Is your marketing built on customer value insight? 

Okay! So sou might know what your customer’s need but do you know what they value?

Watch this YouTube introduction to see what I’m talking about Value-ology

Meeting a need is solving a problem delivering value is being relevant.

Academics Vargo and Lusch describe value as idiosyncratic, subjective and  meaning laden. This means that value is a moving target that is only ever determined by the customer. A supplier can never tell a customer what value is.

Suppliers can only ever propose value. That’s why of all the marketing tasks a CMO has to do the creation of a value proposition can be the difference between success and failure. Your offer has to address some matter at hand in the world of the customer.

Your products and services will of course be designed to solve a problem that is generally understood. Zoning in on value means improving your customisation.

Value-ology is packed full of thought provoking ideas and practical tools that can transform your marketing and improve your ROI

Does management destroy value?

I saw this thought provoking quote today on Facebook which comes from the website Keep it on the deck.

What it got me thinking about was value creation and value destruction. These are themes that are very topical in marketing academia.

Value destruction can happen through incompetence, unfulfilled  promises, rudeness, aggression. Usually this is meant to refer to service staff treating customers badly.

But what if the same applied to managers and staff and coaches and players?

In business the idea of ‘managerialism’ is taken for granted. We all assume things can and need to managed. Otherwise we have chaos and wasted and misdirected resource. Things need to analysed and controlled for there own good otherwise business would be a bun fight a free for all. Managerialism manifests itself in sport through sports science and match analytics.

Managerialism aims to stop businesses looking like a junior school football match where all the players chase like a bee swarm after the ball. No roles, no system, no tactics. 

But what happens to talent when it is overly constrained ? what happens to  what sociologists call ‘agency’, what Antony Giddens calls our ‘ability to do otherwise’?

Managerialism is a toxic phenomenon beloved by the unimaginative. They love it and enforce it control the one thing they haven’t got and envy. Talent. 

Uniqueness comes not only from doing otherwise but ‘seeing’ otherwise. This is an imaginative capability that is not uniformly distributed amongst human beings.

Soccer fans intuitively know this. The player that ‘reads’ the game differently and better to others, the player that breaks the pattern to create surprises.

So I urge managers to ask themselves if they inadvertently destroying the value that is created in their staff through their fundamental passion for customers and the service they provide.

Just look how junior doctors are being treated to see what I mean.

I don’t ever believe skill was ever or will be the result of management. It’s a result of a love affair between a person and their profession.

Disruption is ‘in’ and innovation is so 20th century

So claims Mary Harper -head of digital Standard Life in Marketing Week.

Talking ‘as if’ things are ‘in’ belies a fascination for the trendy and fashionable. There seems to be nothing more ‘hem line’ savvy in marketing management than the term disruption. 

The question is ‘so what’? Is disruption really new and how is it any different from innovation? 

As a piece of rhetoric it’s pretty powerful isn’t it. It evokes awareness of an edgy world where surprises happen and the need to unsettle things is essential. 

Disruption is positioned as a fearful problem that faces your business…but don’t worry your marketing people are on the case. 

Be quick on the draw. To avoid being disrupted we have to disrupt. 

I agree with Mary. Disruption is a slippery concept and it means different things to different people. One thing seems clear though and that is ‘disruption’ is an effect, an outcome that is the result of something else. That something else being innovativeness!

In that sense dirsuption is hardly new at all. It comes from imagination, avoiding complacency and critical thinking. Things that most informed business people know can make a difference. 

Disruption is therefore notice of a meaningful difference. As Gregory Bateson would say:

‘A difference that makes a difference’

So what might the unintended consequences be for unthinkingly buying into and adopting the fashionable disruption discourse? 

Less reflective marketers will simply latch onto the latest management fashion without a care for where the ideas come from or the real world consequences.

In that sense Disruption could go the same way as Salience which became a licence to shock regardless of the relevance or the ethics. 

Disruptiveness could become an arbitrary management metric along the lines of ‘I don’t think you or your ideas are disruptive enough’ – you’re fired. Even more dangerous could be throwing the baby out with bath water – disruption for disruption’s sake.

Mary introduces the idea of disruption altitude to sensitise marketers to the need to think about the type of disruption that is relevant to their business. A good idea I’d say. 

The fashionability of the idea of disruption stems from the effect of ‘I know about something that you don’t’. A glossy attempt at seeming erudite and able to see beyond the self-evident. Most cult leaders do the same.

So to illustrate just how fashionable disruption is here it is being used to explain The rise and fall of Apple phone. Does disruption actually a better explanation than not watching the competition and giving people a reason to buy your products? 

Is there such a thing as helpful disruption or do you just want to be a bull in china shop? Charging around being disruptive and smashing everything to bits in the process? 

Being wary of management fads and fashions you avoid making a fashion statement and potentially looking ridiculous in the process! 

What do you learn with an MBA?

Daniel Roth has recently published a provocative post on LinkedIn about the perils of doing business with people who have an MBA when he interviewed entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran.–most-of-the-times-i-ever-lost-a-lot-of-money-with-somebody-they-graduated-from-harvard

This was brought to my attention by good friend Steve Murray of Green Dog Media in the UK

So why does Barabara make this claim? Is she typical of the green eyed snipers that make a sport of diminishing the value higher education in general and management education in particular? Is she an evangelist from the school of hard knocks? I don’t think so.

As someone who has achieved an MBA myself I think she is making an extremely profound observation.

What do you learn when you embark on an MBA? The off the cuff response might be, ‘how to manage more effectively’. Sure you learn lots of tools and techniques and sure you get insights from interacting with fellow students but the question remains – what do you learn when you do an MBA?

The elephant in the room, the mystery behind the magic is that when you study a typical MBA you are buying into a very particular type of management philosophy.

This philosophy aspires to making management a ‘science’ based on a set of assumptions about how we should understand the world, what we accept as evidence, the nature of causes and effects and how you should take action. The more managing a business becomes ‘objectively scientific’ the better it is an will claim.

The disturbing thing however is that the MBA acolyte and subsequently the hordes of MBA neophytes who have this classic MBA experience talk ‘as if’ this way of making sense of management is the only game in town. They talk with the stridency and confidence that only comes with ignorance.

Let’s be clear an MBA is a level of qualification. How that qualification is achieved doesn’t necessarily have to be wedded to a particular managerial outlook although at the moment it typically is. The MBA is over 100 years old and it invariably reflects the quantification and systemisation of management.

Perhaps the most powerful example of this mindset is Robert McNamara US Secretary of Defence during the Vietnam war in the 1960s who stated:

every quantitative measure we have shows we are winning this war’

I believe the explanation for Barabara’s observations lies in this issue. She alludes to problem that MBA..ers believe they are qualified to run a business. This is a mistake. The only thing that qualifies you to run a business is the experience of running a business.

Not only that the ‘management science’ approach and the managerial discourse so beloved of the ‘bullshit bingo’ fans amongst you overlooks one very significant thing. Running an organisation, and doing business is a social phenomena. People aren’t protons. (cf Steven Pinker)

The social perspective of management invites us to consider the meaning making of practioners, the language they use and how our social worlds are constructed by the very people who exist in them. People hold diverse mind sets and assumptions and these guide how they operate in the world. The social perspective of management pays attention to the nature of interactions and how these influence our success or otherwise at work.

Swap the classic management analysis (induction) approach of the typical MBA  for a concern with interpretation and imagination (abduction) and I think we are getting closer to explaining why you might loose money going into business with an If the only thing they know about is the cold, analytical, objectification of the social world of business and the mistaken belief that it is exclusively structures and procedures that lead to organisational success then you get what you pay for.

Barbara I suspect is one of these ‘other’ sorts who sees management differently.

At Sheffield Business School you can embark on full time or part time mba programme of study that invites you to consider classic management approaches to understanding people, organisations and management alongside challenging alternative perspectives.

What Does The Value Of A £963K Bonus Look Like?

The controversy over Royal Bank Of Scotland Chief’s £963K bonus hit the headlines this week.

As you might have seen there has been a range of reactions broadly along a spectrum from ‘he deserves it’ (the bank, and UK Financial Investments) to ‘he doesn’t deserve it’ (politicians and outraged members of the public).  Clearly the debate hinges on what people consider to the value of Stephen Hester’s contribution to the business.

People can get very ‘green eyed’ over the rewards other people achieve, and in my commercial past I enjoyed business performance bonuses. So as a general principal I don’t have a problem with people who make a positive difference to an organisation and who face risks and responsibilities getting additional rewards.

Stephen Hester’s bonus get’s me wondering though. Wondering especially about what innovative and insightful difference he has made to RBS. The sort of difference that would leave ordinary people like you and I slapping our foreheads and saying ‘you know, I wish I’d thought of that!’

From the outside it seems he is clearly a ‘safe pair of hands’ and this reputation has obviously been well earned. My question is this…is being just a safe pair of hands enough to justify a massive bonus?

Tell me if I’m wrong, but being fortunate to have the senior job post and then overseeing some rather obvious tasks that most final year undergraduate business students would identify as necessary in the context of RBS hardly seems worth £963k. A bonus yes, but £963k for re-balancing a business that needed re-balancing, and the obvious move of cutting costs? Where are the bright ideas? the new value propositions? the game changing ways of working?

There is the argument that the bonus is relative in the context of the vast sums of the banking world and the competition for talent in a global market place.

Stephen Hester a Lionel Messi? I can’t really say. Mind you if the remit was ‘to get it sorted’ and he has done that then he probably deserves the bonus because there was always the possibility he might not have! It’s just that it seems for alot of people there was a very low probability of Stephen screwing anything up because it was so bad in the first place.

We are told “the bonus reflected Mr Hester’s work towards rebuilding RBS”. What do you think?

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Realistic Business Engagement Advice For Business Schools



There is a fine line to be trod between customer orientation and customer worship. This presents a real challenge for a business school.

Surely a key aspect of a university business school’s value proposition is not just a claim to research independence but also an independent advisory voice that can express things without fear or favour.

Once again my author of the week Michel de Montaigne offers insight. In his essay on the role of ambassadors (chapter xvi) he also summarises the key purposes in society for clerics, soldiers, merchants, and courtiers.

Courtiers have special responsibility for ceremonies and manners. They are close to the Patron and this seems to be a very fortunate position. I don’t think it is too much of stretch to see a business school in the role of courtier. However in chapter xv de Montaigne points out the problem of being a courtier…

“A man that is purely a courtier, can neither have power nor will to speak or think otherwise than favourably and well of a master, who, amongst so many millions of other subjects, has picked out him with his own hand to nourish and advance; this favour…”

Is it feasible to avoid the ‘courtier trap’ as business school I wonder?

Excellence In Practice Commendation Shows Co-Creation In Action

I was chuffed to bits to be part of the Sheffield Business School and Sheffield University course design and development team that have been commended by the internationally acclaimed European Foundation for Management Development following the roll out of an innovative leadership development programme to 65 participants in the Sheffield City Region Leaders Programme.

The aim was to develop a unique  leadership development programme emphasizing imaginative ways to co-create cross enterprise service design that delivered cost effective,  high value services to buyers and users. Participants have come from both public and private sectors and this combination is a key element of the programme going forward. In terms of empirical evidence of the principals inherent in Vargo and Lusch’s Service Dominant Logic the Sheffield City Leaders Programme is a clear example of value in use.

Lee Adams Steering Group Chair and Deputy Chief Executive of Sheffield City Council commented in The Local Government Chronicle. (subscription required) “The participants work together on practical projects. Examples include inter agency knowledge sharing on vulnerable people; delivering the city cohesion strategy more effectively; improving occupancy ratios in social housing; and consistency of provision in psychological therapies”.

The EFMD award placed the Sheffield team in the company of Microsoft, Apple, and ING and whilst we were not shortlisted amongst the five winners, we have been recognised as a “Highly Commended Case” and this is very prestigious.

The programme is accredited as a Professional Business Qualification that is designed for practicing managers who wish to underpin their experience with Masters degree academic qualification by the end of the full programme.

Johnston’s Law Of Business Management


Omnipotence ≠ Omniscience or Omnipresence

Is A Brand Sorcerer Driving Your Business?

The CEO of any enterprise will no doubt ask themselves the question “who am I delegating responsibility for my organisation’s marketing to?” Like kings and leaders through the ages they are sometimes drawn to mystics who profess powers of understanding and influence. There is a type of marketing professional that might be described as The Sorcerer’s Saussurer’s Apprentice.

Their platform of managerial knowledge and experience is the study of signs and their meaning.  Semiotics.  This field of knowledge is interested in ‘The Sign’ and ‘The Signifier’.  The Symbol and its Meaning.  It is grounded in philosophy’s Linguistic Turn, and the evolution of post modern thinking about the nature of world and how we understand it. Rich territory for a Brand expert. After all that’s what Brand means isn’t it? A sign.

Knowledge from the arcane world of Semiology underpins communications studies and in its turn (sic) this knowledge underpins marketing communications management.  For people unfamiliar in its workings, semiotics is a beguiling subject that offers an explanation of how and why people respond to communciation. It is a short step from explanation to normative prescription.  From this is what seems to be happening to this it what you should do.

The Saussurer’s Apprentice knowing there is a difference between Brand Sign and Brand Meaning offers the magic of being able to change the meaning of any sign.  S/he will Re-present re-position the image and language associated with your brand. With special incantations (more commonly known as straplines) and mystical symbology (more commonly known as a brand identity) the Saussuer’s Apprentice will give reassurance where there is fear and uncertainty and after all we all know that fear sells.

I fear my competitors. I fear my loss of revenue. I fear my inability to compete.  Miller Heimann call this ‘being in trouble’, and being in trouble is a mind set that is open to a sales pitch. The charlatan smells trouble. S/he recognises and seeks out the ignorance of others because s/he can be sure that there will be no critical thinking and probing of  ideas.  S/he is skilled at seeking out the fears of the powerful because they need new ways to control an uncertain destiny.

“Once upon a time in the Land of  Aitchtoo-Oh the ruler was becoming worried, he wanted an heir to the throne but no one wanted to marry his daughter the princess. She was known throughout the world as the Ugly Princess.  In the eyes of the King his daughter was a symbol of  beauty, the prettiest and most attractive person in the world. This is not what his subjects thought,  and there wasn’t a Prince in the world who could bring themselves to ask the King for her hand in marriage. An uncomfortable reality was beginning to dawn on the king. His daughter was nothing like the beauty he believed her to be.

One day the King heard of a Sorcerer who was travelling the land. He came to to King and told him that he was wise in the ways of the mind and that he had a magic spell that would make his daughter irresistable to anyone who saw her.  “I will pay you handsomly” said the King. The Sorcerer cast his spell. The Kings daughter became known as the Princess of Magical Dihydrogen Monoxide Land. “We need to get rid of any association with Aitchtoo-Oh” he explained. “A fresh start requries a fresh name, something that conjures up mystery, a sense of the unknown. A new name a new beginning.” The sign had been re-signified. Anyone who saw her would fall instantly in love with her beauty and charm. The problem was solved. A Prince from the faraway kingdom of Adland married her and they were all about to live happily ever after (as people always do in Adland) when the spell wore off. The Prince saw that he had married the ugliest princess in the world and was very upset.  The Sorcerer hadn’t told the King the spell wouldn’t last. Furious at being made to look a fool the king sent his soldiers looking for the Sorcerer and they never found him. He had simply disappeared in a puff of hot air.”

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Of Course My Spend On Marketing Is A Good Idea

Human beings are rationalising not rational animals. Rationalising our decisions is very important to us. We do it to justify to ourselves that have done the right thing and to convince others of the ‘logic’ of our choice. There is no necessary correlation between reality and the rationalisation. Unless of course you agree that reality is entirely constructed in the mind. Some of the most adept rationalisers are  marketing executives.

In the film The Big Chill Jeff Goldblum played a character called Michael Gold who made an observation about rationalising behaviour.

Michael: rationalisations are more important than sex

Sam: Nothing’s more important than sex!

Michael: Oh yeah, have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?

Let’s imagine for minute that we have spent a large sum of money on a marketing communications and re-branding  project that we sincerely believe in, which attracts criticism and ridicule from some people. These two competing cognitions (I think its a great idea vs. other people don’t) create what Leon Festinger described as Cognitive Dissonance.

He articulated his ground breaking theory in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails. In a nutshell the argument runs that if a person has made a serious commitment to a belief or  course of action that is difficult to undo, the moment they are confronted with (and accept as a reality) new  disconfirming evidence it causes great personal psychological anxiety. The individual then strives to re-establish psychological balance.

People do this by gathering around them social support (people who don’t, won’t or can’t disagree with them out of ignorance or fear) Irving Janis called this ‘group think’, and they  proselytize. They attempt to persuade people of their rectitude, and the reasons they have spent the money.

One of the unfortunate criticisms of everyday marketing communications is that it is very good at spending money and less good at generating it. The mud that is thrown regretably sticks to the strategic task and role of marketing in general. Marketing communications executives have had a long time to become skilled at rationalising the sunk costs of campaigns.

Common rationalisations for sunk costs in expensive re-branding projects include:

Somebody had to do something rather than just sitting on their hands

It must be good because look what we paid for it

People have worked very hard on this so far

Just look at all the things we got for the money

Sunk Costs interfere with rational behaviour. The behavioral economics literature offers some helpful insights here.  Cognitive Dissonance kicks in and…

The price becomes the indicator of the value, when the price paid should be irrelevant.

The chance of a good return on investment is poorly judged due to over optimistic probability of success bias.

I’m responsible for this campaign, it was my decison to spend the money so we should press on regardless of consequences

Of course I’d have to say that my decision to spend money on this new re-brand campaign was a good idea. Though As Mandy Rice Davies said

“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

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