Leadership lessons from Kotler

Admired worldwide for his marketing acumen, Philip Kotler waxes eloquence on promotional strategies, Indian higher education system and more.

Published: 18th March 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th March 2013 11:55 AM   |  A+A-


There can be no two opinions on the fact that Philip Kotler is a marketing legend. Any question posed to the father of marketing management and leader in marketing thought, by default, swerves to marketing, his first love. In India to launch the first Kotler Centre of Excellence in Delhi in association with JRE School of Management, Greater Noida, and to deliver a series of lectures at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, the marketing guru talks shop about, of course, marketing, and dishes out praises on the Indian higher education system — a bit of relief especially when our institutions are facing flak and aren’t being considered world-class.

The SC Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, USA, begins on the shift from marketing to innovation and entrepreneurship at his institute. “We have been known worldwide for our marketing studies acumen. But in the years to come I would like to focus on innovation and entrepreneurship. I advise people to not use one without the other. You can’t make much money with innovation sans entrepreneurship or vice-versa,” he warns.

Kotler is credited with inventing various marketing concepts such as social marketing, atmospherics, demarketing, megamarketing, turbomarketing and synchromarketing. When quizzed about the marketing trends he has observed over the years, it is hard to believe that Kotler is an octogenarian. Brimming with child-like exuberance that belies his age, he says, “First is co-creation. A company that is smart should engage with its customers to help them improve their ideas. Harley-Davidson is one such brand that relies a lot on customer feedback. There are a lot of big labels that invite customers to work actively in their campaigns.”

Kotler is full of praise for Nestlé which has initiated this idea for its product, Maggi, in India. “This helps brands connect with its customers better,” he adds. “Crowd sourcing is another great strategy that caught my attention. Instead of going to an ad firm to sell yourself, reach out to the people. An advertising agency, at the most can fetch you two-three big ideas. When you approach your customers, your suggestion pool expands,” he says.

The man is full of ideas for companies. “When dealing with your advertising agencies, put them on a performance basis rather than a fixed deal. If they achieve the target, let 80 per cent be the stake. If it’s stationary, go for 50 per cent and so on. Pay for performance works,” he offers. Kotler suggests that we turn marketing into a profit function from cost function.

He offers a simple idea to entrepreneurs to measure their return on marketing investment. “Pitch your ideas to two groups or two cities. For example, if you increase the price of your product, see how they react or differ from each other.

Kotler is of the opinion that big stores don’t hurt little ones and the middlemen are the ones who are made to bear the brunt. So what is his advice for India? “You should go more into franchising instead of retailing like the hotels chains in the West such as McDonald’s and KFC have done. Create expectations and maintain quality standards. Engage more women entrepreneurs like Amway and Tupperware. Such direct marketing to people you know personally gives rise to creative markets.”

Having studied under three Nobel Laureates in economics — Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson, and Robert Solow — the guru of marketing does keep tab on many entrepreneurs and this time around heaps praise on Bangladeshi banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Muhammad Yunus. “He is a classic case of a creative-cum-social entrepreneur. People always talk about microfinance but this man has made micro-insurance a fad. He actually forged a deal with beggars to stop begging and also payed them in return for their promise! He was even flexible to the extent of asking them to beg for just half-a-day in case it proved to be too difficult,” laughs Kotler.

Others who have caught his attention include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Gandhi. “Like the Japanese who swore by the ‘One village, one product’ concept, Gandhi also understood the enormous perks of being self-reliant. This concept could work in upcoming cities, which can produce its own needs and rely less on imports,” explains Kotler.

On the inevitable popularity of the four Ps — Price, Product, Promotion and Place, which have been the cardinal rules for marketers for over decades now — Kotler surprises us by telling that it is the four As that he’s smitten by — Availability, Affordability, Awareness and Acceptability. “Though they may not replace the Ps, the As are more in sync with customers, who are essentially the pivot around which businesses evolve. For example, Awareness tells how much you have told about your company,” he explains.

On the downside of the Ps, Kotler opines, “The Ps aren’t present individually now. Where is the packaging? Buried in the product. People are of the opinion that they do complete marketing when in reality they take in only one of the four P components.”

A silent revolution is brewing in the US where entrepreneurs are urging students to give up college and instead learn life skills to succeed and create a career. Kotler again with a plethora of degrees to his credit springs a surprise: “Yes, I heard about them and I am not sure how extensively this concept has spread. I can understand students and parents’ predicament when they need to shell approximately $200,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree, that too with the possibility of glum career prospects. You have stories of Gates and Jobs who sat in a garage and made things happen. If you can emulate the same, good for you. Nowadays, students can learn online without the help of teachers. If you don’t want a degree or a certificate, take the onus of getting self-educated.”

Before bidding adieu, Kotler shares his thoughts on the future of marketing, “Franchising will escalate your growth faster. The first step in the pyramid of success is to innovate and create. Even if you aren’t able to innovate, watch the others. But don’t merely copy. Make it better. The Japanese have taken this cue and be motorcyles, electronics or what not, they have ensured quality with zero defects. That is my mantra for countries. Create a model that guarantees perfection and test your models in untrained markets.”

Admitting that marketing is losing its sheen and the glamour it used to enjoy in India, he parts with an advice to identify opportunities and profit from it. We don’t dare argue with the god of marketing!



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