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A TCI Book Review

Radical Marketing From Harvard to Harley, Lessons from Ten that Broke the Rules and Made it Big

Sam Hill and Glenn Rifkin
HarperBusiness, New York, 1999, ISBN 0-88730-905-4


This book is a study of a phenomenon that the authors call 'radical marketing'. They have examined certain companies whose approach to product development and developing a customer base is very different from the traditional. These companies have tended to be smaller in size, and either start-up situations or the rescue of an existing operation on the brink of insolvency.

The authors' approach was to identify 10 companies that seemed to be taking very different marketing approaches to their customer base, and then to analyze them in some detail. These 10 organizations are:

  1. The Grateful Dead
  2. Providian Financial
  3. Harley-Davidson
  4. The Iams Company
  5. The National Basketball Association
  6. Snap-On Tools
  7. Virgin Atlantic Airways
  8. EMC Corporation
  9. Harvard Business School
  10. Boston Beer Company

These analyses are presented in the form of case studies each of the aforementioned companies in the book has a chapter devoted to its unique approach to radical marketing.

The authors identified three fundamental characteristics of companies that are radical marketers, and 10 rules that radical marketers appear to follow. The three fundamental characteristics are:

  1. Radical marketers have very strong visceral ties with a specific target audience.
  2. Radical marketers tend to focus on growth and expansion rather than profit-taking.
  3. Radical marketers tend to be very resource-constrained and are forced to make do with marketing budgets that are far smaller than average.

The 10 rules of radical marketing that they identify are:

  1. The CEO must own the marketing function Radical marketing requires that the top individual in the organization be intimately involved in the marketing function, and in fact, drive the marketing approach of the organization. This ensures that everyone in the organization has a strong focus on the interaction with the market, because the CEO demands and expects it.
  2. Make sure the marketing department starts small and flat and stays small and flat The key point here is that the marketing function must not get so large that it starts to become bloated with bureaucracy and protocol, but rather is small and flexible enough to respond to new trends to stay in touch with the market, and to try out 'outrageous' new approaches (see rules #8 and #9).
  3. Get out of the office and face-to-face with the people that matter most the customers Hardly a radical idea (Marketing 101, more like), but surely a sensible one.
  4. Use market research cautiously Related to rule #2, this point relates to the propensity for CEOs to 'go with their gut' on key marketing decisions, rather then rely upon focus groups or in-depth market surveys. Because of their close connection to their customers (see rule#3), such marketing decisions often turn out to be right.
  5. Hire only passionate missionaries Radical companies hire what the authors call 'passionate missionaries' for senior positions. These are individuals who believe in the product and the customer base (see rule #6) as strongly as does the CEO.
  6. Love and respect your customers Unlike 'mainstream' companies, senior people in radical marketing companies do not see their customers only as target market segments, defined by demographic or psychographic characteristics. Rather, they think of their customers as being like themselves, passionate and proud to be associated with the product. In this sense, the authors describe the senior managements of 'radical' companies as 'loving and respecting' their customers.
  7. Create a community of customers One very striking aspect of certain of the radical marketing companies discussed in the book is their ability to create an extremely dedicated and loyal community of customers, who will even go to the extent of having their bodies tattooed with the brand they identify with (e.g. Harley-Davidson, the Grateful Dead).
  8. Rethink the marketing mix "Radical marketers market continuously and devote huge amounts of money, effort and time to communicating with their customers. However, they seldom have huge advertising budgets. In fact, some, like Providian, don't even have marketing budgets, reasoning that such budgets act as "entitlements" and encourage spending when none is needed or, conversely, as ceilings, discouraging marketers from spending more when they see an opportunity... When radical marketers use advertising, they tend to do so in short, sharp bursts, what we have called "surgical strike advertising".... Radical marketers tend to use more one-to-one or targeted communications tools, ranging from direct mail to Web pages to local advertising to sponsoring neighborhood basketball tournaments." (p. 26)
  9. Celebrate uncommon sense Radical marketers break the rules. For example, rather than try to maximize distribution of product to place as much as possible in the market, they may tend to limit availability to create pent-up demand, and thus foster loyalty and commitment among their distributors.
  10. Be true to the brand "Radical marketers are obsessive about brand integrity, and they are fixated on quality." (p. 30)
The case studies on each of the ten companies profiled are quite fascinating, and in fact do illustrate the operation of the ten rules previously articulated. Specifically, the particular principles most strongly exemplified by the case studies are summarized below.

 

Grateful Dead Providian Harley- Davidson Iams NBA Snap-On Tools Virgin Atlantic EMC Corp. Harvard B.S. Boston Beer Co.
1. CEO owns marketing
-
X
X
X
-
-
X
-
-
-
2. Small marketing dept.
X
X
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
X
3. Face-to-face with customers
X
-
X
X
X
-
-
X
-
X
4. Caution in market research
-
X
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
X
5. Hire passionate missionaries
-
X
X
X
X
-
-
-
-
X
6. Love/ respect customers
X
-
-
X
-
X
-
X
-
-
7. Create customer community
X
-
X
X
-
X
-
-
-
-
8. Rethink marketing mix
-
X
-
X
-
-
-
-
-
X
9. Celebrate uncommon sense
X
-
X
X
-
X
X
-
X
X
10. Be true to the brand
X
-
X
X
-
-
-
X
X
-

One might argue at the end that these rules apply only to highly unique and smaller firms that are dominated by the force and personality of the founder, or the current CEO, and have somehow hit upon a good concept. While there may be some truth in that, the authors do in the final chapter discuss the application of these rules to more traditional companies. In this regard, they discuss Saturn and Snapple, and how these companies are applying some of the principles of radical marketing.

On the whole, while the concept of 'radical marketing' seems a bit forced, the book does contain some useful insights on building a dedicated customer base, and the extreme importance of the CEO and senior management not getting too removed from the day-to-day realities of marketing. Also, some of the stories recounted in the case studies (the antics of Richard Branson of Virgin, for example) make for highly entertaining reading.

 


THE TCI MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS RATING:


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