Why Your Business Needs “Marketing Discipline”

This isn’t about the kind of discipline you get in the principal’s office.

I’m talking the good kind of discipline here, what I refer to as Marketing Discipline. You’d better have some in your business, or don’t be surprised when the CEO calls for the wrong reasons.

To me, the concept of Marketing Discipline is a fundamental criterion of success. Yet, with the unrelenting focus and fascination on shiny new tactics, the discipline part of marketing often gets lost in the wash.

This organizing and strategic mindset was top-of-mind last week when I watched an interview with IMD Professor Goutam Challagalla. More on the professor in a moment.

iStock.com

iStock.com

Marketing Discipline is essential. It’s a strategic operating mindset that serves as a guide and roadmap for well-grounded decision-making.

For example, you’ll have a detailed marketing plan that outlines the business priorities and corresponding marketing activities to realize those priorities in a given time period. You’ll also have written briefs explaining what you want to achieve with specific initiatives, for example, advertising and communications, market research or package design.

The marketing plan and briefs are your marketing day-to-day compass. They are guides to make sure you stay on-strategy, don’t get pulled in the wrong direction, and have the best shot to achieve desired outcomes.

If this sounds like too much up-front work and effort are required, well, yes and no. Yes, it’s work. But, it’s fun, productive and essential work. If you don’t want to put in the thinking on the front-end, don’t expect good results. It’s that simple.

One more point before we get into Professor Challagalla’s views. And this is crucial.

Marketing plans need to be seen as fluid, meaning that you can, and should, switch gears as real-time market and company events unfold. That doesn’t mean change your strategy every three months. Don’t do that. It does mean, though, that you can and should adjust your marketing plan as needed based on performance, competitive activity, funding availability (up or down), or opportunities that arise.

IMD Professor Goutam Challagalla. Credit: IMD Wednesday Webcast.

IMD Professor Goutam Challagalla. Credit: IMD Wednesday Webcast – April 27, 2016.

Now, back to Professor Challagalla, who was interviewed last week as part of an IMD webcast series. His talk was titled “Marketing: Balancing Global Consistency with Local Flexibility – A Roadmap for Success.”

While the focus of his comments were how to consistently manage global brands and businesses across geographies, his comments are also valuable to marketing management in general.

Challagalla made the case for Marketing Doctrine, what he describes as “a set of common principles that might apply globally.” He says the challenge is “how to speak the same language and be on the same page.” The goal is to achieve “global consistency with local flexibility.”

In his article “How Coke, Apple and Others Use Marketing Doctrine,” Challagalla gives a more specific definition:

“Marketing doctrine represents the marketing belief system – or marketing philosophy – for a particular firm. It is the collective wisdom, experience, and marketing know-how of the firm.”

Professor Challagalla stresses that the number of principles should be few, in the range of perhaps six to eight. He explains that a given principle “gives you 70 percent of the solution and allows you to think about the rest.”

He cites an example from the United States military, an organization he’s done research with. One fundamental principle is to always occupy the high ground. That’s a thought that any commander at any level anywhere in the world can keep in mind. How to achieve that, however, will vary based on the situation.

Challagalla says the principles won’t and shouldn’t give the 100 percent solution. Rather, they provide direction with guardrails or boundaries, which enables the flexibility that can result in consistent outcomes.

Challagalla also stresses that the principles should “come from deep organizational experience” and not be just imported because they look good or are sexy. And, the principles need to have broad buy-in and acceptance across the organization for best results.


Marketing Doctrine. Marketing Discipline. Think about how you can apply these concepts to your teams and across your organization. They can provide the foundation for successful outcomes.


Harvey Chimoff is a versatile marketing and business team leader who believes good marketing sells. Contact him at harveychimoff dot com.

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