How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.
7 Highly Effective Ways of Killing a Brand
Ashish Misra, ,
Indian managers seem to have discovered international strategy gurus and their teachings with a vengeance – and are beating a stampede to buy seats at these exorbitantly priced strategy summits and sessions. Nary a day goes by without the picture of a studious gaggle of CEO’s gracing the business section of newspapers, hanging on to every word of wisdom being littered their way by itinerant experts. This article has been triggered of by the impending arrival of the much respected and acclaimed expert on the habits of highly effective people, and the fact that CEO’s are learning so much strategy these days that they are taking their eyes off the main act. Which is to kill brands and plunge their businesses into chaos. Am I nuts? Of course not, consider this – if a CEO is not driving his business into a decline, or creating a succession problem how would he ever justify a hefty salary and benefit increase and perpetuate his presence at the top. After all every CEO is entitled to his 6 months of crises from which he can emerge smelling faintly of Armani.
The terrible thing is that these clever marketing and finance boys are taking all the credit for crashing sales and bottom lines. Its time the CEO stood up and got counted among the architects of business disasters and here are 7 highly effective habits for reaching the top of this pile up. Arise, awake and stop not till the decline is reached.
For God’s sake, forget strategy: Let’s be very clear about this, Genghis Khan did not need strategy so why should you. And look at the mayhem he brought in his wake. The problem with strategy, especially in marketing, is that it can help you succeed. Before you know it you have a plan that works and 5 consecutive years of rising sales and strong brand health indicators. You get promoted to Chairman Emeritus with no powers and another bright career is extinguished. Strategy is a big mistake. Take decisions at whim – it keeps all the other smart pants confused. If you feel yourself focusing on a problem for more than 3 minutes start shouting for help. Or better still; acquire an inconsequential but failing brand for twice its valuation. That should keep you in the saddle for another 5 years.
If you have a strategy, quickly hide it: Some of us are cursed with a modicum of intelligence and that is a very dangerous thing. Look where it got Peter Mandelson! Most organisational structures work with one objective – pile excrement on intelligence. If, heaven forbid, you have a strategy try taking a short break in Ooty or the Bahamas or wherever you can fix your next conference. Resist the temptation to put down company and brand vision statements. It is a criminal act to provide direction to your immediate reports. If they act on a coherent vision you aren’t going to last 6 months. If you just can’t fight the temptation to think strategically please download it to your team in little bits so that only you carry the full picture and the rest of your team scurry around like headless chicken. Remember you and only you own the big picture.
Have completely unrealistic expectations: Annual planning processes have only one objective – to provide the rest of the company an objective to fail against. Shiny, happy employees are an overrated area of CEO concern. Have you ever heard of successful leaders who set 4% volume growth objectives? Set astronomically high goals and ensure that 98% of your team fails miserably, 1% is merely disappointing and only you exceed expectations. Setting fantastic targets also means you can show strong revenue streams on paper and get more investment. It also gives you the brilliant opportunity to sack the marketing and finance head every 3 years for achieving 10% of personal objectives thereby hanging on as CEO longer. Never forget – there are no product life cycles only personal life cycles.
Cut marketing spending: I am going to reveal all to you today. The only reason marketing spends increase every year is so these frustrated marketing types can attend media cocktails where they get treated like plenipotentiaries from small family owned oil sultanates and travel around in business class filing shambolic travel reports. Nip this excess in the bud. Marketing directors will constantly tell you that marketing rupee per unit of sale should fall over the loooong term, not absolute marketing budgets. This is a lie even greater in scope that the Y2K scare [remember?]. Sack the guy and cut budgets by 20%. Strategic investments can grow strong brands and that’s definitely not what you want. In fact, lets not mince words here – if you sign off on the marketing budgets without a cut for 2 years running the Marketing Director will replace you. Who will pay your daughter’s college fees at Cornell then?
Marketing strategy is out, marketing politics is in: This is very important. Remember an executive council has 6 members so that they can all fight and backbite and no one remembers who started it, [namely you]. If volumes are achieved due to high marketing spends get rid of the marketing guy. If volumes drop stop smiling and preferably transfer the Sales Director to West Palestine. The market for everything is growing there. Better still promote all area sales executives to General Managers and tell the Marketing head to speak to each one of them on their poster requirements. Better still, if you have a sense of humour tell the marketing guy to set sales targets. Finally take note, don’t be too hard on the financial guys and absolutely love your HR head. These guys come in useful when you have to lay off 86% of your work force. Just ensure that you always create an environment where no constructive effort is possible as everyone fears someone else will walk away with the credit.
Please, no market research: There was no market research some decade’s back. Then some clever guys in spectacles perpetrated this huge fraud and it’s the fastest growing marketing services industry today. Ever so often these MBA types in your marketing function will try and sell you name tests, price tests, creative tests and what have you. Send these guys for a blood test, as it’s a sure sign that they are unwell. Research is not being used for illumination its being used as feeble support for ill conceived marketing plans. There is nothing that you and your board room cronies can’t decide on your own. And if the matter is particularly sensitive ask your coffee guy – he’s in touch with the masses. Be very careful because most quantitative researchers know statistical techniques and qualitative researchers understand consumer behavior. This is all very confusing and you have no business looking confused. Please create a large market research budget and transfer it to staff welfare at the end of the year. Transfer it to general reserves after 5 years and never spend it. That would be very bad form.
Your wife [or husband] is the best creative judge: Advertising creativity is in serious decline. Big ideas come in small morsels. Its all become highly self-serving. Young people join advertising today only so they can travel to Cannes and see how the poor live in other parts of the world. You must go to Cannes with your advertising agency – if they are having too much fun put your account up for review. When a new creative idea is shared with you never be enthusiastic. It’s a sign of creeping dementia or worse, weakness. If the idea seems brilliant loose your temper at the nearest middle level manager. That will help curb your enthusiasm. You have only one independent advisor and that’s your spouse. You sleep together in the same bed with a foot of space between you – that qualifies her to be an independent director on your board. And independent directors are fully qualified to comment on creative ideas. Remember, creative judgment is very subjective but your spouse helped [in most cases] to create your children. There is something Confucian about this – spouse don’t like advertising, sack agency! There’s no better way to ruin a brand.
Finally, persist till you fail. You know how some brands are. Strong heritage and values, incredible consumer connect riding on the back of strong research and strategy! They just refuse to roll over and die. The challenge is tough and not for the faint hearted and just for these moments I invoke the old aphorism – If at first you succeed, don’t lose heart – try and try again till you absolutely fail. Look within yourself for ideas. Great brands don’t die, they just fade away. So if you implement all 7 of the aforementioned habits diligently even the best brands will gradually disappear. And your name will go down in the corporate annals as a super CEO with an amnesia resistant appellation such as ‘Neutron Nandan’ or even ‘Atomic Anand’
A final word of advice – all CEO’s have a dog. If you ever feel like hiring a strategic marketing consultancy get your dog to bite you. You will die of rabies saving your family name and your brand from the disgraceful ill affects of sage insights.
Bury the brand!