Marketing lessons from the Bedouins

Tony Chapman on the need for adaptability when it comes to reinventing marketing.

By Tony Chapman

There is a never-ending chase to surpass last year’s numbers, find this year’s consumers, seek new distribution opportunities, meet volume commitments, learn big data and new media channels, reduce trade spend, realize cost savings, and, of course, beat the competition.

Your finish line gets pushed further out every quarter and you have to find ways to accomplish more, for less. You are starved for time, as well as financial and human resources. Category innovation is coming from everywhere and at a pace where “new” is quickly matched and then sinks into a sea of sameness. Price continues to be the primary lubricant to keep the supply chain lubricated.

Have I hit a nerve yet?

My bet is that at the office you act like a triage doctor, running from one meeting to another, and at the end of the day you take home more work, fire the last email off at midnight and juggle priorities like a street busker tosses balls. At this pace, you can be forgiven for missing the occasional shower and forgetting to pack the kid’s lunch box. But is it possible that the marketing machine you have driven so well and for so long is starting to collapse under all of this pressure?

Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing, Peter Drucker’s “management by objectives” created the foundations for the modern business and Marie Curie’s work with radiation is the basis for the most sophisticated cancer treatment protocols in the world. Who will reinvent marketing? My belief is that it will take a CMO that is media agnostic, with great courage and a willingness to take risks to get rewards.

How would they start inventing this new model? First, I would take a lesson from many of the world’s visionaries, who first look to the past before attempting to reinvent the future. I would be curious as to how certain cultures have managed to adapt to change.

Take the Bedouins for example, desert people who, through scarcity of water and pastoral lands, became nomadic rather than rigid, like many modern day corporations. As the sand underneath them shifted (one day a dune, the next day a valley), they moved their tents and relied on creativity and continuous collaboration to survive.

We can learn a lot from the Bedouin people. They adapt because they aren’t prisoners to hierarchy and silos. They are in tune with their surroundings, the threats and opportunities, and they solve problems in a collaborative fashion. A Bedouin-style marketing department would have intelligence gathering, marketing and sales sit and work together and make fluid decisions in real time. Creativity would remain the lifeblood of marketing, but data would dictate where, what and when to invest in paid, earned, shared and trade media to generate the best return.

The “first mover and fast follower” advantage would be paramount to profits as mainstream categories continue to commoditize. The problem today is that big business has an insatiable appetite for scale, and that, alongside bureaucracy, will often smother innovation.

awakebarThe solution is stand-alone incubators that are owned either by the multinational or entrepreneurs. Here, ideas will be crowdsourced and then fast-tracked using online intelligence to accurately predict demand. Agency partners will have skin in the game – co-packers and brokers that maintain focus and mitigate risk until the seed of an idea has grown into something meaningful enough to earn attention and position in the supply chain. If you don’t believe me, follow the success of Awake Caffeinated Chocolate, masterminded by three ex-Pepsi employees.

The sands are shifting and one day in the not-too-distant future they will no longer support the foundations of brand building as we know it.

Someone with the vision and fortitude of a Ford, Drucker or Curie will lead this innovation, and like the Bedouins, learn how to adapt and survive with scarce resources through collaboration, creativity and ingenuity.

They will seize their place in history.

Tony Chapman is founder and CEO of Capital C.