As tempted as you might be, now is not the time to kill your marketing budget. More than ever, you need to be front of mind. Instead, look at how you’re marketing your brand — read the room, figure out who your customers are and what they need from you right now, and then get your marketing to reflect that.
Tony Marks is a seriously impressive marketer — he was the sales & marketing GM at Air New Zealand and came up with many of their brainwaves, including more business-class seats and no smoking on flights — so I was interested to hear his thoughts on marketing on a recent call with some of our Business Changing clients. Read some of his gems below.
This is the 4th blog in a series of 4, where we share some of Tony’s great stories on business leadership, planning and business killers — start with blog 1 HERE.
LET’S TALK ABOUT MARKETING
One of the things I was taught years ago by simply working in a company was that marketing is not about making you feel good. It’s also not about making customers feel good about your product or your brand. It’s about making them feel good about themselves if they buy it. Take me in my dotage: I drive a Mazda MX5, which has a retractable roof and enables me to drive around pretending the young women are attracted to somebody in a convertible car. They’re not. But does it make me feel good to be driving a convertible as opposed to a Holden Barina? Absolutely. So it’s all about how I feel about the Mazda brand and I feel good because I like using the product. A lot of people get confused and think it’s all about feeling good about the brand – the brand is a means to an end; the end is feeling good about yourself.
The other thing about marketing is saying no. A guy who worked with me at Air New Zealand came to see me one day and said he was resigning. He’d been offered a job in London by a Greek millionaire who wanted to set up an airline. He had two aircraft, wanted to make a go of it and had hired him as the chief executive. The name of the company? EasyJet. I went to see this guy Ray when he had about 10 aircraft. He sat in an open-plan office and behind him on the wall was a poster, which just said NO. That’s all. I said, “Whoa, why have you got that up there?” And he said, “Well, people keep coming to me who want to change the model we’re running. They want us to go into spent sponsorships. They want us to start a frequent flyer program. They want us to get into lounges. They want us to get into corporate boxes. They want us to entertain giving discounts for groups. It gets boring.” Ray didn’t have much empathy! Everyone who came with a suggestion would just have Ray pointing to the poster, and eventually they got the message. They’ve changed subsequently, of course, but at the time it was a perfect strategy. EasyJet’s strategy was, whatever a full service airline does, we’ll do the exact opposite — and it was a great strategy for quite a few years. Now they’ve got a hundred aircraft; they’ve done well, partly thanks to Ray knowing when to say no.
Remember the British comedy Open All Hours with Ronnie Barker as the store owner and Jason the helpless helper. In one episode Barker is trying to teach Jason marketing. A woman comes in. “Yeah, I’d like some fags please.” “Okay.” And Barker’s whispering to him “Matches”. Anyway, he just gives her the fags, no matches. Another lady comes in and she’s sniffling away. She orders her something and Jason hands it over, while Barker hisses “Tissues! Tissues!”. She leaves and Barker looks at him and shares one of the great retail quotes of all the time: “Listen, what they come in for is up to them, what they go out with is up to us.” Especially in supermarkets, with all their marketing techniques, but I think it applies to all businesses. It’s up to you to influence that purchase.
Jenny Morrell, who’s an investment banker, gave me some good advice. We worked together on the Martin Jetpack company. The invention failed as a product, but Jenny had this wonderful phrase which I’ve used subsequently: “If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money.” Pretty clever and it turns out to be true and good advice for today’s circumstances.
Another thing I believe in: in difficult times, culture eats strategy for lunch. Culture can be defined as the way we do things around here and — probably just as importantly — the things we don’t do around here. There’s a nice phrase from Henry Ford or attributed to Henry Ford, which I think is also appropriate for culture: whether we think we can or whether we think we can’t, we’re probably right. And I think that sort of sums it up to some extent in the leadership that you’ll be facing right now. I think you have to imbue yourself initially and then your staff. I think it’s fine to admit that you don’t know if it will work, but if people are gonna follow you, you’ve got to have the balls to be able to say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. It could be wrong, but we can’t play around, we’ve only got one choice here. Let’s head off in this direction.”Here’s an example of being pretty ballsy. We had a $4m company, Old Mout, and there were just the two guys running it. We had a strategic planning session where I brought in a friend of mine and he said, “Look, your business is doomed to be a $4-$5 million business if there’s just these two guys running it. You’ve got to have a cider maker, you’ve got to have a sales manager, you’ve got to have a production manager because these guys are working 20-hour days, they’re killing themselves and you’ll never grow the business.” So we did a quick calculation and at the time we were making about $1m a year and it was going to cost us $600,000 to hire these people with all the overheads and everything else. We did hire those people and that’s the only reason we managed to get it to a $15-$16m company. There are times when you have to expend money. There are times when you have to invest, whether that’s in marketing or in people or in both — you can’t always grow the business or succeed unless you’re prepared to do that.