(Artigo publicado originalmente na Marketing-UK.)

Marketing theory: Ten ideas from academia worth the paper they’re written on

Por Helen Edwards (*)

It has become respectable to dismiss the output of academics as irrelevant to the real world of marketing. The tortuous language, the lack of hands-on experience – what do they know of everyday practicalities?

Quite a lot, as it turns out – if you know where to look. Over the years, leading academics have devised elegant models, frameworks and methodologies to help guide decisions based on the fundamentals that underlie the discipline of marketing. A working knowledge of the best of these tools could save businesses hundreds of hours of consultants’ fees. Here are 10 ideas that any self-respecting marketer should keep in their toolbox.


Who designed it: Professors W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Insead (1997).

What it’s good for: Breakthrough innovation.

How it works: The Value Innovation System mounts a challenge to category norms and assumptions by forcing answers to four uncompromising questions, including: ‘Which factors could be reduced well below the industry’s standard?’ In other words, you start by asking how you can make your product worse.

This frees resources to make leaps in areas customers value more. The Value Curve plots your offer compared with the typical industry profile.

The eventual aim is a curve completely out of kilter with the norm for the category.

Who uses it: Accor Hotels is the classic case. It came to dominate the French low-price hotel industry by drastically reducing room size, service and lobby space to provide what most customers wanted more: a good night’s sleep at a low price.

What to watch out for: The aim is sweeping change, so it is not for the faint-hearted.

Where to find more: ‘Value Innovation: the Strategic Logic of High Growth’, Harvard Business Review, July 2004.


Who designed it: Professor Michael E Porter, Harvard University (1979).

What it’s good for: Market entry strategy.

How it works: Industries are not equally attractive. Airlines, for example, have traditionally struggled to repay the cost of capital. US guru Michael Porter showed that the difference is not accidental, identifying the five forces that govern profit potential: existing rivalry between firms within the industry; the threat of new entrants; the threat of substitution; the bargaining power of suppliers; and the bargaining power of buyers.

Porter, whose great gift is for simplifying complex concepts, presents these forces in a convenient five-box format. Each force comes with a checklist of sub-factors to help analyse its role in the risk:reward profile of the industry. Eyeing new markets is easy; the framework can help show why getting it right is anything but.

Who uses it: A favourite of management consultants.

What to watch: for Works better in mature industries.

Where to find more: ‘How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy’, Harvard Business Review, March-April 1979. Contemporary Strategy Analysis, Blackwell Publishers, 1991.


Who designed it: Professor Eric J Arnould, University of Nebraska, Professor Melanie Wallendorf, University of Arizona (1994).

What it’s good for: Rich consumer insight.

How it works: Ethnographic research stems from anthropology. It starts with a deceptively simple question: ‘What’s going on?’ It seeks the answer not in what people say, but what they do. It’s about getting up close to observe behaviour. In its classic form, an ethnographic study can take more than six months; Arnould and Wallendorf streamlined the process for commercial use, introducing in situ interviews about daily life. Professor Richard Elliott later developed video-logging. The output is what academics call ‘thick description’: a finely-textured feel for real life – and the brand’s place within it.

Who uses it: Far-sighted marketers such as at Diageo, to gain insights focus groups could never produce.

What to watch out for: Interpretation is highly skilled. Good analysts are rare.

Where to find more: ‘Market-Oriented Ethnography: Interpretation Building and Marketing Strategy Formulation’, Journal of Marketing Research, November 1994.


Who designed it: Professor Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University (1997).

What it’s good for: Measuring and comparing brand personality.

How it works: Aaker showed that the comparison of brand personality with human personality can go too far. Her main insight was that the dimensions of brand personality must include some that humans desire but do not possess.

Aaker took one of the least understood aspects of marketing and subjected it to measurement. The framework plots five brand personality dimensions: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness, for example. Each is broken down into facets – ‘sincerity’ comprises down-to-earth, honest, wholesome and cheerful. Each facet is then divided into traits, which can be measured on a one-to-five scale.

Who uses it: Savvy planners.

What to watch out for: Not proven across all cultures.

Where to find more: ‘Dimensions of Brand Personality’, Journal of Marketing Research, August 1997.


Who designed them: Various luminaries, including Lavidge and Steiner, Lars Finskud, and Prof. Nader Tavassoli of London Business School (1961-2004).

What they’re good for: Assigning marketing budget.

How they work: The hierarchy of effects has spawned many practical models.

Lavidge and Steiner started things in 1961 with their seminal paper in the Journal of Marketing. It postulated a funnel with six stages that consumers must move through for advertising to be effective. Best of the modern funnels is Finskud’s Customer Choice Chain, which broadens the scope beyond advertising effect. There are seven stages that separate brand ignorance from brand advocacy. By plotting how many customers you lose at each stage, you can see where weaknesses are and where expenditure would be most justified.

Who uses them: Few do, all should. A proper, fact-based choice chain will often come as a revelation to marketers more used to making assumptions.

What to watch out for: These are quantitative tools, not just illustrative models. They require the investment to get the numbers for each stage.

Where to find more: Competing for Choice, Vola Press, 2004.


Who designed it: Professor James L Heskett, Harvard University (1980).

What it’s good for: Improving customer service.

How it works: A service map puts the reality of service delivery in graphic form. Each step in the process of service is mapped in a strict horizontal sequence, but some steps are also separated vertically, by a ‘line of visibility’. Above the line, activities are visible to the customer; below the line they are not. The map gives an at-a-glance hint at potential failure points in a number of ways. Some are vulnerable to supplier delivery; complex loops with lots of steps warn of log jams; too many steps below the line of visibility indicate lack of value perception from customers.

With an accurate map in place, streamlining and improving service becomes dramatically easier.

Who uses it: Car repair businesses and restaurant chains are cited by Heskett. Ad agencies should give it a try: it would show at a glance why their margins are thin and their clients frustrated.

What to watch out for: People issues. Complexity preserves jobs, so simplifying service loops can be seen as a threat.

Where to find more: Service Breakthroughs, The Free Press, 1990.


Who designed it: Professor David A Aaker, University of California (2000).

What it’s good for: A strategic approach to brand architecture.

How it works: What is dignified by the term ‘brand architecture’ more often resembles jerry-building. An acquisition here, a brand extension there, and you soon have an architecture that owes significantly more to accident than to design. When the time comes to reorganise the portfolio from strategy up, Aaker is the place to start. The spectrum model assembles the various options under four ‘basic strategies’: house of brands, endorsed brands, sub-brands under a master house, and a branded house. Working in a similar way to a family tree, it then plots further divisions for each of these, with relevant examples. Finally, there is a battery of well-conceived questions to help you arrive at the best architecture for your situation.

Who uses it: Any self-respecting brand strategist. Leslie Butterfield is a noted proponent.

What to watch out for: It is a simple tool without obvious drawbacks. Better to watch out for the problem of ill-conceived architecture in the first place.

Where to find more: Brand Leadership, The Free Press, 2000.


Who designed it: Richard Beckhard, adjunct professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, based on work by David Gleicher of Arthur D Little (1987).

What it’s good for: Changing the internal culture to match the brand promise.

How it works: Some seemingly great strategies succumb to a simple flaw: no one thought about getting the troops on-side first. British Gas and Abbey have both slipped on this banana skin, failing to match customer service with the claims made in big-budget ad campaigns. The Change Equation is a tool from Organisational Behaviour, a discipline marketers will have to embrace if they are serious about inside-out branding. Its formula – DxVxF>R – provides a quick assessment of the likelihood of effecting change. D = dissatisfaction with the way things are; V = a clear vision of how things could be; F = achievable first steps that could be taken.

If any of these is zero or close to zero, the product will be too, and will be insufficient to overcome R = resistance.

Who uses it: Communications agency krow has adapted the formula, and uses it to effect change in consumer behaviour.

What to watch for: Marketing and HR must join forces.

Where to find more: Changing the Essence, Jossey-Bass, 1992.


Who designed it: Professor Robert S Kaplan and David P Norton, Harvard (1992).

What it’s good for: Linking measurement to action.

How it works: Would you feel safe flying in a plane that had only two instruments? Kaplan and Norton use this metaphor to stress the dangers of over-reliance on just one or two business performance measures. Their ‘Balanced Scorecard’ proposes a battery of measurements arranged in a grid reflecting four broad business perspectives: financial, customer, internal and innovation. Get back on that plane; how would you feel if the pilot didn’t know what to do about the information on one of the dials – say, the altimeter? The ‘Balanced Scorecard’ framework is designed to force you to specify actions for each measurement score.

Who uses it: Marks & Spencer, Chrysler – and The Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

What to watch out for: This tool was designed to measure overall corporate performance, but can be adapted to focus on brand performance.

Where to find more: ‘The Balanced Scorecard – Measures that Drive Performance’, Harvard Business Review, January-February 1992. Creating Passionbrands, Kogan Page, 2005.


Who designed it: Professor Peter Doyle, Warwick University (1994).

What it’s good for: Segmentation that makes sense in the real world.

How it works: The late, great Peter Doyle contributed so much to the practice of marketing that it would be remiss to leave him out of this top 10.

Although his criteria for segmentation are presented as a checklist, rather than as a snazzy framework or model, its study will repay all marketers who suspect that the lure of market segmentation can be false. It can.

The five criteria in Doyle’s checklist are effective, identifiable, profitable, accessible and actionable. First, effective – are the needs of people within the segment homogenous but different from the needs of people outside?

Identifiable – can customers in the segment actually be isolated and measured?

Profitable – is the segment large enough to still achieve economies of scale? Accessible – can the segment be reached in media without too much overlap? Actionable – does the business have the resources to segment its offer in the first place?

Who uses it: London Business School MBAs.

What to watch out for: Planners who don’t.

Where to find more: Marketing Management and Strategy, Prentice Hall, 1994.

(*) Helen Edwards é fundadora da Passionbrands, PHD em marketing e autora do livro “Creating Passion Brands: how to build emotional brand connections with customers”.