frame of mind – that’s how relationships blossom. Be positive. And enjoy marketing as much as I do.

Don’t say we have a problem or it’s all very difficult

Say how can we get more customers to love us more?

Thank you.

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