Why Marketing By Committee Sucks

By Christopher Lochhead

“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”

 – Charles Kettering

 

Ever notice that most marketing is shitty.

And by shitty, I mean not just that the creative will be bad, although that is true, but that much of this onslaught will make little difference to the market share, market cap and valuation, or revenue of the companies doing the marketing.

So why do so many companies do bad marketing?

In my experience, a major root cause is committees.

Committees = bad.

This is probably true for most major initiatives in business, but it’s especially true in marketing because legendary marketing is about leadership.

To become the leader in your space – the category queen, you must define and dominate your market niche.

For the most part, technology is a winner-take-all game.

Building the company that wins takes a clear point of view about what problem your solving, what makes you different, and why people should buy your product and stock.

Rarely do big groups make bold, decisive strategic decisions.

Does anyone think that Steve Jobs sought the approval of a committee before launching the “Think Different” campaign?

Not a chance.

The problem with most committees is that they are focused on process, not results.

They generally try to incorporate everyone’s “feedback”, spend time “socializing ideas”, analyzing data and trying to make everyone happy.

Committees strive to be collaborative and ensure that all constituents have a say.

A structural problem with many committees is that a lot of people can say no, while at the same time, they are not clear about who can say yes.

As a result, committees produce compromise.

They settle on the ideas that everyone could agree on. Not legendary ideas.

The driver of committee behavior may be simple human nature. Some people find comfort in larger groups, because if the project fails blame can be spread.

It has been said that success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.

While that may be true, ass-covering behavior does not build legendary companies.

Accountability does.

To make matters worse, in the technology industry, many executives and board members seem to think they are marketing experts.

They apply the “I like that” and “I don’t like that” test to evaluating marketing strategies. As if they were picking the color of their car or the name of their cat.

I was in a marketing review meeting with a CEO once where an orange motif was being presented.

He barked, “Orange is awful. Don’t you people know that orange makes people angry!”

Many executives forget that great marketing is not about what they like.

Great marketing is about what works.

Now it is true that a group of smart, committed people can make a huge contribution to positioning and marketing strategy.

Clearly, there are massive advantages to having a killer team of brilliant people collaborating on solving problems, creating new ideas and plans.

But the group must be small.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously instituted a company-wide rule about “two-pizza” teams, which proclaims that any team must be small enough to be fed with two pizzas.

And for teams to win they need one leader.

Legendary marketing teams must have one decider, ideally the CEO or CMO.

The leader’s job is to define a process that yields the best ideas, while making the courageous decisions required to position your company to design and dominate your category.

In closing, I’ll leave you with another quote by Electronic Data Systems founder H. Ross Perot, who said, “If you see a snake, just kill it.

Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”

 

 

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Christopher Lochhead is Host the hit “dialogue podcast” Legends & Losers and Co-Author of #1 Amazon Bestseller Niche Down: How To Become Legendary By Being Different and Harper Collins’ “instant classic” Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets.

 Follow him on twitter.

Niche Down: Why Legends Are Different

By Christopher Lochhead & Heather Clancy

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea

whose time has come.”

-Victor Hugo

This comment raises a question: How do I make it “my time?”

Have you noticed? The most legendary people in the world are different.

They are original.

They stand out.

They do not fit in.

And the most legendary companies don’t just make stuff to sell us.

They are not incrementally improving on whatever came before.

They create massive new value by taking an exponential leap.

Here’s how most entrepreneurs think…

Tragically, too many companies seeking to find their place in the world fail to reach that destination.

U.S. government statistics show that roughly 20 percent of all new companies don’t make it through their first year.

Half make it through five years, and only one-third live to celebrate their tenth anniversary.

That’s a scary-high mortality rate.

This happens, in part, because most business owners and entrepreneurs focus on two things:

  1. Designing what they hope will be a legendary product and
  2. Designing the company (and business model) to deliver the product.

They launch their new company, product, service or innovation into the world, and they hope the world “gets it.” They subscribe to what might be the biggest single fallacy in business:

“Build it, and they will come.” 

That’s a lie.

The common entrepreneur believes his or her product is so awesome that it will speak for itself. When the world hears how much better, faster or cheaper this new product or service is, people will flock to it!

Sometimes, this approach works. Most of the time, it doesn’t.

…and here’s how YOU need to think.

To increase the odds of winning, forward-leaning entrepreneurs are embracing a business discipline called category design.

Category design aims to tease out the intuitive approaches that the world’s greatest innovators use to create new market categories.

In doing so, we establish a replicable approach to designing (or re-imagining) market categories.

Category design is about establishing your own niche by getting people to think about a problem — and its solution — in exactly the way you want them to.

Sheryl O’Loughlin (our guest on episode #071)is the former CEO of Clif Bar who helped create Luna Bar, the first protein bar specifically formulated for women.

Protein bars were an emerging new category at the time, and Sheryl’s team recognized that women wanted something smaller and tastier, with fewer calories and nutrients particularly good for female body chemistry, like folic acid and calcium.

This was a risk: Clif worried that Luna would cannibalize sales of its flagship product. Marketing gurus scoffed at the potential for a snack for gals.

But by tying the product to a cause — the Breast Cancer Fund — and creating packaging that was decidedly more feminine than the competition, Sheryl and company defied the naysayers.

The original product generated sales of $10 million in its first year.

Sheryl is also the category designer behind Plum Organics (now owned by Campbell’s Soup), which pioneered the healthy baby food niche in a convenient, squeezable container.

That concept was a new niche at the time, too.

In each case, Sheryl niched down.

She created a new and different product, company and category.

As result, her companies became category queens, aka the company that dominates a category.

And it takes a certain finesse.

“You’re doing something that no one else has ever tried before, and you need to believe in it in your heart and soul, or else you’re never going to get anyone to come on this epic adventure,” Sheryl shared during our conversation.

“However, that has to be placed in concert with humility. Because humility is about learning. And the best startups are companies that learn.”

History proves that pulling a Niche Down works.

Many of the elements of category design have existed for over a century.

Over time, many of the greatest innovators instinctively knew that the path to success was in teaching the world to think a particular way, not just offering them a product and hoping they’d “get it.”

These legends made sure that the world understood why their businesses and products mattered.

For example, Henry Ford knew that the horseless carriage mattered to more people than just the wealthy.

Before his Model T debuted in 1908, automobiles were primarily a bespoke privilege — made to order for the nouveau riche.

His breakthrough was refining the model of mass production, which in turn allowed him to create and evangelize a new category of affordable transportation.

And Clarence Birdseye had to make the case that frozen food — versus fresh or canned food — solved a problem they didn’t realize they had: finding fresh-tasting vegetables in winter.

Clarence Birdseye realized that vegetables could be flash-frozen, a discovery we’re still eating up today. 

Clarence created ads positioning frozen vegetables from Birds Eye as a fresher-tasting alternative to canned ones.

He created refrigerator rail cars so that freight train operators could transport his product.

And he helped grocers invest in freezers to keep the bags frozen.

Once the world agreed with Clarence’s problem, they fired up their horseless carriage, drove to the grocery store and demanded frozen food.

Spanx founder Sara Blakely established “shapeware” as a whole new space and was able to distinguish herself in the mega-crowded undergarment market and build a billion-dollar-plus- valued category king from nothing.

But women didn’t know they needed shapeware before Sarah came along. She had to tell them, with marketing.

And Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff used his “no software” point of view to educate enterprise software buyers about the evils of “on-premise” software and the virtues of a new category called “cloud computing.”

They didn’t know how much they despised on-premise hassles… until Marc told them about another way.

This is how new niches get created. And the company who designs the niche is best positioned to dominate it.

And you can apply category design to any industry.

The greatest innovators and entrepreneurs are category designers who do three things:

  1. Design a legendary product.
  2. Design a company (and business model).
  3. Design (or redesign) a market category.

Category design involves creating a great product, a great company and a great category at the same time. 

 It is a broad, deep discipline that impacts every part of a company and its leadership team.

Category design is a strategy for aligning the whole company to become the leader in a giant new space that you’re the creator of.

Category design is about being original. Become known for a niche that you own.

 

 

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Christopher Lochhead is Host the hit “dialogue podcast” Legends & Losers and Co-Author of #1 Amazon Bestseller Niche Down: How To Become Legendary By Being Different and Harper Collins’ “instant classic” Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets.

 

Follow him on twitter.

Heather Clancy is an award-winning journalist specializing in coverage of transformative technology and innovation. She’s the editorial director for GreenBiz.com, and her work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.

Heather is CoAuthor of the #1 Amazon Bestseller “Niche Down: How to become legendary by being different.” See more of her work on her blogTwitter and Facebook.