Mark Ritson on Branding: The six core skills needed to be a great marketer

Mark Ritson
Mark Ritson

The best marketers have a handful of core attributes and skills at their disposal.

The gorgeous late-autumn weather in Boston is coming to a close and winter is beginning to exert its influence over MIT's riverside campus. As the nights grow longer, my core class in marketing for the new first-year MBA students is also coming to a close.

With only a few weeks left to point 250 students in the right direction, my final few classes of the semester are designed to highlight what a great marketer could and should do. So here is my list, born from experience and forged from interactions with the minority of marketers I regard as proficient, and the majority who fall short.

Let's start with a basic but key criterion. They have to be comfortable spending time with and listening to consumers. A significant proportion of marketers cannot find the time or the humility to spend time in the market. They are happy briefing research agencies and reviewing the results, but miss the fundamental starting point for any great marketer: get out of your office and spend time in the places and spaces where your consumers experience the product, no matter how senior or 'important' you consider yourself.

Next, behavioural segmentation. Too many marketers think segments are people who have similar demographic characteristics. Rubbish. Segments are groups of consumers who want the same things - the fact that they might share an age range, gender or postcode is relevant only after we first use our market research to show specific clusters of shared needs. Segments built from survey data, with good behavioural names and a tight portrait to capture their identity, is a hallmark of a good marketer. The usual '18-35 male' crap indicates the opposite.

Then comes targeting. A good marketer has made the leap of faith and accepted that fewer target consumers will deliver a better overall result. Usually, that means stepping back from the segmentation and only going after 10% or 20% of the potential market. Tight target segments mean the marketing has a chance to succeed. Too many marketers lose faith at this stage and end up targeting pretty much everyone.

Which leads nicely to the next feature of a great marketer: being entirely comfortable devoting time and marketing money to excluding the wrong kinds of consumers from your brand. Most marketers, when asked, still don't know the difference between marketing and sales. Marketing is as much about stopping the wrong people buying a product as ensuring that the right ones do. Usually, the majority of potential consumers in any market will cost you money if you serve them. A good marketer knows this and uses his or her skills to ensure they are avoided.

Next: positioning. A great marketer can create perceptual maps and uses them to derive a clear, tight, three-word positioning for their brand. No wheels or triangles here, just a clear articulation of what the brand stands for. If ever there was a question that sorts the wheat from the chaff, it's: 'What is your positioning?' Too often this is met with a stream of generic crap about integrity and innovation or a ridiculously over-complex, six-slide presentation that attempts to capture the 'essence' of the brand. A good marketer answers with a confident smile and few words.

Lastly, brand tracking. Think about what you need in place to successfully conduct this. You have to have a clear positioning statement, know that ultimately brands exist in the consumer's consciousness, and commit 5%-10% of your marketing budget to research to collect this data on a continual basis.

How did you do?

Mark Ritson, PPA columnist of the year (business media), is an associate professor of marketing and consultant to some of the world's biggest brands

 

30 seconds on 'fathers' of marketing

  • Edward Bernays (1891-1995), a nephew of Sigmund Freud, often cited as the originator of modern PR, was also behind many of the ideas that formed the foundation of marketing psychology. In his 1928 book Propaganda, he argued for the 'conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses'.
  • In his 1965 autobiography, Biography of an Idea: Memoirs of a Public Relations Counsel, Bernays recalled journalist Karl von Weigand telling him in 1933 about Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi power, and how Goebbels 'was using my book Crystallizing Public Opinion as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me'.
  • Charles Coolidge Parlin (1872-1942) is thought of as the father of marketing research. In 1911 he founded a commercial research division for the Curtis Publishing Company, which helped develop many of the research and presentation techniques still in use today.
  • Dr Philip Kotler has been referred to as the 'father of modern marketing'. The 78-year-old academic wrote the textbook Marketing Management, among other key titles. He is also the SC Johnson & Son distinguished professor of international marketing at the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer