The following is an article I wrote for the Amsterdam Worldwide advertising agency website (http://www.amsterdamworldwide.com/). By the way, if you're looking for a good creative agency, you should do yourself a favor and consider this one.
Anyway, the below screed is based on years of dealing with a wide variety of large and small companies, top management, and agencies around the world. It also helped to have been involved with revitalizing one of the world's great brands. One learns a lot through adversity, taking risks, and enjoying success.
Too many people believe that well-known companies are well-managed (even many working for those companies), because their names are familiar and their products can be easily found. Most companies could achieve even greater success (or less mediocrity). Some managers are happy to merely produce a profit, even if accomplished with little more than balance sheet manipulation. Managers have become talented at touting meager results as great success and fooling the gullible, misinformed, and stupid.
Plenty of articles have been written about "Secrets of Success", but companies still get it wrong. They do not read these articles, do not understand simple principles, or think they're smarter than those that have tried before (like every foreign army upon entering Afghanistan).
It is too easy to become too enamored with numbers. They are objective and thus are easier to judge than ideas. People forget (or do not know) that numbers are results; ideas produce results. Everyone understands numbers (even if they fail to spot the legerdemain), but few can judge ideas. Market research, which also offers manipulatable numbers, can deliver the same good feeling that one enjoys after climbing into a bathtub and slashing one's wrist. Those enthralled by research numbers forget that they have been interpreted and delivered by people with their own agendas, not necessarily the best interest of the brands they are hired to serve.
What differentiates great companies/brands from mediocre ones?
Recognizable characteristics of mediocre or less-successful brands/companies:
1. Finance controls/drives all decisions. Ideas cannot be quantified, so are denigrated, discounted, and disregarded.
2. Fear/timidity thrives at all levels, including the top. No risk is the best risk.
3. Sales dominates Marketing. They think that appeasing retailers is the way to improve distribution, not understanding that the surest method is to drive demand with strong brand marketing.
Such companies are slaves to/in awe of numbers; they disrespect/misunderstand the power of ideas, how develop ideas, and how to judge powerful ideas.
Recognizable principles that drive brands/companies that get it right:
1. Innovation drives. Consumers want exciting new stuff, whether it be a tee shirt or a phone. Existing products have a "shelf-life": when they have to be refreshed, added to the list of “classics”, or be dropped.
2. Design rules. Good design costs money, but it is an investment, not a cost.
3. Image reigns. They understand the power of consumer communication, respect the value of creative agencies, and spend money to ensure people get the message.
Great brands respect and understand the power of IDEAS; numbers are important, but are only one factor in the mix affecting decisions.
Understanding the principles of successful brands is the easy part. Beyond that, it's necessary to hire good people (don't simply believe the CV, question people that have worked with the person), develop great products, find an incisive marketing strategy, employ the best creative agency (yes, you need an agency, and you need to let them do their job), take risks on aspects that have not been researched to death, spend money, and...keep doing it repeatedly (except keep the agency. Once found, the relationship should be nurtured: it's a competitive advantage).
Weaning a company from dependence on numbers is like escaping drugs. It takes guts, discipline, and time. Few want to it; fewer stiller can do. That is why most companies/brand will never live up to their full potential.
Amsterdam Worldwide Board of Advisors
Former SVP Director of Global Marketing Communications adidas AG
Former Y&R Management Supervisor