Many Brand Custodians, in all quarters of the business world, are finding challenges and controversy about best brand management practices these days and in the future.

Like many other Brand Custodians, you may well be asking questions about how to get the most out of your brand management investments.

This article offers 6 interesting insights on the subject of brand health drawn from a non-marketing field relating to human health and longevity. I hope that you find the thought starters interesting, and look forward to hearing many views and comments on this topic.

For those who don’t know me, I am Gordon Hooper, and for the last 33 years have been passionately interested in research and brand planning in association with my colleagues at our company Bateleur Brand Planning.

To set the scene, and get the ball rolling, I would like to introduce the first of two important contributions to this conversation.

The 4P’s of the Marketing Mix – Still Relevant?

It is well known that Philip Kotler popularised Jerome McCarthy’s 4Ps model for the Marketing Mix through his famous text Marketing Management.

Notwithstanding much criticism about, and many other attempts at creating an alternative marketing model, Kotler believes the 4P’s model of marketing is still king, and therefore key to achieving Extraordinary Brand Health.

Most Brand Custodians today think of the 4P’s as described by Kotler in terms of controllable variables that a firm can use to influence the buyer’s response. These four variables help the company develop a unique selling point as well as a competitive and relevant brand image.

The rise of social media itself started to bring into question the classic notion of “promotion”. Similarly with the rise of e-commerce, the idea of “place” doesn’t have the same relevance as before.

In recent times, the 4P’s has come under criticism and attack from many quarters, especially in the light of the world of modern communication technology which has removed much of the “control” from management’s hands, and placed it into the hands of consumers.

Kotler’s response to this criticism is well summarised in his interview with Neelima Mahajan and published by CKGSB Knowledge. This interesting interview is titled …

Philip Kotler: The Four Ps of Marketing is Still King.

Kotler’s first edition of Marketing Management was published in 1967. This work has been revised every three years to bring in the new concepts and theories relating to the field. The book is now in its 15th edition (2016). Kotler comments in the interview that one could map the changes in marketing by analysing the 15 additions. The diagram below summarises this analysis.

Kotler comments that the best marketing team consists of both traditional and “new school” marketers. He cites the blend of traditional advertising with social media messaging, tied together into one big picture, is the best way to deliver one’s brand message.

In the interview Kotler grants that brand control has moved from the company to the customers, but adds that a marketing department must listen to what customers are saying and even get its voice into the conversations going on. He cites the 4P’s as still being relevant in providing a framework for planning and coming up with new marketing ideas and initiatives.

Notwithstanding many other attempts at creating a marketing model, Kotler believes the 4P’s model of marketing is still king, and therefore key to achieving Extraordinary Brand Health.

And now I would like to introduce the second important contribution to this conversation.

How can we live for a long time?

During 2017, I read an extraordinary and thought-provoking book, Oxygen – The Molecule That Made The World, authored by Evolutionary Biochemist Nick Lane.

Lane is a researcher, lecturer and author who works at the University College London.

Lane begins his book citing that ever since the discovery of oxygen in the 1770s, its properties and chemistry have been squabbled over by scholars and charlatans alike. He goes on to point out that the controversy persists today!.

Oxygen is hailed as the Elixir of Life – a wonder tonic, a cure for ageing, a beauty treatment and a potent medical therapy.

It is also purported to be a fire hazard and a dangerous poison that will kill us in the end.

Lane’s wonderful and beautifully written thesis blends the fields of physics, chemistry, geography, geology, biology, anthropology, evolution, and almost all arenas of scientific endeavour to culminate in insight into how to achieve Extraordinary Personal Health and thereby slow down the ageing process and live a longer and better quality life.

His 341 page journey leads one through a myriad of often mentally challenging thought processes and concepts to finally wind up in the ultimate paragraph of his book with this well-argued and scientifically endorsed advice for Extraordinary Personal Health:-

“Eat widely, but not too much, don’t be obsessively clean or get overly stressed, don’t smoke, take regular exercise, and keep an active mind”.

When I read this final paragraph, I felt almost let down by its clarity and simplicity. I was reminded of Ken Galbraith’s famous quote “The process by which money is created is so simple the mind is repelled”.

But Lane’s conclusions kept coming back in the ensuing weeks to entertain my thoughts.

I started to wonder whether there were any parallels between his advice for Extraordinary Personal Health and our efforts as marketers to create Extraordinarily Healthy Brands.

And what, if any, links are there to the 4P’s model?

Here are my early thought starters…

6 Insights from Oxygen for Extraordinary Brand Health

1. Eat widely, but not too much.

It seems that healthy brands in the modern world are ones that have a high degree of ubiquity and are present in many different ways in consumers’ lives, without at the same time being overly intrusive or domineering.

Despite this, many brands are still using the last century approach of perpetual (advertising) bombardment to the point where consumers simply tune out of the mega million budget assaults.

Whilst there might be a role to be played by “big binge” marketing from time to time, it feels to me that many subtle conversations found in unexpected places characterise modern day brands which have sparkle.

2. Don’t be excessively clean.

This is a difficult analogy to address. What Lane established in Oxygen is that people who grow up in an overly clinical and hygienic environment lack the exposure necessary to develop a strong immune system and thereby enjoy good health.

In my 30 years of interest in brand management, I have watched companies in many industries grow from many micro to a few macro organisations. Operational excellence has surpassed innovation and intimacy in many markets. Cost-cutting and legislative shackling have resulted in a good deal of brands that can best be described as clinical, characterless and dull.

It is perhaps this sterility found on the supermarket shelves that has spawned the exponential global growth of artisanal products sporting highly diverse variety and a strong sense of “earthiness”.

Whilst operational excellence is vital to keeping consumers safe and prices competitive, it seems to me that there is opportunity add more emotion, soul and intimacy to brand management.

3. Don’t be over-stressed.

Given that brands exist entirely in consumers’ minds, it follows that any brand that causes consumers to feel discomfort or stress will be denigrating its health.

Products out of stock, stale produce, difficult shopping experiences, unfriendly packaging, impersonal call centres, spam, login and password irritations, irritating advertising, the list goes on! There are many ways in which a brand can create negative consumer reaction.

Brand management ought to pay considerable effort into making sure that their consumers are not inconvenienced, irritated or let down in any way.

4. Don’t smoke.

This health tip is closely aligned to the don’t be over-stressed tip. Aside from merely causing consumer discomfort and stress, some brands go the extra mile and actually “poison” their franchise.

Some brands do it with their advertising. I can think of several brands that are (in-) famous for their controversial advertising. Any communication that marginalises or pokes fun at a community runs the risk of poisoning their consumers. As a general rule, advertising needs be very careful to not offend or even create controversy. Controversy can lead to awareness, but always has a losing side!

Many brands poison their franchise with the indifferent and even offensive service delivered by the staff members employed to be brand ambassadors. Hence the need for brand management to have a deep understanding of the importance and role of employee engagement in brand health.

Some brands do it with their poor ethics and questionable governance. Recent months in South Africa have highlighted more than a handful of high-profile brands that have come into public scrutiny and ridicule through the revelations of their inexact ethical behaviour.

Of course, dynamics like these spread negative commentary like cancer. And, our social media world of today spreads the disease instantly and widely.

Brand management must place significant effort on not shooting one’s brand in the foot in the attempt at gaining awareness, recognition, reputation and profit.

5. Take regular exercise.

Now we get onto operational excellence. Whether taking decisions about product design and development, manufacturing, pricing, distribution, promotion or service, all brands require a good degree of fitness across these spectra. Brands with squeaky wheels, or rusty components are outperformed by those which are well oiled.

In fact, most marketing management effort is concerned with “keeping the kettle boiling” and making sure that things don’t get sick.

Therefore, it’s important for brand custodians to invest continuously with both money and effort to ensure a high degree of physical fitness for their brands.

6. Keep an active mind.

Yes, whilst it is important to keep the kettle boiling, and make sure that operations run smoothly, it is also important to, from time to time, update one’s brand features and innovate to improve relevancy and enhance brand differentiation.

Many brands are successful for years or decades, sometimes centuries, and then fall apart as they are usurped by an unseen and unanticipated disruption. The past three decades have produced a veritable rubbish dump of brands which have been rendered irrelevant after many years of success due merely to brand management complacency.

The best way to make sure that this does not happen to your brand, is to keep an ear firmly glued to consumers opinions, deeply understand their needs, how the satisfaction of these needs are evolving through time, and to innovate on satisfying these needs.

So how does this relate to the 4P’s?

A little thought has led me to suggest that following matrix summarises the relationship:-

NB. I like to include the “5th P” - People. This is because one’s staff, and their degree of engagement are crucial to ultimately achieving Extraordinary Brand Health.

NB. I like to include the “5th P” – People. This is because one’s staff, and their degree of engagement are crucial to ultimately achieving Extraordinary Brand Health.

So, this simple analysis indicates that Nick Lane’s tips to Extraordinary Personal Health, applied to nearly all, if not all, of the P’s in the Marketing Mix.

Specifically, it appears that Lane’s tips to longevity and quality of life can be applied as a mental checklist to each of the 4P’s Marketing Mix Model when planning for and managing your brand.

Thoughts and opinions?

I would be most grateful to hear your opinions on this topic, and how we could together potentially  add to or refine this thinking. Write to me at gordon@batbrand.co.za. I look forward to hearing your opinions.

Also, if you enjoyed this article, please forward it on to colleagues whom you think might also find it interesting.


Gordon Hooper

Gordon Hooper is the co-founder of Bateleur Brand planning (Pty) Ltd, South African market research and brand planning agency. Educated in engineering and business, Gordon and his colleagues have been providing consumer and employee research as well as brand and strategy consulting to a wide range of blue-chip companies in South Africa for more than 30 years.

Experience across a very diverse range of markets has taught us many valuable insights about brand management principles and their application to specific markets.