The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Conversations with Masters

Ailean Mills delves into a book which seeks out the human and professional qualities that make a ‘marketing guru’

Well, our very own Louella Miles, with colleague Laura Mazur, seem to have taken a leaf out of our qualitative research manuals, and written Conversations with Marketing Masters (John Wiley & Sons: London 2007), a highly readable and reflective book consisting of ‘free flowing conversations’ with 12 marketing and advertising ‘gurus’.

Philip Kotler, Lester Wunderman and the others are much published and their views on positioning, brand equity, PR and strategy well known, but what really distinguishes this book is its search for the blend of professional and human qualities that brought the particular individual to the forefront of collective thought in the emergent but competitive marketing world of the late 20th Century. And what’s more, what they think about what’s going on now in the marketplace.

Framed as ‘conversations’, we are taken through their life passages, personal and work, and then, the section I found most fascinating: their current views on marketing.

At times the peculiar mixture of modesty and arrogance from the (mainly) male and American interviewees can grate, as can the slight smugness of the business-academic whose life has been littered with more plaudits than criticism and whose view of the world is essentially western-centric. And readers have to stay on the ball, so that when Al Ries claims that “All life is perception. There is no reality”, one is ready to lift one’s head and argue. It’s a must-have read for new marketing, research or planning graduates who find marketing manual graphs a turn-off and want to re-connect with an interest in people — hopefully the primary driver of their entry in to the industry — plus gain some refreshment as to the major tenets of theory.

But there is a second target market into which I unashamedly confess to belong: the mature brand researcher or planner who wants to reflect upon the founders’ marketing thinking for ‘fitness for purpose’ as we scoot speedily into the 21st Century.

The opportunity is there to consider Jean-Claude Larreche’s indictment of the virus of bad marketing, his accusation that “many marketing people are much more attracted by fashion than they are by professionalism”, with “good results emerging often for the wrong reasons”.

The chance to think about Jack Trout’s statement that growth at all cost is forcing unreality into marketing strategies and his call to an industry that he thinks does not really understand the power of differentiation, that the best defence against competition is specialisation.

Qualitative researchers will be pleased to know that Kotler, the grand master, when asked how marketing should evolve to deal with growing complexity, recommends the added value of “people skilled in datamining, model building and deep psychological analysis”. And that David Aaker talks of the underrating of reflection and time to think in marketing.

The authors’ book, in form and content, does excellent service to the verve and enjoyment sensed in the masters’ words, the feeling that there is “never a dull moment when it comes to marketing”, and the encouragement to “never stop asking questions”.

 

Ailean Mills
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2007