Adapt and innovate to grow your business

I was intrigued to read about Kevin Roberts’ speech at the recent IoD Annual Convention. As CEO of one of the worlds largest marketing groups, Saatchi & Saatchi, it was somewhat self-defeating to hear him declare that ‘marketing is dead‘. However, he had, at that stage already told the audience that “strategy is dead”, “the big idea is dead” and “management is dead”. Amusingly, as a CEO, he also went on to say “the further up in a company you go the stupider you become and the further away from new things”. By this stage I was starting to wonder if he was looking in the mirror. So apart from successfully being controversial and grabbing a few headlines, is this type of thought leadership valuable?

Personally, I don’t believe it is. Don’t get me wrong, there was a serious message to this seemingly flippant tirade. But I suspect most Directors that left that event didn’t buy into the idea that some of the key principles of business are confined to history. Something tells me that the universities won’t be rewriting their MBA courses following that speech either. For me, this typified a Big Brand Agency demonstrating style over substance. Coming at a time when the economy was faltering and many businesses struggling, Saatchi & Saatchi’s headline messages were out of touch with reality.

That is a shame because the serious message of the speech probably got lost amidst the noise of the headlines. The real message was the need for businesses to adapt and innovate in the current economic climate. Business opportunities exist in embracing change in a world where the pace of change is accelerating. That is a compelling message we regularly share with our clients when we say

“the only thing that is constant in business is change.”

However where we would beg to differ with Saatchi & Saatchi is that strategy, far from being dead, is the vehicle for business to identify and monetise change. We advocate that strategy is not something you sit down once every year and dedicate senior management time to in a series of workshops and blue sky away-days. Instead strategy is an evolving process that is refined and adapted as new information informs strategic thinking. The imperative for business is to have the awareness and flexibility to adapt to changing business environments and markets. That strategic agility is the basis for the successful businesses of the future.

In parallel to this strategic agility in professional services, there is a need to deliver value today through existing business relationships. That value is provided for many firms through excellent service delivery and sharing of valuable thought leadership to help inform clients and prospective clients. Having hosted a series of Marketing Clinics for businesses recently it is very clear to me that the business Directors I met are focused on how marketing can help them engage more clients and develop more successful business relationships. So marketing is not dead, it is very much alive and can be a strategic and tactical driving force in business.

This reminds me of the Chinese Military General, Sun Tzu, quoted by my debating partner at a recent Chartered Institute of Marketing debate in Manchester –

“Strategy without tactics is the slow route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

So strategy is not dead and marketing is not dead. For the record, Sun Tzu is dead, but his mantra lives on here.