Business experts often advocate bad ideas … some times appallingly bad ideas. When I read a marketing ‘expert’ by the name of Debbie Mayo-Smith waxing dreamily about the advice she received from another marketing expert to ‘Be a better marketer of what you do than a doer of what you do” I realized I was reading a new low. It is hard to imagine worse advice.
The reason lean is universally the best and only business strategy that can succeed is that it drives every aspect of the business to focus on creating more and more value for customers, and cut out everything possible that does not add customer value. There is no other way to go about running a business that can possibly be better. And the simple fact is that marketing is usually non-value adding waste. It typically does not make the product one iota better than the product would be without any marketing at all.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.” He was absolutely correct. Good products sell themselves.
Ms Mayo-Smith’s advice – to be better at telling people how good your chairs, knives, crucibles or church organs are than you are at making them – is so absurd as to defy all common sense; yet many companies seem to see wisdom in those words.
How else are we to explain companies that treat advertising and brand management as an ‘investment’ that should increase year to year in order to build the business, while manufacturing expenses are costs that should be relentlessly decreased?
How else are we to explain marketing departments that operate off on their own, largely disconnected from the factory floor and the engineering spaces, creating web sites, literature, advertisements and the like intended to create the illusion that your products will make them richer, sexier or more popular, rather than creating information that will help customers make truly more informed decisions?
How else are we to explain senior managers who spend more time in marketing meetings than on plant floors? And how else are we to explain the almost complete lack of involvement from the marketing function in lean transformations, as if it had nothing at all to do with their role?
Within the sales and marketing universe there is widespread opposition to aligning the sales people and marketing people on the same teams, let alone aligning them with the value creation functions. They tend to be functionally a group apart – and far too often a group above – the rest of the business.
There is certainly a role for marketing in a lean organization, but normally a much smaller one. The prism through which marketing should be evaluated is exactly the same one used by lean companies everywhere else in the business: Is this creating value for our customers? Is this use of resources helping customers to understand the product, use it better, and make the best choice among the various versions and types available? If so, then the expense may be well worth making.
Or is this expense merely attempting to persuade customers to buy our stuff, even though it may not be the best choice for the customer? If this is the case, and it is perceived to be a necessary element of the business strategy, the company is in big trouble. If educating the customers as to the choices that serve them best will not result in a “broad, hard-beaten road” to the business, no amount of brand management and advertising can save it.