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The Discipline of Market Leaders. A little while ago I came across this business classic on a bookshelf, while looking for something else. It was a huge hit back in the 1990s. Then it kind of disappeared, probably because it isn’t a “seven steps to category dominance” kind of book. You actually have to read it. And then, to get anything out of it, you actually have to think about it. But it was a pretty smart book.

The premise was that all category leaders master one of three disciplines: operational excellence, product (development) leadership, or customer intimacy. Makes sense.

Yesterday, we pitched a project that was declined by the client’s agency of record. Turns out, the agency of record can’t make money on the project for the budget that’s available. But the client spent a lot of the meeting raving about the agency of record, how much she loves them, how much she’s come to depend on one of the principals…. Now, we know those folks, and we think pretty highly of them. So what gives.

Well, the client loves them, because they are a “customer intimacy” company. But the cost, at least in their case, of being a customer intimacy company is so great, that there are things they just can’t do profitably. We, being an operational excellence company, can deliver an equivalent product (maybe better sometimes, probably not as good other times) for the same budget, and make money.

For us, it’s all in the process. If you can understand a concept at the thumbnail stage, then you get to see more concepts, and you can approve one or two as a thumbnail. Then, we can do comps of those concepts that were approved. And for the same price, you get more choices. This is never going to work for some clients. But for clients who can work this way, it yields benefits.

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