Sergio Zyman

New York: Harper & Collins, 2000.

5 Stars

The End of Marketing as We Know It by Sergio Zyman is a highly interesting book, even if you are not a marketing man. This is so because you can learn a lot from the wisdom expressed in this book. It’s the wisdom of being successful in our consumer society, where marketing simply is tremendously important.

And you get insights from the book that the media will not reveal to you, while every little free-lancer today thinks he can write his smart essay about marketing. Not so. What you get in this book is first-hand stuff that you won’t find elsewhere. Zyman does not convey academic knowledge, but personal experience, and that he got in spades, known as a former CEO and marketing man of Coca Cola.

For Zyman, positioning is one of the most important tasks in marketing a product or brand. He reveals many secrets in this book, one of them being the power of cannibalizing your own product by creating a fake competitor. In case it was Pepsiwhich he put up against Coke; then, cunningly, he positioned Coke against Pepsi.

While Coke stands for continuity and stability, Pepsi on the other hand, does stand for choice and change. Its positioning has always been about youth, doing things differently and unpredictably. Pepsi is the insurgent, not the incumbent, but this has its limitations as well. For Coke, a sentimental ad about going to a family reunion and warm fuzzy images of Santa Claus drinking Coke might be perfect, whereas for Pepsi drinkers, ads like this would be a major shock. Managing these limitations is very critical./86

Some of my friends asked me why I was reading such a book as it would not fit in my ‘new age library.’ Well, I must admit that I don’t care about those labels and distinctions. I was always bad in marketing, all my life, and have rarely understood a bit of the economics lectures I had to attend as a law student in the first semester law school. Zyman’s book captivated me, and this was truly the first time in my life that anything pertaining to economics and marketing could get my attention.

Actually, as a result of reading this book, I began to develop an interest in marketing, a matter that in the past I used to brush off as being ‘pure manipulation.’ When you read this book you won’t probably unlearn that marketing is manipulation, but you will see that it’s a science of manipulation, and that even if you manage a highly successful brand such as Coca Cola and you are not strong in this science, you are soon out of business. On the other hand, if you have a bad product, the best marketing can’t remedy that and you won’t make it through. This shows you that marketing is not only manipulation, for if it was, you could sell everything if only you cheated enough, but that is not what the market and life experience tell us. Consider what this man says, for he says it better than possibly could:

I have succeeded in the marketing business not because I was just playing around, or because I had great artistic intuition. I have succeeded because I understand that it is a business. I have approached every new campaign, every new promotion, and every product as an investment that has to pay a return. A profit producing business. /6

In fact, the strongest point Zyman makes in this book is that marketing is not an art, not a creative muse where people engage in for fancy reasons, but that every dollar invested in marketing must return through sales.

The truth is that, if you want to, you can measure the return on just about every dollar you invest in marketing the same way you can measure the return on a bottling plant or a new truck./7

When marketers understand that the goal is selling and not just running promotions, they sell a lot more stuff./12

The next point that Zyman stresses in his book is strategy. But he defines strategy differently than most other business people when they talk about strategic thinking in business:

Strategic thinking is one of those terms that people use a lot to indicate that they are important people who only think of big things and can’t be bothered with the little stuff. But that’s not what I mean when I say that you need to make strategic thinking a way of life. What I mean is that you have to think about everything. You have to look around you. You have to see what is really going on. You have to understand the connections among seemingly different things, and then you have to form an opinion that will serve as a basis for how you are going to act, and what you are going to do./39

And my friends who found this book a no fit in my new science library are short-eyed; they ignore that marketing people are those in modern society who take psychology for granted as they are working with the principles that rule our subconscious mind, because publicity works that way. This is a simple fact, but often overlooked. And then we talk about success.

Put it another way: if you want to be successful, / then you must clearly define, in detail, what success looks like. Then you’ve got to figure out how to get there./26–27

This quote seems to be taken from a new spirituality book that gives precise instructions about how to make a wheel of fortune or how to define all you wish to receive from life. These books tell you that success is just a word and that you have to fill that word with meaning, the meaning success has for you. Some life coaches even add that you have to express it in precise numbers, like ‘I am going to have one million dollars in one year from now.’ And once you do experience success, you need to debrief it. Debriefing is an important notion in Zyman’s marketing vocabulary. He says you have to debrief both success and failure, and then adds:

One reason to debrief success is obviously to figure out what is working and why, so that you can replicate the success in other circumstances. But there is another reason to debrief success. Don’t be blinded by your assumptions. Just because you run a promotion and it works doesn’t mean that it worked for the reasons that you thought it would./51

Zyman has many original ideas that you won’t find in any university lecture on marketing. For example, he writes about incremental marketing versus horizontal marketing:

Incremental marketing is much cheaper than horizontal marketing. You can spend less and sell more. You still have to spend on refreshing your brands, reminding people why they like your stuff, and giving them more reasons to buy it. If you want people to buy your product every day, you have to market every day, and if you want them to buy more, you have to give them more reasons. But it is much more efficient to build relationships with consumers and then work on getting the people who know you to buy more stuff than it is to go out and find new customers every day./69

Zyman warns repeatedly about complacency and the need to challenge your own product over and over. I think he has walked his talk here when he was working for Coca Cola, for part of his success was to challenge the good with the better:

You need to constantly challenge your own concept, even if you are proud of what you have created, even if it seems original, even if on the surface it looks like something totally proprietary. You have to make sure that it is indeed proprietary and remains that way, and that you can go up against your competitors day in and day out by defining and redefining yourself, and them, in unequivocal terms./74

Now, as I won’t abuse with quoting from copyrighted material, I will supply just two more quotes for showing that this book is not an academic manual on marketing but gives very valuable and practical advice. I will provide two examples. The first quote regards portfolio management:

Portfolio management says that you create artificial categories for each of your products and you don’t let any of them cross over into the others. Why? To avoid cannibalizing your own customer base. That’s a great idea, and while drawing these faint lines in the sand sounds nice in theory; in the real world, things aren’t so neat and tidy. Somebody is going to compete with your products and try to steal your customers. If someone’s going to do it, why shouldn’t it be you?/75

Creating the Sprite brand was indeed cannibalizing Coke’s customer base, but at the same time it was an expansion of sales; instead of one portfolio you got two, and the impact on the competition was confusing, to say the least. The second quote shows the pitfalls of portfolio management if your core product is weak, and this may explain why it worked in the Coke-Sprite case, for Coke was indeed a strong product:

Go simultaneous, don’t go sequential. And it’s okay to cannibalize your own brand, because it’s better to eat your own babies than have a competitor do it. If for any reason your core brand has a weak spot and another brand is likely to take volume from that brand, you better go fix your core brand. Don’t try to fix your problem by artificially protecting your core brand with portfolio management. Deal with your competition, internally and externally, by being competitive! After all, it’s much better to lose volume to yourself than to your competitor./76

I think this suffices to show that this book is somehow invaluable, that it has no equal because it’s not a text book on marketing, but rather a text book on going beyond marketing. You have to read it all, from the first to the last page, to understand what the author conveys because it’s not taken for granted to put decades of day-to-day experience in a book; that means in fact that the author has done a major work of compression, of condensing the input to some kind of essence. You get the feel when you read these quotes, and read them over and over again. There is much more to it, and probably, if you are yourself not a marketing person, you should do your research on Coke, Pepsi, and Sprite.

I regret to not have found this book earlier in my life for I would not have run around for so many years as a blind hen and complete marketing idiot! But of course, for me, as a ‘university guy,’ I feel I am exploring uncharted territory when reading this book — and this was a good thing to happen. What I learnt from it is to see things from a perspective not known to me at the time. In fact, I would never have considered buying such kind of book if not, by a magic stroke of destiny, and on a business trip, eventually relaxed and open-minded, I had seen the well-designed cover in that bookstore in Singapore …

And still relaxed, and at that moment not considering my usual interests, I was just reading a couple of pages. What captivated me at once was the language of the author, his way to express things succinctly that had something almost amusing about it. To tell the story in one sentence, I found it refreshing that the book was not academic and that it was not new age, and that it was, perhaps deliberately so, not spiritual. And perhaps it’s good to read it as a wake-up call when you are on your next new age trip, or your next spiritual trip, courting the danger to lose ground with everyday reality …


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