War in the Boardroom

After a long time, I had the pleasure of reading an unadulterated marketing book. I said ‘unadulterated’ because most marketing books nowadays are hybrids encompassing an array of subjects: brand management, strategy, customer relations management and other conceivably related domains. ‘War in the boardroom’ is Al Ries’ eleventh book and fifth he has co-authored with his daughter Laura Ries.

In the authors’ view, marketing and management lie at the two ends of a continuum. The corner office executives often have a ruthlessly short-term and analytical perspective, whereas marketers tend to be highly holistic and emotional. And, when the ‘left-brained’ management brass meddles in marketing affairs, things often take an ugly turn.

The book offers a slew of issues that pit marketing against management often. Authors’ rationale is that marketing ideas ride high on emotions and weigh low on logic. Consequently, they do not appeal to the left-brain management. For a founder or a CXO, potential revenue takes precedence over aesthetics and perception unless you happen to have someone like Steve Jobs at the helm. Apparently, this is where most marketing problems creep up. CXOs, say the authors, often come up with bad strategies only to hang the blame on execution later. In deep fascination with their ‘better product’ agendas, top honchos, more times than not, end up reacting to market conditions. They try to mount an assault on the leader with better products. Their blinkered vision muddles the waters for marketers. ‘Different’ products or services are the best way to gain traction against a leader not ‘better’ products. Ries’ cite the example of Nintendo, which with its unique motion-sensitive controller whizzed past the likes of Sony and Microsoft and became number one in gaming-console market.

Ries’ continue their crusade against line-extensions in this book, too. According to the authors, management always wants to have a full-blown product line under one brand, whereas marketing prefers a narrow and focused product line. CEO and co. often take the power of their brand for granted. They stretch their brand to the extent till it stops to stand for anything.

Ries’ assert that a narrow focus improves operational efficiencies apart from building brand equity. This assertion is further backed up with case-studies of Chevrolet, Miller, Saturn, Motorola, etc. Of all, Motorola’s example stands out for having slipped itself into a bottomless quagmire of acquisitions and misguided innovations (read Iridium). Authors’ judgment is bang-on. It’s almost irresistible for most humans to suppress the overwhelming force of expansion. Urge to expand is logical and commonsensical. And it’s a classic left-brainer, too.

Ries’ also emphasize on the significance of being a first-mover in the minds of consumers. This view is quite contrarian to the one held by the most left-brain management types to whom being first in the market takes precedence over everything else. Authors also suggest ways to be the first in mind. Owning a strong association or an attribute; building your brands on PR than on advertising; contracting your focus, etc., according to authors, can help companies be the first in the minds.

Al and Laura also hit out at management types for their shortsightedness or naiveté in mistaking a great campaign for a single marketing shot.  Ries’ take it to advertising agencies alleging that most agencies have now substituted the idea of ‘selling the product’ with ‘selling the creative’. Ries’ take this management vs. marketing battle to different domains within the goalposts of perceptions and reality. Finally, this is another must-read book for all Al Ries aficionados. I am not sure how much of contribution did Laura Ries get to make in this book; however, she does appear to have inherited the wisdom of her illustrious father. I eagerly anticipate her first solo release; one that would decisively underline her mettle as a marketing author.