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Managing Marketing: The importance of mastering marketing principles

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Professor Mark Ritson is opinionated, entertaining and outspoken on the issues facing marketing, advertising and media. Here Mark talks about the challenges facing marketing and the importance of mastering the principles of marketing to deal with the challenges facing marketers, which is why he developed his mini-MBA in Marketing.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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LANGUAGE WARNING: Mark Ritson is well known for his course language which is reproduced here verbatim. If you find course language offensive please do not proceed any further.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing. Today I’m chatting with the opinionated, passionate and always entertaining, Professor Mark Ritson. Welcome, Mark.

Mark:

Gidday mate, how are you?

Darren:

I’m very well, but more importantly, marketing. Were you born in Lancaster?

Mark:

No, I’m a Lake District boy. I was born in a town called White Haven which is in West Cumbria on the edge of the Lake District.

Darren:

Okay, so how do you end up doing a Bachelor of Science in Marketing at Lancaster University?

Mark:

Well I always wanted to do marketing, I can’t explain why, I knew that when I left school. Lancaster was and still is the first marketing department in the U.K and also it was quite close by pommie terms.

Darren:

Just down the road.

Mark:

A hundred miles away which is a long way when you are a working class boy from Cumbria but it was the first marketing department set up in the U.K. It had a very big marketing department and I only realised later on actually. There were like 25 electives on my degree in 1989 which you just don’t get even today in marketing departments. So, I did that and really enjoyed it and went to work in London for NCR marketing cash machines, that wasn’t that interesting.

I then got a scholarship to go to Wharton to do an MBA when I was 23. I got in and got the money and everything but Wharton were quite correctly concerned that I was about 6 years too young to do an MBA and so they put me on a waiting list for a year and said look you’ll just have to wait and get a bit older.

Darren:

Get more experience.

Mark:

This scholarship was like a really good scholarship that I’d won and it was kind of like a very famous thing. So, they basically said work a bit more and we will squeeze you in when we can. It was decimating to me because I was ready to go to Philadelphia.

Then during the course, Lancaster came back and said well if you want to do post graduate stuff there is a PHD scholarship. So, I started a PHD at 23, finished at 27 and then Wharton wrote back to me and said you’ve still got two years of full funding. Would you like to do part of your PHD at Wharton which at the time was the number one business school in the world.

So, I went there and did a post Doc, sort of finished my PHD there. I went on the job market there in America and got a couple of good offers from very good schools and at the age of 27 I found myself to be a Professor in Marketing at the University of Minnesota.

Darren:

And the rest as they say is history.

Mark:

So, I got into it much earlier than I thought.

Darren:

I did a Bachelor of Science but mine was to do medical research. Marketing in science, everyone talks about marketing being an art and a science and so many people that come to marketing through a tertiary course are often focused on commerce, business, not the science aspect of it. I’m just wondering do you distinguish a difference there or not?

Mark:

Well, again it’s here you begin to see how clever Lancaster was and is and how wise the people were that set it up. You actually got to choose, so you could have a BA, Bachelor of Arts or a BSC when you’ve finished because their attitude was, from Jeff Eastern, the guy who ran the department, we think you can make either case and so you get to pick which was the only degree in the whole of the University that said that. Frankly I picked BSC because it sounds more impressive than BA.

Darren:

What’s the joke, BA qualifies you to do?

Mark:

Bugger all.

Darren:

Fry chips at McDonalds.

Mark:

That’s basically it and if it’s a choice I’ll have a BSC . But I do believe the science stuff is over stated and the creative stuff is overstated and the answer is somewhere between the two. I think the talk of marketing as a science is naive. The vision of marketing science expounded by those like Professor Bryon Sharp and so on is a childish view of science. It isn’t really suitably complex; it adapts the very bare principles of natural sciences to what is a social science. We’re not the same.

One of the things I had to do as part of my PHD was actually do the philosophies of science for a year, which is a painful thing to do. But I learned about Kuhnian paradigms, I learned about numerological research, I had to study all this stuff. The way we talk about science is a childish discussion. Natural sciences, the study of rocks and gravity is not the same as social sciences, the study of people, we’re reflexive; it’s not the same thing.

If you look at the debates in sociology and even the debates in marketing that no one here is aware off because they don’t study the history of the discipline, we have had this debate before. It goes back almost forty years to the paradigm wars, Holbrook, Hirschman, Shelby, Hunt, names that nobody remembers in Australia because they are not properly educated in that discipline.

We’ve already been through this once and the answer is, there are scientific elements that we can certainly borrow but it is over simplistic to try and create numerological laws of marketing.

I think that’s where we got to and where we should have stayed. The one thing I loved the most and I forgot now who wrote the paper, the singular best paper on this in the journal of marketing and the actual title is ‘Is marketing science? Is science marketing?’ and the point they made is that the whole scientific approach in social sciences is about winning people over and convincing them of your point a view.

As Bryon Sharp has done very well convincing people that you are science and therefore they are wrong, which is a rhetorical non-scientific argument.

Darren:

As you say there are aspects of science that can inform marketing, but marketing itself can’t be a pure science, and there is no unifying theory of marketing is there?

Mark:

If there was we would have been getting towards it by now. We’ve been at it a long time in America and now elsewhere, we don’t have too many laws. Even Bryon and the American professors that try and produce this have to keep having exceptions to the rule. So, it’s a little bit of a dreary challenge I think that people go on. We can be more rigorous, we can be more empirical, we can be more evidence bound and that would be a great thing but the idea that we are scientists is unfortunately a bit of a stretch, even though I’ve got a BSC.

Darren:

Which technically says you are a scientist.

Mark:

Well, I have it, it’s useful, I’m a doctor, I’ve got a PHD as well. I think we can stretch the bounds of that.

Darren:

The other area is the idea of complexity theory. I think complexity theory as an understanding of marketing or the market is really interesting. Possibly behavioural economics has become a bit of a junction between the two. Part of behavioural economics is the economics but there’s also the psychology of human beings which is a little bit of a bridge between the two, it’s not pretending to be science.

Mark:

Yeah you’re right and I love that stuff from Rory Sutherland at Ogilvie and Richard Shot and those boys but it’s trick photography for me; it’s little flicks of counter intuitive knowledge, it’s not that important.

I mean it’s nice, but a classic framing affair where you’ve got a cheap option and an expensive option and another in the middle there, they’re camera tricks, you know what I mean. And there’s nothing wrong with camera tricks, they are very useful but it’s a very superficial two inch deep discipline that does have I think some scientific antecedence perhaps. But again, I’ve seen that stuff before in America, a long time ago and it doesn’t go much more than an inch deep in my opinion.

You can’t fund a marketing strategy on it, but it’s better than tactics I think, its tactic with a brain attached to it. It has been well expounded. I had a big discussion with Rory over social media this week about some ridiculous article in Campaign which looks really good because it’s a guy who’s the COO of McCain’s, one of the big agencies talking about what we really need from a pitching process.

It reads in the intro, an agency guy talking about it’s your stock and trade, what pitching should look like and it’s the biggest pile of wank, I’ve ever read in my life. It includes things like, it’s nice when clients give us book tokens and stuff as part of the process because it shows their appreciation. And I’m like, ‘what the fuck is that’. And Rory’s point is, but it’s some kind of behavioural economics thing to give a gift and I’m ‘yeah, it’s still fucking pathetic’.

Darren:

Isn’t that one of the issues that in modern marketing, in modern business is that the whole discipline has been overcome by opinion and I’ll put my hand up because a lot of what I’m writing is opinion. But there’s a lot of opinion out there and there’s actually not a lot that is supported by evidence is there?

Mark:

You do yourself a discredit. I think you are opinionated but I think it’s founded on your firm and your experience and you’re not a dumb guy. You’re in a nice position not dissimilar from me in the sense that you are a humming bird that visits many flowers and from that comes not empiricism but a lot of experience and fact.

Darren:

I see trends.

Mark:

I say to my clients I’m Yoda. I believe this, I’m not smarter than the average person in the room that I’m working with, it’s just that I’ve worked for ten multinationals that average twenty countries that each have ten brands. And I’ve worked for them for a long time in some cases so I’ve seen plans get developed, executed, learned, changed. You add that up and it comes to about 2,500 years which makes me Yoda.

It’s not intelligence, it’s that I’ve helped develop, execute, and review plans 2000 times and if you don’t learn something from that you are an idiot, right. I think that’s the thing that’s missing from a lot of our friends who are speculators and armchair experts is that they are just talking shit, and it happens all the time.

Darren:

I think it’s actually much more sinister than that.

Mark:

Ah fuck I thought I was being pretty bad.

Darren:

In that a lot of the opinion that’s getting out there is actually being driven by sales; the desire for sales.

Mark:

That’s way worse than I thought.

Darren:

A lot of opinion is actually driven by people who are pushing an opinion as fact because they have something to sell out of it. And I see it on LinkedIn every day, people saying to me, well you’ve got to be on this platform or you’ve got to build your business through this platform and sure enough if you dig down even in the most superficial manner, what have they got? They’ve got something they’re wanting to sell you in that particular platform.

Mark:

It’s true, it happens so much you almost didn’t notice it. When we were fighting the battles of social media, it clearly wasn’t. I see social media as a marketing tool very different from digital media. It’s all semantics but the idea of organic social media, about 7 or 8 years ago we started to think it was going to change the world and everyone was going to have a relationship with their chips and everything.

And when you started arguing with these people I kept sensing I just think it’s a load of bullshit. I don’t make any money from it being or not being true but everyone that was replying to me and ripping into me, worked for a social media company. It was like you did get a sense of it at the time.

I’d almost prefer your hypothesis to be true but I’ve an even darker view. I just think a lot of people just don’t know what they are talking about. I hope that there’s a dark agenda which infers intelligence in some cases. My stock belief and again I might be guilty of selling subconsciously the viewpoint that works best for me as a professor or trainer but I just think lots of people that work in marketing don’t know that much about marketing. I think the majority of them have never studied it, that doesn’t help.

Darren:

They don’t have the basic understanding.

Mark:

They don’t know anything. You can’t go into the career and say I’ve formed some viewpoints about marketing and we keep having the same conversations. And again, it frustrates me because we’ve had these conversations before; read some things.

I met some guy this year who’s desperate to do some course on marketing and to create a new model of marketing and I’m like look, ‘my model’s from like 1986 from a bunch of professors who I think are really respected and they built it and started it from someone else. You don’t even know or have ever been taught marketing or studied it. Why don’t you start there before you start creating a model of it?

I think I’ve got 25 years to go before I’d even attempt that. What makes you think you can turn up and move things around?

Darren:

Or even worse, not just move things around, just imagine a whole new way of the world working.

Mark:

And dismiss all the shit.

Darren:

I think they are called flat-earthers in science and they are called something else in medicine.

Mark:

Like the content marketing world. Content marketing is fundamentally nothing new, but because they don’t know anything about marketing originally, they’ve just reinvented names for everything that we already knew existed. So, then they go, ‘that doesn’t apply anymore, what we’ve got now is this’. The this is the same as that.

Darren:

Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac is one of the earliest examples of content marketing.

Mark:

Sure, it is.

Darren:

But there is a difference in that technology has made it possible for almost anyone to become a publisher or anyone can become a broadcaster, the trouble is, should they.

Mark:

Podcaster is a great example right, I could fill my life, morning and afternoon with podcast interviews. I’m only doing this one with you because you are a good dude right and I would hope you’ll pull a good audience. There must be about 9000 podcasts on marketing but 8000 of which have asked me to talk to them at some point.

That’s a great lesson; there’s only room for two or three and the rest of them will go on till people realise well there’s not really any point in doing this. Just because we can have a newspaper or social media following our podcast doesn’t mean we should.

But then again it’s great that it allows new channels to emerge outside of the traditional system.

Darren:

And give new voice to different perspectives, but ultimately if they have any value then they’ll succeed and if they don’t, they will just wither on the vine.

Mark:

They will. The hyper competition means our media universe is more saturated but it’s more interesting. The things that happen in the media world; I always talk about when we were young men you would measure the share of pie. Remember the old days and you’d have, how much has gone to newspaper and how much has gone to TV.

Darren:

Share of voice.

Mark:

Share of voice but you know you’d end up getting your media share and it was presented as a pie chart, right. And we stopped doing that for the simple reason that it’s all in line charts now because it’s moving. If you shared a pie for 25 years up until 2007 it was the same pie. Now we have to show it as a line chart because it’s fucking moving up, digitals going up, news is going down and TV’s doing that.

Darren:

Well a pie now comes in a thousand different sizes or flavours.

Mark:

If you let it, you can break it up into all those horrible charts that say here’s the digital media universe and it’s like, why, what is the point of that. Consumers and viewers aren’t going oh I’m going to watch digital media today rather than whatever we think is non digital but there isn’t any non-digital media anyway. There’s this uncomfortable point that at some point we have to accept right.

I start my classes with my student and I say, digital or traditional. Give me the main forms of traditional and they say newspapers. Well they are more digital now than traditional. Radio, well radio’s now in the UK more digitally delivered than broadcast, just past the threshold last month. Outdoor, 65%, you know what I mean. For me it’s the triumph of the moment when digital became everything and therefore became nothing, it’s a fascinating time.

Darren:

Well it’s interesting from our perspective because we still see a lot of marketing departments where there is a digital stream or a digital group and it’s almost like because so many marketing departments have ended up siloed either because the organisation has siloed or because they’ve aligned themselves by channel or product and then they bolt on digital and in actual fact digital has become almost irrelevant because almost everything they are doing in marketing communications has digital.

Mark:

And I’m seeing it first-hand without naming names, a number of big marketing departments with big digital departments are in the process, comfortably or not of merging together. And what it means is half of these digital strategists will become the heads of strategy generally and half of them will lose their jobs.

Darren:

That’s great because one of the other areas is there’s so many different strategists .You know the idea of having a marketing strategy and then there use to be a comms strategy or a channel strategy but now you’ve got a social media strategy and a digital strategy. And of course, all those strategies are not really strategies because it’s like if you’re a hammer, then every problem’s a nail.

Mark:

That’s it and they are not even strategies in the sense that, I have a very fundamentalist belief which is very simplistic but seems to work really nicely which is, the minute we cross the threshold into communications it’s a tactical realm and you can use the word strategy but the reality is that strategy has been done.

And we are into execution and thinking and using our brain but the idea of a digital strategy or even for that matter an advertising strategy is to some degree a contradiction in terms.

Darren:

It’s really a plan isn’t it because planning and strategy seems to be interchangeable in the comms area.

Mark:

It’s something lower level and the problem with that is we don’t have any strategy in about 90% of Australian companies. No, I’ve said that wrong. I’ll be honest, I don’t work at the level where corporate strategy is set. I work at the level where marketing and brand strategy is set. I can tell you with absolute certainty that more than 90% of large Australian companies above 50 million dollars of revenue all the way to the top, have no actual marketing or brand strategy at all.

Darren:

It’s just a series of tactics.

Mark:

It’s series of tactics, it’s a bunch of bullshit, it’s people that don’t know what they are doing, people that are distracted and there aren’t plans in place. Talk to the agencies about what they get briefed on, not just the quality of the brief but the strategy which is fundamentally the skeleton of the brief. And they will tell you nine times out of ten, there isn’t a strategy there.

Literally we have to create something because these guys don’t actually have anything; they’ve got a bunch of tactical requests that they should be leaving to us but we’ll now need to swim upstream and create. And the last person you want doing a strategy is an advertising agency right but it is better than nothing.

Darren:

Well what they are trying to do is bring sense to all the tactics. Post rationalised structural framework that actually makes all these tactics look cohesive.

Mark:

And I have sympathy for these Australian agencies because they’ve have had to do that. And one of the things you do with a client where they have finally got a strategy together is politely and firmly explain to the agency, and I’ve had these conversations, ‘listen pal, you don’t need to do your usual stuff, they know what the fuck they are doing this time’ and it’s not the agency’s fault that they are trying to swim upstream, it’s just that they are used to doing everything right, they’ve got all that.

Don’t try and do all that work shopping stuff, you are going to walk into a wall. Just go downstream and do your job. This time we’ve already got our shit together and they are quite comfortable with that once you tell them that but they don’t expect that to be the case because they don’t normally get it.

Darren:

Now I just want to go back to your Yoda comment which I actually like just to visualise. Do you think when you have that level of experience and exposure to such a diverse array of businesses and circumstances, the fact that you’ve got such a solid grounding in the principles and understandings of marketing makes the insights faster or more insightful?

Like when you look at a business it must be that having the framework, it may be hard for you to answer because it’s second nature.

Mark:

No, I think it’s a good question. It’s interesting, I think the big problem that I have and I think many clients have is; let me give you an example to explain it first. This will be my twenty-fifth year of teaching MBA students and one of the things you learn about teaching is that you never know how well or badly it’s going because you’re teaching the class.

You’re not by any means receiving it so you really can’t tell. From the front it always seems to be going really well. And my point is that when I first started teaching in America I was absolutely fucking terrible. I use to go out with the students in the evenings and say to them ‘how can I be less shit, literally’, and they would tell me and I would pay attention and I’d improve. 25 years later and I’ve won teaching prizes and yadda, yadda, yadda.

It’s much harder for me to look at the feedback and go, my reaction now is fuck you, you think I should do this and I’m a fucking famous professor , what do you know, you’re twenty eight. And that’s my point, I think it’s great to have experience but then the danger of it is, you start to get arrogant and you start to think you know what you are seeing. And the great humility of marketing is the ability to know you know nothing, you have to always start from that point.

Fame and the great physicist said the easiest person to fool is yourself and I think that’s the challenge of doing proper marketing diagnosis at the start, is not jumping. Aussies do this all the time, senior Aussie marketers go, oh look mate, I’ve come from Coca Cola and I haven’t really looked at the research too much but I know what’s going on.

What we need to do is what we did at Coca Cola, this and this and this. Each brand is always literally different and each market is different so the humility of marketing is hopefully, and look we are all guilty of not doing this every time, is really getting back to zero and going right, I know nothing.

I turn off all the lights, now I can use research to make sense of this and I have to stay open and we all get caught out. So, marketing orientation for me is fundamentally the starting point and market orientation is you are not the customer and the fact that you are being paid to work for this company means you now are completely blind.

You’re not a consumer by definition; I work for a bank at the moment, a Royal commissioner and I have a particular take on it and I’m pretty certain it’s completely tainted by the fact that I work for a bank. As long as I know that I will be alright, I am not the consumer.

Darren:

It’s the bias isn’t it? That’s one of the things I love about science is that they are so self-obsessed in a way that you are looking for everything that you actually do to influence the outcome of the experiment. It’s also the part that I loved about and attracted me to marketing is that taking that type of awareness into an area which is totally unpredictable. I love chaotic but you can’t operate in chaos, you can only operate in complexity.

Mark:

That’s a great point too right. I see the world again as being, marketing orientation starts my process. I get tonnes of data then with the client and you are right, there’s a chaotic sense particularly at the beginning with the data but great analysis and insight is building a structure organically from the data which ends with segmentation.

Segmentation is the end of the diagnosis point because it produces order out of that chaos. No one understands segmentation; it’s got nothing to do with the company. If I’m working for Woolworths I should build exactly the same segmentation that Coles do. Market segmentation is about the market. It’s the end of the understanding and that’s the point where the chaos has been made sensible.

Darren:

And it’s interesting because what you are describing there is really the starting point of the scientific method and I’m sure if you did the philosophy of science; observe, make a hypothesis based on the observation, and find ways of testing it. The trouble is when you come to experimentation it’s very hard to have a null set when human beings are human beings. You can’t have a separate market over here that you don’t influence.

Mark:

And to be fair, if you ever have a look at how sciences do it, I mean I use to do a lot of this sort of work in America when we were publishing our papers. That’s how they say they do it and they don’t. They already have the data and the hypothesis. They don’t play it, you know what I mean. It’s dodgy and most science is not science.

Max Planck is the guy to read on this. The stuff on nutrition, this brilliant story to be written or film to be made about how an American, I forget his name, head of nutrition, basically pushed the idea that low fat, high sugar was the way to lose weight. And there was an English guy who died pennilessly who argued that that was not true.

And actually, high fat food counter intuitively didn’t necessarily make you fat or unhealthy and he lost out because the scientists using apparently the scientific method in America were all trained by each other, they’re all part of a little happy group. And Max Planck makes the point it’s only when these guys literally die that you have a chance to replace them 35 or 40 years later in schools of nutrition with an alternative point of view.

The scientific method by and large is a load of wank. The rationality of it is entirely post hoc even in the natural sciences, never mind in the sciences we work in today. You look at how things have been developed in science; they’re by and large, not always very dodgely developed. People have an inherent bias.

Darren:

Well certainly the peer-review component is what you are talking about.

Mark:

Totally.

Darren:

When everyone gets on board and we’ve seen that throughout the history going back centuries. Take Copernicus, he was the one that told us the sun didn’t revolve around the earth, that the earth actually revolved around the sun but because it wasn’t the prevailing belief at the time no one gave any attention to it.

Mark:

And we do get there eventually but not in a smooth way. When I was a younger professor getting work published, some of my best reviews for very big journals in America resulted in rejection and there was no explanation. They just said it’s a great paper, very interesting; we are not going to publish that.

You got a real sense of it. We got close with QJE, the Quality Journal of Economics which is the god’s journal of economics and I was doing work on pricing. It’s maybe the best set of reviews I’ve ever had. I said to my co-author, Mark Burger, ‘holy shit these guys love it’ and he went, ‘no they’ve rejected the paper’. It’s like why?

The paper we did write was scientific in the Nobel Prize acceptance speech that was published in a B Journal but it never made it and it was like, it was just clear.

Darren:

Ah yes, people are people aren’t they. Human beings will always be flawed.

Mark:

Unfortunately, and their flaws are interesting.

Darren:

You mentioned the MBA students because you were mainly lecturing in marketing to MBA and EMBA at Melbourne Business School.

Mark:

That’s right.

Darren:

But you are also running this mini MBA which I’ve heard a lot of positive things about.

Mark:

Well that’s good, thanks for mentioning it.

Darren:

Well the reason I ask is that, first of all from a personal perspective I’m fascinated because I love the idea of giving people at least a framework of marketing that they can apply.

Mark:

That’s why we started it.

Darren:

What are you seeing from that because it must be amazing seeing people that have worked in industry, worked in marketing, worked in media, coming through that course beause how long does it run for, how many weeks do you have?

Mark:

It’s a total of 12 weeks, so it’s the course I’ve taught at London Business School, at MIT, I’ve never taught it in Melbourne because I’ve always taught the Brand elective. And it’s just such a great course with such good structure and it’s not my course, it’s the course that any good, very good marketing professor would teach at a world class school, that’s the format.

I will be honest with you; I did it partly because the text books of today are hopeless. I think as we’ve already said most marketers don’t have a good marketing knowledge and frankly I started having babies with my wife and I couldn’t keep travelling overseas and I thought this would be a good way where I could create a revenue stream where I don’t have to fly to America and so forth.

All of that has worked out. It’s a very successful programme in terms of we’ve a net promoter score right now and it’s more than plus 78.

Darren:

That’s amazing. Especially the bank you are working for, they will be happy with anything in the positive.

Mark:

Yes, they would, they really would, and anyone would take that score. We are very happy with that. We’ve had 3,500 marketers that have gone through it so far, and we are picking up more and more through advocacy. And what’s really interesting is the intimacy of the learning on line means it’s better than being taught in a classroom; that’s the bit I wasn’t anticipating.

So, because you basically watch it all on Apps and then you do an exam and stuff but it’s me on green screen and things. The relationship you develop with the student and the impact on them is quite clearly now and upsettingly almost, superior to the one you have with them in the classroom.

They do it over 12 weeks, little bit size things. It’s on their screen, in their time; on the way home and so on and rather than pull them into an amphitheatre and so on as you would in the 15th century and shouting at them for six days it is apparent that this is a superior approach. Not just in terms of convenience on both sides but in terms of learning and impact.

That’s the bit that surprised me so I’m selling it to a big provider in America, we will keep moving it forward and bring an updated version next year. It’s incredibly lucrative, I’ll be honest with you but this is real data, wait for this. 94% of the people that have done the course so far said it made them a more effective marketer immediately.

It’s a stunning statistic and we are pulling quite senior people to the course, so it’s working. It’s not some kind of amazing syllabus that I’ve invented myself; it’s my material but it’s based on the proper marketing process.

If we play our cards right I see it as a replacement for Kotler and the text books of old. That’s the game I’d like to play. I don’t think we will get there but we’ll have a real old go at it and I think getting into America which is the home of marketing where they all disappeared from view; I think we are on the verge of something quite exciting.

So yeah, it’s been an amazing run and it’s hard not to look at the classroom approach and worry for its long term tenability when I’ve seen what this thing can do. The typical online course is terrible; it’s an Al-Qaeda video style of a guy with a bad microphone and books behind him.

Darren:

As a marketer you are now delivering the content you’d deliver in a lecture theatre into a format where the audience, your customers are actually choosing the time and place and mindset. How many times have you been standing in an auditorium and you might pick out three or four faces that are completely engaged because it’s human nature to go for the faces that are clearly hanging off your every word? But then there’s going to be 30 or 40 other people that are sort of sitting there going, I wonder what’s on for lunch at the cafe.

Mark:

Oh no you are doing me a disservice, now steady on.

Darren:

You mean they are all totally engaged.

Mark:

If I can’t do that, there’s something wrong with me. My average teaching score on a 5 point scale is 4.9 over 25 years. I’ve never been beaten by anyone.

Darren:

Okay, you’re at the top of your game but I think the format means people are completely in the zone to take it on because they wouldn’t do it otherwise.

Mark:

Unfortunately, you are right. You can win that attention in an amphitheatre with 100 people but by Christ it’s hard work.

Darren:

Yeah.

Mark:

And second you are absolutely right. At the end of the day you can only do hour long chunks and then you have to do something else with them because it’s an eight hour day. And I think the other part to it is the intimacy that this model seems to engender is a genuine surprise. There’s something in the learning method of me being on their screen rather than them being in my lecture theatre. Because online learning has been done so badly so far and I certainly wasn’t a fan of it, it has largely failed.

Darren:

You’ve taken someone who has perfected or is at the top of their game doing it live and then you put that content and the performance.

Mark:

And the content is twenty years old in the nicest possible way so we’ve had twenty years of prep and we went in and we did spend a lot of money on it. We filmed it in the Green screen studio in Melbourne and I’m walking around places, you know what I mean. But I think that’s it, they’ve tried to replicate it, the company I’m working with in London and they’ve struggled, not because the people aren’t good but you’ve had a twenty year run to get it ready.

So, there’s a model there that is interesting and not just personally, financially and in terms of I meet people all the time now, like I met someone on the ferry yesterday who’s done the course so feel like they know me intimately and I’ve obviously never met them.

Darren:

That’s quite weird.

Mark:

It’s quite weird because they clearly, quite correctly think they know me.

Darren:

I have that to a lesser extent. People meet you and they talk to you as if you are a close personal friend and you’re going, ‘have we met’ and they go ‘ no but I’ve seen all your videos and listened to your podcasts’ and you go’ great, glad you liked it’. It’s nice to get that feedback.

Mark:

It means you’re doing the right thing right.

Darren:

I also want to pick up on the fact that so many people, senior marketers and all sorts of people are coming to you and saying, it’s fundamentally made them a better marketer. It’s interesting; there are marketers who have gone through and done their base degree, there are those who have come to marketing like myself and have other backgrounds. I know marketers that are lawyers and metallurgists and all sorts of things.

Do you think part of this is you’ve had twenty years to refine it? You are really giving people an absolute foundation that they can take all their experiences and everything they’ve known and suddenly almost like Lego bricks, work out.

Mark:

You’ve got it.

Darren:

Which bits fit onto the foundation and which bits they should toss because it doesn’t make sense?

Mark:

There are three things going on. I must say for once we got it pretty right. We practice what we preach. So, I did a lot of segmentation work before I developed the content and our goal was really to target two distinct segments. Digital marketers who have lots of digital but no marketing, and we wanted to say keep your digital skills but be a proper marketer.

That’s worked very well. And senior marketers, more to your point who either did a marketing degree so long ago they can’t remember it or it wasn’t very good, or I’ve never had a marketing training which is quite common but I’ve worked successfully in industry for a long time and have worries about confidence and being found out and imposter syndrome and everything else.

And I think about three things happened to your point. If you talk to the senior guys who have done the course, and we did pull even more senior than we expected and we continue to do so. You are absolutely right, one of the things they get is like a map, it suddenly locks in together.

I’ve lived in Sydney for a while now but I’m learning how northern beaches fit in and lock in together. They go ‘I fucking get it, segmentation does that and targeting does that’. There’s another group who learn, I’ve been calling it this because I’ve kind of worked it out for myself but actually he’s telling me it’s called that and there’s a Harvard reading on it, right. Got it, I’m right but now I know what it is properly called’.

But I must say there’s also a third area which is ‘I had no idea about that at all’. And I would say even with the senior guy there’s approximately a third of each going on. I mean the structure of the course is literally the story of how to do a marketing plan and how one bit fits into another, so your Lego analogy is good.

But there’s also a lot of stuff that people just have never learnt or forgot, that’s pretty important stuff. So that’s why it’s so important to me. It frankly isn’t an innovative course, I think it’s taught innovatively and interestingly but what it is, is marketing which so many marketers don’t have.

Darren:

So, if you don’t mind send me through the link so we can include it in the podcast.

Mark:

Fuck yeah.

Darren:

Because I think anything that’s going to improve the quality of marketing thinking has to be good for the industry.

Mark:

I’m with you and thanks mate and I genuinely think other than making a shed load of money and having lots of people do the course we have this chance to have something that will help fix a problem that is getting increasingly worse. That isn’t my mission in life but it’s attractive mind you. I grew up on Kotler which is the classic textbook.

Darren:

That’s $600 now.

Mark:

Yeah, and I recently reread it and it’s now written partly by Kotler who’s in semi-retirement and also by Kevin Keller who sort of replaced it. I love both of those men very well, I think they are fantastic thinkers and scholars and we owe so much to them. Their book is a pile of shit right. It’s just been added to and amended like a house that has just been expanded and expanded, it’s unreadable.

Darren:

Too many extensions.

Mark:

Too many and even if it was still an era of books, asking a 28-year old marketer to read a fucking giant 800 page textbook, that is not going to be our source of knowledge. So, I really want mini MBA, in my own little ambitious way, we have to have dreams, to get to America. America is the home of marketing and my activities would be largely a digital player and if Americans learn it this way and I learnt from Americans, that would be a complete circle for me. I would retire a happy man in ten years’ time.

Darren:

Well you’ve changed the world, haven’t you?

Mark:

I could have changed the world.

Darren:

Or at least changed the marketing world.

Mark:

I’ll have a go, I mean I haven’t done anything yet but that would be a great thing to aim for, not that I think it’s going to happen but I’ll have a go.

Darren:

And a dam good shot. Mark, thanks very much, we’ve run out of time. One final question; where is the best place for anyone to start on their marketing career?

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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