Consumers of Advertising

It is vital, from the outset, to guard against the normal psychological tendency to impose your advertising “pattern” on a rather complex reality. Consider, for example, that the advertisements you may encounter through television, radio, the campus newspaper, magazines, direct mail, billboards, and the like are only a fraction of all the forms that advertising takes in other places in other times, for different purposes, and among different audiences. Yet, there is a tendency to equate that fragmented reality with the whole. Advertising is bad (good) for children; advertising is good (bad) for the economy; advertising helps us make wise (unwise) purchase decisions; advertising makes goods cost more (less); and so on. Simply, some advertising may be (or do) any of these things. All advertising is however far too complex to permit such over-simplifications.

By way of further example, one of the frequently voiced complaints of advertising critics is that advertising is not informative enough. Now, if we wish to point to some specific advertisements, it would not be difficult to accept such a premise. An advertisement for an expensive car may tell us that the car offers greater “class” than its competitors but nothing of its performance or life expectancy. Or a message for a cereal may feature a talking tiger, telling us of his adventures, but little of nutrition.

But there is other grist for this mill as well. A classified ad for a refrigerator may tell us its make, age, capacity, operating efficiency, and the reasons the seller has put it on the market. A message on drill bits for all rigs inundates its readers with performance data concerning the cost efficiencies to be accrued through the use of this bit compared with those of traditional composition. Do these ads also lack information?

To understand advertising then, you must first develop some knowledge of its more prominent functions. One way of getting a realistic picture of the landscape of advertising is to ask a simple question: Who uses advertising to reach what audiences through what media for what purpose? The pursuit of the answer not, of course, reveals all the nuances of advertising. It may, however, after a reasonable of some of the major species and subspecies and—not incidentally—serve to discourage embracing, “Advertising does …” thinking.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit, Line of Sight

Antiquated Strategic Planning

At one time, the view from the top of most corporations was strongly influenced by their leaders planning doctrine. Executives were taught that the best way to plan for a complex company into discrete components, called strategic business units. For a time this practice provided a helpful way to unbundle the corporation and to select strategies most appropriate to each unit’s individual situation.

Companies were best thought of as a portfolio of individual businesses: some brand-new and unproven, some growing rapidly and consuming great amounts of cash, some growing rapidly and generating the cash needed by the up-and-comers, and some out and out losers.

Strategic planners eventually carried the idea one step further. They developed formulas that appeared to identify the contribution each business unit was making to the company’s overall stock price. Called value-based planning (as in shareholder value), its application, along with techniques such as junk-bond-driven leveraged buyouts, helped de-conglomerate many corporate dinosaurs in the financial go-go years.

These planning techniques are logical and quantifiable, descriptive as well as perspective. They provide a seemingly attractive way for the head of an enterprise to put arms around what might have become an increasingly diverse array of businesses. But thinking of a corporation as if it were similar to a portfolio of stocks or other investments can also be very limiting and one dimensional.

This kind of thinking tends to overemphasize the uniqueness of each business and often assumes that all the competition in which the corporation is engaged occurs when its business units do battle with their counterparts in other companies. It suggests that the role of top corporate management is either secondary or passive with regard to competition. It also implies that top management’s role is primarily that of a banker to the individual strategic business unit, concerned chiefly with financial resource allocation, and that it adds value mainly through “balancing the portfolio” by buying or selling the strategic business units that make up the company.

This approach encourages a “trader’s mentality” on the part of top management. Traders like to buy and sell, conglomerate and de-conglomerate. But they do not know how very much about how to grow the company from within.

Decentralization, sometimes extreme decentralization, is also encouraged, because each business is expected to stand on its own, containing most of the resources it needs for its operations. This simplifies the job of top management. It has only to focus on each strategic business unit’s bottom line and consider the details of its operations on an exception-only basis.

But this simplification comes to a great cost. Stressing stand-alone uniqueness and managing through the blinders of short-term earnings results in living, growing business entities treated almost as if they were fragments of the company’s stock certificate. The disease of the stock markets—perspective that seldom extends beyond next quarter’s financials—is passed along to the company.

There is another danger when strategic business unit framework dominates corporate decision-making. This is the tendency to grow redundant resources in the company as each strategic business unit, over time, builds up all the functions and staffing it feels it needs to operate as autonomously as possible. At times headquarters management tries to check the emergence of this costly duplication by mandating resource sharing across strategic business units, by using central service groups, or both. But these well-meaning attempts at cost containment send mixed signals to the strategic business units and they also can impose heavy coordination costs in terms of time and loss of flexibility.

Many intelligently managed companies led down the paths and took a seemingly attractive shortcut in their thinking. They confused a framework for planning with a basis for organizing power and resources. They used a perspective that directs to management’s attention to the financial scorekeeping aspects of the business at the cost of neglecting the underlying mechanisms that create value for their customers.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact, Line of Sight