Russell Parsons: Prepare for zero-bullshit pitching

Zero-based budgeting will become more commonplace post-Brexit and with it will come the rise of ‘zero-bullshit pitching’ as marketers are urged to get to get back to basics.


One of the key developments of 2016 is Unilever’s introduction of zero-based budgeting. The budgeting approach is nothing new but the fact the FMCG giant decided it was the cost management method of choice made the move very notable as an indication of which way the economic wind is blowing.

READ MORE: Unilever defends zero-based budgeting

As the reality of Brexit bites, and until we get answers to the questions most people are asking about the consequences of a Trump presidency – such as “WTF?” – ZBB will become more commonplace as a perfectly sensible way to manage costs without employing a slash-and-burn approach to marketing budgets.

Now indulge me with a little more crystal ball-gazing and prepare yourself for ZBP, or, to give it its full title, zero-bullshit pitching. The name might need a little work, I admit. It’s also a concept I can’t wholly take credit for. The inspiration comes from Aviva CEO Mark Wilson.

Delivering the CEO’s view of marketing at The Marketing Society’s annual conference in London last week, Wilson expressed frustration at marketers’ inability to market themselves, their ideas and their work; in other words, “why they are winning, what their competitive advantage is, what’s important to the consumer, and why they are different”.

The answer is his equivalent of the elevator pitch, but demanding even more brevity than the average City elevator journey –  “the proposition tweet”.

He explained: “If they can’t explain in 140 characters or less why they will win and what their proposition is for their customer I will kill their product.”

READ MORE: Aviva boss slams lack of ‘real marketing’ in the UK

I doubt whether he is so draconian in his demands. I’d wager that budget requests have not been dismissed after nervous marketers exceeded the character count.

The concept, however, of demanding marketers cut the flab of meaningless buzzwords and nebulous impact and focus on getting to the heart of what they’re planning, and why it matters to customers and the business, will not only make for a more cogent pitch but also a more effective marketer.

Wilson’s stall was set out from the beginning when he declared: “I could stand here today and say the marketing garden is rosy but I don’t think that is the case.” This wasn’t a wake-up call but a rallying cry. He added: “The skills that we need in the different stages of global economic development of marketing have changed.”

I would take slight issue here. Macroeconomic trends have, if anything, forced us back to basics. A truly effective marketer is one who knows what their customer wants, what they are doing to serve their needs and how it benefits the business, and can express the vision with confident efficiency and brevity.

Same as it ever was, yes but a skill set that will separate the great from the good over the next few years.

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