Can you tell the difference between stupendous and stupid marketing? Mark Ritson Marketing Week Live preview

Mark Ritson, award-winning columnist, consultant and marketing professor is to bring Marketing Week Live to a close on Thursday April 28, with a session that promises to challenge received wisdom. His contention? Marketers continue to focus too much effort on the shiny and new, ignoring those that offer the most value.


To help you prepare ahead of the event, we have picked a selection of Mark’s best columns that focus on the areas that will make up his talk’s agenda at Marketing Week Live.

Topics up for discussion at his presentation include customer journey mapping, digital marketing, CSR, brand tracking, brand purpose, zero based budgeting and virtual reality.

You’ll have to attend the session to find out which areas you should be focusing on and which are just a distraction, but you can read his columns to get a sense of what marketing concepts Mark supports and which ones he thinks are utterly stupid.


The marketing world continues to focus much of its efforts on the wrong issues while ignoring the more useful ones:

Can I again remind the reader of the difference between strategy, in this case working out what the stages are and which one to focus on in order to increase sales, and tactics, the various actions I will invest in to execute the strategy. One of the great problems of the new marketing world we live in is that all these dreary marketers who feel it necessary to prefix their job titles with the D-word simply do not understand the difference between strategy and tactics.

The sales funnel precedes the invention of television, direct mail, telemarketing, cinema ads, the internet and smartphones. Each and every one of these technologies has changed the tactical options available to marketers, but the essential challenge of marketing strategy and the enduring value of a properly derived sales funnel remain undimmed.

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Which concepts continue to offer value to marketers as they approach 2017?

The long lines outside Abercrombie that once symbolised its success might not be gone forever. A new management team is working wonders and there is a growing recognition that they might be able to pull this off and, thanks to extremely prudent strategic thinking, make the brand popular again.

The team’s first big insight was not to reposition Abercrombie but to revitalise it. Marketers often confuse or conflate these two concepts into one. A repositioning is a radical attempt to invent a totally new position for an existing brand and it is rarely sustainable. Revitalisation requires a more nuanced strategy in which the brand first returns to its origins to identify its original brand associations and then leaps back to the present and applies them in a new, contemporary way.

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Which concepts, despite the noise associated with them, are distracting marketers from their core purpose?

“The way Amin saw it, Uber’s branding problems were manifold. For one, the company had two logos — one with a U inside a box on the Android app, and one with a U and no box on the Apple app. The letters in the UBER wordmark were too widely spaced, and the U had an unsightly twist on its left prong. What’s more, the lettermark — the stylised, upper-case “U” — looked awkward beside the wordmark. “It read U-UBER,” says Amin, “like ‘Oooober.’”

This kind of myopic, design driven minutiae drives me mental. It’s not that fonts and pantones don’t matter, it’s just that they rarely matter enough to ever necessitate organisational effort. And when they start to represent the main branding “problem” for a company these minor design issues obscure more important branding issues.

What is Uber’s brand position? What are the brand perceptions among its target segments? Does the perception match the position? Do negative brand associations correlate to reduced Uber usage? What is its net promoter score across key segments? Is brand equity sufficient to justify existing price premiums and surge pricing? How strong is Uber’s employer brand across countries? I’d rate each of these questions as being at least 50000% more important than how far from the U we place the B in our name or the colour of the squiggly thing that no-one can actually see when it’s a 2mm wide iPhone icon.

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Customer Journey Mapping, Digital Marketing, CSR, Brand Tracking, Brand Purpose, Zero Base Budgeting and Virtual Reality:

To understand the advantage of zero-based budgeting you first have to appreciate the brain-numbing ridiculousness of the way most marketing budgets are set. First, a finance executive with no marketing training and no knowledge of your market looks at the five-year revenue growth of your brand. They extrapolate the sales line using an arbitrary compound annual growth rate calculation and come up with an expected sales goal for the upcoming year. Then they take an entirely arbitrary percentage of a sales figure – usually varying somewhere between 1% and 10% – and they apply this proportion to the expected revenue number. This budget is then confirmed to the marketing team who pass on the good/bad news to their agency partners about how much money they have for the year ahead. Usually over cocktails.

There is so much wrong with that last paragraph I do not know where to start. The finance executive has no insight into market dynamics. If the company already knows what its revenues will be next year prior to marketing planning, why bother with marketing at all? How come marketing is seen as a cost not an investment in the business? Where does the arbitrary percentage figure come from? Why not encourage all your agencies to re-pitch for your business based on your new annual plan?

The zero base approach is not a cost cutting method or belt-tightening approach. It’s just a better, more strategic way to plan your marketing.

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Catch Mark at this year’s Marketing Week Live, with his talk: ‘Eight marketing concepts – four stupid and four stupendous

Topics covered included:

  • The marketing world continues to focus much of its efforts on the wrong issues while ignoring the more useful ones
  • Which concepts continue to offer value to marketers as they approach 2017?
  • Which concepts, despite the noise associated with them, are distracting marketers from their core purpose?
  • Customer Journey Mapping, Digital Marketing, CSR, Brand Tracking, Brand Purpose, Zero Base Budgeting and Virtual Reality

For more information about Marketing Week Live and to register for the event click here.

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