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The Battle of Marketing Titans: Kotler, Sharp, Binet/Feld, and "Performance-Driven" Approaches
Mastering the Art of Marketing Leadership: Exploring Different Philosophies and Unlocking Your Team's Potential
💎 DESIGN: Sharpening Your Edge
I’m a huge proponent of capability building and learning agility. As such, I hold my teams, my leaders, and, most especially, myself, accountable for regularly attending training. Whether it’s to upskill (learn something new) or reskill (refresher), I have found that the number of pieces of training attended (or lack thereof) in a given year is a strong proof point of a growth mindset.
To that point, and in addition to my regular reading regimen, this year I decided to refresh my marketing acumen by attending Mark Ritson’s Mini-MBA in Marketing and by getting my Professional Digital Marketing Certification via the Digital Marketing Institute, which bundled the Professional Certified Digital Marketer designation from the American Marketing Association.
Both of these courses reminded me that marketing principles and philosophies, despite the rhetoric, do have some enduring universal principles, have stood the test of time, and will likely continue to do so. To ensure I don’t forget what I’m learning, I decided to pull together my thoughts on marketing for new marketing team leaders or those looking to get into marketing/brand building. Pro tip: distill every training you take, or book you read, into a one-page brief (or blog post!) for yourself and/or your team members.
LARGE CAVEAT! My attempt to summarize the essence of ANY marketing viewpoint is like walking on a tightrope above a mob of pitchfork-toting critics. So, let me preface by saying, this isn't exhaustive. Consider it a nugget of wisdom from an old hand at the game, serving both as a refresher for me and a primer for you, based on my training and experience in brand marketing.
So, put down your pitchfork, and grab your popcorn, as we delve into the contributions of several marketing powerhouses: Philip Kotler, Byron Sharp, Les Binet, and Peter Feld. And, just for fun, we'll throw in a 100% performance marketing perspective. Let's explore their unique approaches and how you, as a new or aspiring marketing team leader, can navigate this marketing maze—recognizing that these categories are broad, and within each, there is a wide range of nuanced philosophies and strategies.
“A Titan against a Titan!”
(Extra credit if you know the source of this quote…without Googling it!)
Climbing the Kotler Ladder: Principles that Transcend Time
Philip Kotler, the "father of modern marketing," advocates for a customer-centric approach. His philosophy revolves around the 4Ps (Product, Price, Promotion, and Place - invented by Jerry McCarthy in the 1960s) and emphasizes understanding customers' needs and wants. Kotler famously said, "The best advertising is done by satisfied customers," and encouraged marketers to create lasting relationships with their customers. I agree—the advocacy moment of truth is powerful.
Despite the proliferation of P’s and A’s (what I affectionately call answers in search of a question), Kotler’s principles have stood the test of time and remain relevant today. His book “Kellogg on Marketing” should be a staple on any aspiring marketer’s bookshelf.
The Sharp Shooter: Distinctive Brand Building
Byron Sharp, on the other hand, is known for his book "How Brands Grow" and his focus on mental and physical availability. Sharp believes in building brands through distinctive assets and mass marketing, where customer loyalty is a byproduct of market penetration. He once said, "The ultimate goal of a marketer is to create a memory structure around the brand that ensures it's easy to buy, again and again."
Like all great marketing thinkers and practitioners, Byron has his critics—including several debates from one of my favorites: Mark Ritson. Nevertheless, Sharp’s books and philosophies are essential reading for marketing leaders.
Balancing Act with Binet & Feld
The dynamic duo of Les Binet and Peter Feld champion a more balanced marketing approach. Their philosophy revolves around long-term brand building and short-term sales activation. They advocate for a 60:40 budget allocation between the two, emphasizing the need for a mix of emotional and rational marketing messages. They argue that "the most important factor for effectiveness is getting the balance between brand building and sales activation right."
In this balanced ecosystem, you'll find Mark Ritson and his Mini MBA programs where he astutely navigates the pros and cons of the various methodologies.
The Metric Maniacs: Performance Marketing
The fourth perspective to discuss is 100% performance marketing. This data-driven approach is all about measurable results, ROI, and real-time optimization. The focus is on tactics, like search engine marketing, social media advertising, and affiliate marketing. Thought leaders in this space advocate for continuous testing and learning to maximize performance. The DMI Course was squarely in this space, and while I learned quite a bit—caveat emptor.
Caveat/rant: I’m generally not a fan of the term “performance marketing”, often synonymously used with “digital marketing”, especially when pitted against or as superior to “brand marketing”. I’ve been in plenty of discussions throughout my career where business leaders (especially financial leaders) assume that performance/digital marketing is the best (only, new) way of marketing since “the long of it” is “harder to quantify”. Rubbish. I’ve never led a brand where performance wasn’t important; nor have I successfully built or grown a brand sustainably or solely on digital marketing. Each has its unique strengths and applications.
Successful marketing strategies typically leverage elements from both performance and brand marketing, depending on specific campaign goals and context. Here’s Ritson with a richer and more nuanced deep dive. Or if you prefer a more scathing perspective on how digital marketing has gone off the rails, read any of Bob Hoffman’s books and newsletters.
Riding the Marketing Roller Coaster
As a new or aspiring marketing team leader, you should learn these foundational principles, and be mindful of shifting technologies, but not chase every tactic. To help you become a marketing maestro, or at the very least, a lifelong marketing student, here are some actionable steps to sharpen your marketing leadership toolkit:
📚 Education and Training: Annually enroll in marketing and leadership courses, workshops, or seminars. Consider online resources like Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, or HubSpot Academy to gain a solid understanding of marketing fundamentals and leadership skills. To date, I have used and highly recommend the Digital Marketing Institute, Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA, Graham Robertson’s Beloved Brands, Tim Brunelle, and Scott Galloway’s Section School.
Side Note: First, this doesn’t include all the books that I’ve read/re-read to stay up to date (read to the end for additional essential reading). Second, if I’ve missed other pieces of training, it is unintentional and inefficient for me to list everything. There are dozens and dozens of marketing tomes, pieces of training, and thought leaders that marketers should reference frequently to stay informed and bust their biases. Just start, write down your thoughts, and then iterate as you go.
🎯 Set Clear Objectives: Establish measurable learning & application goals for your team and yourself. Define your target audience, key performance indicators (KPIs), and desired outcomes. This will help you prioritize and focus on the most relevant tactics that align with your objectives. For my loyal readers of this newsletter, you’ll note that this concept recurs in most of my recommendations for new team leaders. Why? “You can’t improve what you don’t measure”. Simple, not easy.
🔄 Test & Learn Mindset: Implement a structured experimentation, learning, and optimization approach. Develop a process to test new ideas, measure results, and learn from successes and failures. Encourage your team to share insights, propose new learnings, and iterate on existing ones. Allocate time and resources for personal and professional development. Create a culture that embraces feedback, learning from new learning (yes, intentional), and adapting to change. Pro-tip: have your team members take different courses and then carve out time for each of them to re-teach and/or share what they’ve learned back to the team. Scaled learning!
🔍 Innovation & Adaptability: While I don’t recommend chasing every new tactic, it is important to adapt to the changing landscape by incorporating new tools, techniques, or philosophies as they become relevant to your goals and audience. Familiarize yourself with marketing tools and technologies, such as marketing automation, CRM systems, or analytics platforms. Invest in tools that streamline your team's workflow, improve efficiency, and provide valuable insights.
Yes, experiment with AI and LLMs for your marketing efforts. Don’t know where to start? A quick search/scan for “marketing prompts that do X…” on Google or LinkedIn should get you started. I recommend Christopher Penn, Allie K. Miller, and my friend, Tim Brunelle. Again, there are dozens of highly entertaining and informative experts out there, just pick a few to start. Then iterate from there.
Remember, in the grand marketing scheme, there are no permanent winners or losers - only learners and adapters.
Discourse and Discernment
So, who wins the marketing battle royale? Well, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Despite their differences, some universal truths still apply, like the 4Ps and 4As (Awareness, Acceptability, Affordability, and Accessibility). And not every battle needs a new weapon.
As a new marketing team leader or brand manager, your job is to be adaptable and resourceful. Absorb the lessons from each school of thought, discuss & debate with your team, and apply them to your unique context. And always remember, the path to marketing success is paved with curiosity, learning, and experimentation. Adopt a test & learn mindset, as it's the key to navigating the ever-evolving marketing landscape.
Time to take action: What marketing/brand building class, podcast, book, white paper, etc. are you going to sign-up for, read, and then capture your thoughts on next?
Extra credit: did you make it this far? I’m humbled and impressed. In addition to the resources I’ve mentioned above, below are some additional core “commercial” resources (marketing, brand, sales, continuous improvement) that I have found useful to reference time and again. I say ‘core’ because, despite the many commercial leadership roles that I have held, the concepts contained therein have withstood the test of time and all the VUCA thrown at them. Please note that I refresh the newsletters periodically. Enjoy!
The Trade Promotion Field Manual by John G. McGarvey
The Business of Aspiration by Ana Andjelic
The Founder’s Mentality by Zook & Allen
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al & Laura Ries
Red Teaming by Bryce Hoffman
Impossible to Ignore by Carmen Simon (my #1 go-to book)
Additional frequently read newsletters:
Still here? A must-watch: “A Titan against a Titan!”