What is the biggest mistake you can make?

Advice from one of the world’s
greatest marketers

Most of you who are reading this sell stuff directly, I imagine – and maybe mostly on the internet.

My advice to you is to look around you. There are many kinds of marketing, and you can learn lessons, good and bad, from them all.

You couldn’t imagine anyone less like a direct marketer than someone who sells a soft drink like Coca-Cola.

That is why I was so surprised a few years ago when, quite by chance, I picked up and started to read a book – “The end of marketing as we know it” - by Sergio Zyman, former chief marketing officer of the Coca-Cola Company. It’s so clearly and amusingly written I just couldn’t put it down.

You may never have heard of Zyman, but you should have. First of all he was involved in what many consider one of marketing’s greatest disasters – the launch of New Coke. He explains in his book why he disagrees.

But he then got another chance - and did great things for perhaps the world’s greatest brand. In five years, at a time when few people thought Coke could sell any more, he and his team increased their sales by 50%, and the share price quadrupled.

One smart thing they did which you might like to think about is push new occasions to use the product. Twenty years ago you didn’t see nearly as many people drinking Coke at breakfast.

Everything he said fitted in with what I’ve always believed about marketing – especially his wonderfully down-to-earth definition of its purpose: “To get more people to buy more stuff more often at higher prices so the company makes more money”.

He says a lot in his book about lack of discipline among marketers, whom he feels should be “the ultimate stewards of return on investment in assets”. He criticizes their lack of intellectual discipline, and the way when things go wrong they take refuge in a mysterious, inexplicable “Magic Black Box called Marketing”. In the book he analyses good marketing better than anyone I have ever read – certainly far better than any business school bullshitter. I recommend it to anyone wondering exactly how to do it right.

He particularly remarks on the way they fail to set exact targets, talking vaguely about “more” sales, “more” market share but never putting a figure on the increases – saying precisely how much more. As I always say - though I probably stole it from someone smarter - if you aim at nothing, you usually hit your mark.

He is particularly critical about the way marketers get into the boardroom and then start being more interested in what goes on there than out in the market. They become arrogant and lose touch with their customers. That, in my view, is the greatest mistake you can make. A good object lesson is General Motors.

One of his best stories tells how he showed his first Coca-Cola ads in 1993 to his boss Roberto Goizueta, who said, “I don’t like those ads.” “Look, Roberto,” he replied, “If you’re willing to buy a hundred percent of the volume worldwide then I’m happy to do the advertising that you like. Otherwise I’ve got to keep doing it to those damned consumers.”

I think I am right in saying that you are still seeing some of those ads today – the ones showing the polar bears in the snow that run at Christmas. They were shot in the mid ‘90’s

My favourite quote on this matter come from two of the great businessmen of the 20th century. In the early years, the architect of Sears, Roebuck’s rise to become the world’s greatest retailer was Julius Rosenwald. He once remarked, “My ambition is to stand on both sides of the counter at once.”

Towards the end of the last century, the name to conjure with was “Neutron” Jack Welch of General Electric. His name, after the bomb that killed people but left buildings intact, referred to his mass firings when he took the firm over.

His great line was that most executives “point their heads towards the chairman and their asses towards the customers.” Not something of which you could accuse Sergio Zyman. And no way to make a difference.


-Drayton Bird



Copyright (c) 2010 NoMax Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

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