16 January 2008

Why is it so?

In my work as a marketing and business strategist, history plays an important role. Not history in general, but the history of the brand or business I am assigned to work on.

Unfortunately, my clients, in their hurry to get on with the project – which is, typically, to formulate a strategy to take the next steps in their marketing initiatives – almost always overlook the history that precedes the marketing problem at hand. They feel what’s done is done. They need to save the day by jump-starting onto the future. That’s because, with competitors edging in, time is of essence.

But, getting the facts right is important too. Facts related not only to the sales performance of the brands in question (after all, generating revenue is critical in business), but also to the events and the decisions which have led to the problem or situation the brand/business is in right now. Analysing these facts is important as they lead not only to better understanding of the project in hand, but also to sudden discoveries and solutions.

Sometimes, asking a simple question like ‘why is it so?’ can lead to solutions. This was pointed out to me, when I was in school, by an American physicist called Julius Sumner Miller, through his educational programmes on ABC TV (i.e. on Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Professor Miller used to insist on going back to the sources, breaking things down to their basics, and then thinking one’s way back into the problem.

Professor Miller used to say that this method was more fun, if not effective, as it involved the imaginative exercise of suspending one’s knowledge of how things turned out, so as to recreate the possibilities which might still be open to the scientist.

For marketing strategists, this learning and practice are invaluable. When working on a marketing problem, we need to know what the choices and possibilities were at a given time. We need to know why a particular strategy was adopted, and why others were not. We need to know what went through the minds of the people when they formulated and adopted a specific strategy to bring us where we are today.

In marketing, as much as in science or history (see my previous posts), asking ‘why is it so?’ is critical to finding solutions to current problems. That’s because, in marketing, as it is in science and history, a strategy/solution once adopted in the past can easily mask, or undervalue, the original problem of the brand or business. Thereby, misleading marketing strategists in their work.

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