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March 29, 2011

What Ries Doesn’t Get About Execution

The Brand Autopsy Archive Project
1,400 posts since December of 2003. That’s a lot of HMOs (hot marketing opinions) served up on the Brand Autopsy blog. For this week, we’re going to revisit five vintage posts from the Brand Autopsy Archives. Enjoy...

BACKSTORY | March 29, 2011
I’m a big fan of Al Ries. He co-wrote POSITIONING with Jack Trout in 1980 and its become a bedrock marketing strategy book. His recent Ad Age articles about branding in the today’s social media world and the dangers of discounting are spot-on. However, I disagreed with Al’s article from March 7, 2005 saying, “Marketing is 90% strategy and 10% execution.” The following post explains the importance of execution in making retail magic happen.

Originally posted on March 8, 2005

There’s been some blog chatter on Al Ries’ latest Ad Age article, “What CEOs Just Don’t Get About Marketing.”

I think Ries’ penchant for hyperbole is overshadowing the crux of his argument that good execution of a bad marketing strategy will not deliver exceptional results.

However, I can’t blame anyone for jumping all over him when he writes such blanketed statements like, “Marketing is 90% strategy and 10% execution. With the right name, the right target audience, the right position and the right timing, most marketing programs are bound to work. The difficult part is the 90%. The easy part is the 10%.”

Has Ries undervalued the importance of people (employees) executing a marketing program? Oh yes ... he has grossly undervalued the importance of people making marketing happen.

I just don’t buy his argument that most marketing programs are bound to work if the right name, right audience, right positioning, and right timing are in all place. I also disagree with his statement that the easiest part to a marketing program is the execution.

My experience at Starbucks Coffee and Whole Foods Market tells me marketing is more like 35% strategy and 65% execution. A so-so marketing strategy can deliver exceptional results if those responsible for executing it are informed and inspired to make retail magic happen. The real trick is how best to solve for informing and inspiring customer-facing employees to make retail magic happen.

Brand Examiner Paul and I wrote about one such way we solved for informing and inspiring Starbucks partners to make retail magic happen in a Fast Company blog posting from December of 2003. Click here to read about Blended Beverage Bingo.

So … from your experience, what % of marketing is strategy and what % is execution? Is it 90/10 or is it more 35/65?


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I am increasingly tending to go the other way entirely (10/90). Not to say that the strategy can be halfassed, but to state the importance of the execution.

And this isn't just "empowering" the salesfloor (or whoever). You have to design the internal marketing to make those people buy it also. You might have to incentivise them, meaning you have to sell the hell out of it to whoever's checkbook that comes out of. You have to remind them, over and over again to keep selling. You have to make sure they get not just the words and catchphrases and wear the button, but that they get the /point/ and really believe in the fundamentals of the program.

You have to make sure the strategy is stuck with, and not abandoned after a week, or a month or a year. Until there is another distinct strategy to replace it. So execution (and execution planning) happens at the strategic level also. If you are just making a cool goal statement and some collateral, and a pricing plan, you aren't doing enough work, no matter how brilliant and well-tested it is.

Perhaps Morris Chang, CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, settled the Strategy vs. Execution debate when he said, “Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.

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