This story began almost two decades ago. I was having a meeting at my company’s headquarters, in New Jersey, during a time when global marketing had many job openings. You would be walking down the hall, and someone would, out of the blue,  pull you inside an office and start interviewing you for a position you didn’t even know existed. So that is what happened to me. I was walking down the hall and greeted Bob when passing in front of his office. He called me, asked if I had a couple of minutes and started an impromptu job interview. Bob was an experienced marketer, head of the global neurology franchise, and a psychiatrist by trade. I was not interested in working with Bob, although he was a pleasant person, because I had pretty much already secured a global position in another franchise. So I felt at ease in this pseudo-interview and decided to speak my mind. At some point came the inevitable question: “can you tell me some examples where you applied your creativity?”. I answered: “I think creativity in marketing is overrated. In some cases what passes for creativity is pure nonsense that brings no real value to the customer. I believe in analysis, insights and flawless execution.” Bob paused and looked seriously at me, and I thought I had gone too far. Then he smiled and said “Gosh – I think exactly like you! For me, marketing is good sense and logistics.”

Defining marketing is a common exercise, and there are probably hundreds or thousands of definitions. Here, only, you can find 72 of them:

Dr. Philip Kotler, whose name became a synonym of marketing,  defines it as “the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.  Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires. It defines, measures and quantifies the size of the identified market and the profit potential. It pinpoints which segments the company is capable of serving best, and it designs and promotes the appropriate products and services.” He has a shorter one that I like better: “…(marketing) is the art of creating genuine customer value.”

At some point, I scribbled my definition: “Marketing is a scientific, magic and artistic discipline that aims to satisfy customer needs – either concrete, imaginary or non-existent. It employs quantitative-intuitive techniques to develop strategies, tactics, and programs which must be 100% aligned to have a 10% probability of working. Its uppermost ambition is to reach sales levels beyond what’s reasonable or humanly possible and, in this process, annihilate all competition, achieving 100% of market share.” It was supposed to be funny but ended sounding cynical. I filed it under “G” (for garbage).

That chat with Bob started my obsession to define marketing beyond simple words – I was looking for an equation and came up with this:

mktg = (gs + log)

I started calling it “Bob’s Axiom” where “gs” equals good sense and “log” equals logistics. That formula kept me happy for a long time.

Then I started thinking more and more about the importance of data in marketing success. Bob’s Axiom was not enough for me anymore. I improved the marketing equation, that would from then on be expressed as:

mktg = (gs + ex + dt)

Where “gs” is good sense, “ex” equals execution (better than logistics) and “dt” equals (obviously) data.

A little later, though, I went a step further, got mathematically more literal. Suppose a marketer had zero good sense, zero executional talent but had a lot of data. “Mktg” would be equal something, since: Mktg = 0 + 0 + “a lot” = “a lot”. That couldn’t be possible, in my point of view. With no good sense, nor execution, Mktg = 0. I found a workaround for this flaw in the equation: instead of “plus,” it should be “times.” Thus:

mktg = (gs ex dt)

If any of the terms were equal zero, marketing would also be zero. Right? Well, not really. Some marketing success is possible without data, and that’s when the good sense is needed more. I found a way to overcome this limitation, putting “data” as power, not as a multiplication factor. Now…

mktg = (gs *ex)dt

If data was equal to zero, mktg would be equal “1”, since any number powered by zero equals “1”. And I was happy for a while.

In recent times, I became more and more aware of the role of strategy in marketing and decided that the equation needed improvement. I had always considered that, in the equation, the strategy was included in the “good sense” variable, but now I wasn’t satisfied with this simplification. The strategy should be a variable, maybe the most relevant one. How could I have ignored its importance for such a long time?

So, the marketing equation became:

mktg = (st * gs ex)dt

That would mean marketing with no strategy equals zero. Marketing with no good sense equals zero. Marketing with no execution equals zero (that’s why those great strategies that look so good in PowerPoint sometimes take the product nowhere… someone forgot to implement them).

Then, it is all here: great strategy times good sense, times relentless execution is the key to great marketing. Having the right data (information) has an exponential effect. I have been happy ever since.

Except that lately, I have been thinking a lot about innovation (not creativity!) as a critical component in marketing success… I mean, real innovation. Is there good marketing without innovation? Well, I will let you decide that.


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