Diversified or decentralized firm face a conundrum: How do you ensure that marketing decisions are consistent across the entire company without undermining the flexibility required to tailor marketing decisions to local circumstances? The answer: A marketing doctrine based on unique principles that guide without dictating.
If you’re a national or international company with marketing authority and practices spread across various locations, or if you have a diversified group of products or businesses that call for different marketing approaches, how can you maintain a consistent marketing strategy that is aligned with the company’s overall priorities while still giving local functions the flexibility to design their own strategies?
After conducting and analysing a series of in-depth interviews with three sets of executives involved in marketing (for a total of 35 executives across a variety of industries), three academics offer a solution to the consistency/flexibility conundrum: the concept of the marketing doctrine.
As defined by professors Goutam Challagalla of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Brian Murtha of the University of Kentucky and Bernard Jaworski of Claremont Graduate University, a marketing doctrine is a guiding document based on a set of marketing principles unique to the company.
The most effective marketing doctrines are built on guiding principles that:
A marketing doctrine’s unique principles can be identified by reviewing the company’s marketing history, looking for events and decisions that offer both positive and negative core lessons.
When developing a marketing doctrine, companies must pay close attention to the flexibility, simplicity and explicitness offered by the chosen principles. For example, one company might have a positioning principle as follows: “A brand must own one position across all markets.” Another company’s positioning principle might be the following: “Brand positioning must be consistent across regions.” The first example is a rule related to positioning, while the second more of a standard. Standards, allowing more flexibility, are more effective than rules in a marketing doctrine.
A marketing doctrine built on a company’s unique principles, themselves distilled from the company’s past experiences, will go a long ways toward helping companies balance consistency and flexibility in their marketing decisions.
In addition to these benefits, a well-designed marketing doctrine can also:
A marketing doctrine is especially valuable for companies that are diversified or decentralized. However, external factors can also increase the impact of a marketing doctrine. Companies buffeted by the competition may react impulsively, blindly following the competition or too hastily leaving behind time-tested marketing practices. A solid marketing doctrine will prevent these mistakes. Clear marketing principles will also help stabilize a company in a state of structural flux. If there is significant change in personnel or significant movement among business units, for example, guiding principles act as a unifying force.
The one cautionary note about marketing doctrines concern companies struggling with significant market turbulence. In this case, seeking the comfort and stability of the marketing doctrine may be ill advised. Sometimes, there is no choice: the old guiding principles no longer work and must be replaced.
As with any methodology or concept, a marketing doctrine is still only a tool. Companies must have realistic expectations about its effectiveness in different situations. Most importantly, a marketing doctrine does not, and is never intended to, replace old-fashioned and incontrovertible human thinking.
Marketing Doctrine: A Principles-Based Approach to Guiding Marketing Decision Making in Firms. Goutam Challagalla, Brian R. Murtha & Bernard Jaworski. Journal of Marketing (July 2014)
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