Marketing is ‘paralysed by facts’

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Marketers used to struggle to get all the information they wanted about their customers, says Tim Calkins, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the US.

Now, thanks to the internet and other advances, the opposite is true: many marketing departments have access to so many facts and figures that “analysis paralysis” has set in.

In a new FT Management podcast, Prof Calkins says the profession needs to become less preoccupied with gathering information and more concerned with translating insight into action – especially now that deteriorating economic conditions have made companies question costs that do not have a clear payback.

He warns: “If all you do is know your customer really well, that doesn’t help you.”

Prof Calkins argues that marketing plans – the internal company documents that lay out marketing priorities – are a key battleground in the fight against analysis paralysis.

Bad marketing plans can run on for hundreds of pages without delivering a clear call to arms. They confuse strategy with tactics, overwhelming their audience with too much detailed information – about the nitty-gritty of individual promotions for instance.

Good plans, says Prof Calkins, are conscious of the fact that they are tools for winning over colleagues to a desired course of action and often tend to have three or four memorable objectives that are linked closely to the company’s profit goals.

Kellogg has a particularly strong reputation for its marketing expertise. Prof Calkins has also worked as a marketing executive at Kraft Foods.

The interview – and previous FT Management podcasts – can be found at www.ft.com/calkins. Further reading: Prof Calkins’ new book, ‘Breakthrough Marketing Plans’

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