Bumper sticker vs. marketing philosophy

As the late US cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, of Peanuts (Snoopy, Charlie Brown and co) fame, once commented: “there’s a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker.”

No matter which shiny bumper sticker featuring a slick slogan is stuck onto a business to attempt to position it in the marketplace and differentiate it from its competitors, it is the underlying marketing philosophy that really matters and makes the difference.

Unfortunately, the underlying philosophy – the fundamental way of thinking and acting – in some businesses can be out of synch with the message being promoted by the bumper sticker. The problem sometimes arises because bumper stickers can be created more easily and faster than a real marketing philosophy, which takes substantial time, effort and buy-in. Consequently, some organisations’ attempts to differentiate themselves remain stuck at the superficial, bumper sticker level – sometimes even winning marketing awards – but sadly with no actual positive effect on the top or the bottom line.

However, as marketers, our role is not only to communicate messages, but also to create “customer-led demand, which is the only sustainable form of business growth”, as The Marketing Society defines the real marketing which is essential for making top line growth happen.

With sustainable revenue growth in mind, one former marketing director of a major London professional services firm tells an enlightening story of a business development project she once ran to identify if there were any discernible differences between the day-to-day behaviours of high fee-generating partners and those of less successful ones.

She found that those who brought in the most fees tended on the whole to go through the same processes and use the same tools and systems as the poorer performers. However, one big difference was that there was a remarkably significant correlation between partners’ fee-earning abilities and their propensity to start or sign off their emails to clients and contacts with a personal note, such as “hope you have a great holiday” or “good luck in your tennis match this weekend”!

By using this evidence to demonstrate that usage of fairly elementary interpersonal skills can be revenue-enhancing, she hoped that others in the firm would adopt the same philosophy in their dealings with clients. She could more easily just have had a creative agency create a cool bumper sticker for the firm that proclaimed something like “friendly people who develop relationships with clients”, but instead she tried a little harder to delve beneath the surface in order to make a real sustainable difference by shifting behaviours in the firm in a way which will hopefully lead to higher top line growth.

Maybe she’ll come up with a snazzy, award-winning bumper sticker later…