Good marketing sense is uncommon

Forget what you know.  Not all of it.   Just don’t apply common sense to marketing.  It fails.

Billions of dollars are squandered every year in the United States because people are using logic where it is inappropriate.   Most people in management are very comfortable using common sense to design an advertising approach and campaign.   They don’t even mind failing, as long as their actions seem somewhat ordinary.

Al and Laura Ries, renowned marketing experts, describe this “management think” as problematic.   In short, managers trying to be marketers are afraid to take a chance.

“On the side of common sense are the management people who approach every situation in a sane, sensible way,” the Ries duo writes in WAR IN THE BOARDROOM, Why Left-Brain Management and Right-Brain Marketing Don’t See Eye-to-Eye–and What to Do About It.   “Their emphasis is always on the product: ‘If we can produce a better product at a better price, we can win the battle.’

“What frustrates marketing people is the fact that management’s emphasis on common sense rules out the possibility there might be an illogical, un-commonsense ‘marketing idea’ that can drive the company’s business.”

Examples of commonsense failures abound.

Xerox, the widely known innovator and market leader in copiers, decided to get itself into mainframe computers.   WAR IN THE BOARDROOM reports the company spent nearly a billion dollars to buy Scientific Data Systems to realize its goal.   The copier company, however, determined Xerox was a better name. It had recognition value.

That was true.  What it didn’t have was a reputation in the new field.  It failed to build one.

Using an established name on a new product line is very popular among commonsense management folks.

Kodak did it, too. The photographic film giant expanded to the copier arena, challenging (who else?) Xerox. Why would anyone think a Kodak copier is the one to buy when Xerox is firmly established in people’s minds as the market leader?   Of course, some people bought Kodak copiers.   But on the national and worldwide scale, it takes a leadership role to be profitable.

It certainly looks like this is a game for Fortune 500 businesses with tons of cash to wager.  But small companies can, and do, grow to be very large when they pursue the right marketing strategy.  Consider this final example.

When IBM jumped into the personal computer business, it kept its name for the same reasons as Xerox and Kodak.   You may remember that, in the early stages of the PC market’s development, all such DOS-operated computers were known as “IBM” or “IBM clones.”

It might seem logical that IBM would easily remain the market leader. And common sense would say a college student with an idea would be unable to wrestle away the top position from a multi-billion-dollar corporation.   But Michael Dell did exactly that.

Product name is but one area where common sense ruins marketing potential.   Other factors will be explored in future articles.