Beyond Marketing Strategy

February 11, 2015

This is a guest post from former BCAMA President John R. Bell. Enjoy the perspective of the retired CEO and former recipient Marketer of the Year.

Times. Places. Some remain etched in our minds no matter how many decades come and go. Thirty-five years ago at the Robson Media Centre, I accepted BCAMA’s Marketer-of-the-Year Award as VP Marketing of Nabob Foods. At that time, BCAMA membership was under 100 – the largest component was ad agency people and market researchers. Tech was non-existent. The following year I became President of the organization and in the decade to follow, BCAMA spread its wings to new age companies and marketers with a zeal for entrepreneurship. And I spread my own wings at Nabob from marketing to general management.

The “general” in “management” is supposed to mean you know less and less about more and more. CEOs have to concern themselves with more than marketing strategy, they have to steward corporate strategy. This is why I want to share a different perspective on that Marketer-of-the-Year honor for Nabob Coffee.

Nabob earned the award by restaging a tired coffee brand with innovative packing technology and breakthrough advertising. At the presentation, I outlined the marketing story that catapulted this regional brand to national leadership. What I did not share was the “rest of the story” – the corporate strategy that resurrected this near bankrupt multi-product, multi-brand company. Without some gutsy corporate strategy moves, that marketing success would not have been possible.

The breakthrough marketing campaign
The breakthrough marketing campaign

After buckets of red ink and much soul searching, our young management came to terms with the fact that cash-strapped Nabob could not survive as a ‘generalist’ against multi-nationals ten times its size. We took a step few do, making the difficult call to trim the company down to a shadow of its former self. By time the complexity dust cleared, two factories became one, ten product lines became two . . . five hundred employees became two hundred.

Tough Sacrifice is the Secret to Success

Severing the heads of 300 faceless workers in a distant plant may be tolerable. Firing confidants as well as loyal and long termers who you see every day is another matter. So is purposely shrinking sales that will soon have to be augmented. This was a tough strategic choice, but there was more to it than that. It was also a tough sacrifice. Tough sacrifices are about you. They claw at your emotions because they require that you do something that you don’t want to do. Tough sacrifices rob you of sleep, sober your disposition, heighten your stress, and choke your patience on the littlest things in life. I suffered these disorders during that gut-wrenching time.

Now for the good news. The business that remained grew rapidly because we concentrated on running it, and nothing else. You see, we gave up something of value (brands and businesses that accounted for 40% of the company’s sales) for the sake of other considerations. That is the essence of sacrifice – a lesson that served me well for the rest of my career. I am hoping that it will do the same for you.

In the CEO Afterlife

Nabob (also known as Jacobs Suchard) went on to thrive as a profitable coffee ‘specialist’ for many years until it was acquired by Kraft, and I went on to counsel some of the world’s most respected organizations, a blue chip list that included Campbell’s Soup, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Pfizer, and Starbucks.

Consulting opened my eyes to the glaring and repeated errors made by dwellers of the C-suite and their understudies. Three years ago, I began penning blogs to share my views on leadership, strategy, marketing, and branding. My blog became the conduit to carry these musings to leaders and managers caught in the tangled knots of complexity, uncertainty, and information overload. I feature guest blogs that include financial advice with the most recent being one from Sambla Finland’s CEO.

Complexity Cripples

Never before has business seen so much complexity. Left unchecked, complexity stifles, stagnates, and brings an organization to its knees. This phenomenon is resolvable, all the way from corporate strategy to marketing/brand strategy to a clerk’s daily “to do” list. The solution is focus, and although leaders talk focus, few practice it. Nor do they understand how to leverage focus and specialization for competitive advantage. As marketers well know, unfilled needs create opportunities to fill the need. I decided to address the complexity problem/opportunity as it applies to leadership, strategy, marketing, branding, and culture in a new book.

Do Less Better

Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World would never have been possible had I failed to keep pace with the pulse of the new economy of the information age. Equally important is the luxury of stepping back from the day-to-day to ponder the present-day pertinence of the stratagems that worked for me in the line of fire, and as an advisor to CEOs and CMOs. Several practices remain intact, ready to be unbridled, ready to address the issues that inhibit performance in the 21st century. Some required significant adaptation. Others, I’ve buried in the resting place of turntables, Betamax players, boom boxes, and Walkmans.

Sure, my heyday as a business leader occurred during an era of less complexity. But, if the concept of strategic sacrifice and focus worked in that world, why wouldn’t it work now?


Former BCAMA President, John R. Bell is a retired CEO and global strategy consultant to some of the world’s most respected blue-chip organizations. His book is available from and the introductory chapter can be downloaded at no cost at