In some ways, it’s a shame that A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin kick off their excellent Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works (Harvard Business Review Press) with the oft-told tale of Oil of Olay, and the story of how Procter & Gamble transformed the once-struggling “Oil of Old Lady” into one of the dominant forces in the $50 billion skincare industry.
It will give too many marketing hipsters a reason to dismiss this book as a relic of the 20th century, when just about everyone trying to market anything these days could profit from this careful, well-done text on how to craft a strategy. Using many real-life examples from P&G (Lafley, of course, is its famous former CEO, and Martin a close advisor), the two start with the premise that effective strategies require a tough cascade of choices, and break them down, one chapter at a time. What is your winning aspiration? Where will you play? (In China? Among older women?) How will you win? (Better products? Celebrity chefs?) What capabilities must be in place? And finally, what management systems are required?
As they walk through the process of defining and communicating sound strategies, there are treats. There’s an in-depth case study of Pampers, for example, and how P&G came to pioneer the disposable diaper market back in the 1950s, continually refining its strategy in reaction to the growing market, intense competition, and the rapidly changing consumer demands. Or a compelling explanation of why Lafley tapped Martin as his alter-ego, and why relying on an outside advisor made it possible for him to better guide the company’s many brands. And there’s some terrific general business advice too, including how his years spent in Asia convinced him that internally, simpler and more compelling language always worked better: “Clear and simple, easily translatable choices were crucial to get 135,000 P&Gers in 90 countries operating with excellence.”
Since Lafley got us in the mood for old-school marketing smarts, now is a good time to mention two other titles: Market Your Way To Growth: 8 Ways to Win, by Philip and Milton Kotler (Wiley) and Unrelenting Innovation: How to build a culture for market dominance, by Gerard J. Tellis (Jossey-Bass.)
First, Market Your Way to Growth: The Kotlers, of course, are the Manning brothers of marketing, with Phil’s work at the Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management earning him the moniker of “Mr. Marketing.” (His Marketing Management textbook, first published back in the 1960s, continues to be one of the most used textbooks in business schools around the world.) And Milton, based in Washington, D.C., is a leading expert on marketing in China. This book is a pragmatic look at marketing in a vastly changed global economy, with tactical advice about growing market share, whether it’s by strengthening a brand, expanding internationally or through strategic acquisitions.
And pick up Tellis’ Unrelenting Innovation if you’ve ever wondereed -- as we have -- why many market innovators seem to move from hero to zero so quickly. The book offers a detailed look at why incumbents -- whether it’s Sony, Intel, RIM, Barnes & Noble or Kodak -- fail so often, and how to truly incorporate risk-taking in a company’s culture.