War in the Boardroom: Why left-brain management and right-brain marketing don’t see eye to eye – and what to do about it.

Reviewed by: 
Al and Laura Ries
Collins Business
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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War in the Boardroom is written by the father and daughter marketing team Al and Laura Ries, whose firm “Ries & Ries” is a successful marketing consultancy.

The purpose of the book is to illustrate the differences that exist between the approach and thinking style of marketing people and the managers that ultimately make marketing decisions.  I suspect that in this the book has, at least in part, been written out of a sense of frustration – certainly some of the case studies illustrate instances where the “management” view won over the “marketing “ view and the result was a failure.

The point is that the discipline of management has traditionally relied on logic, numbers and plans that are driven from within the organisation.  The discipline of marketing is very different in that it relies on the perception of value and on seeing the product or service from the perspective of the customer.  In explaining this difference, the authors draw the distinction between left- and right-brain thinking styles.  As they put it: “Left brainers are verbally oriented. They think of marketing as communicating a laundry list of benefits.” While “Right brainers are visually oriented.  They think of marketing as ‘filling an empty space in the mind’.”

Based on this distinction Ries and Ries point out that the management approach is often to develop new features, to reduce price, to expand the product range etc.  Whereas the marketing approach is to concentrate on dominating a niche in the mind of the consumer.  They cite Motorola and Nokia as examples.

Motorola introduced the first mobile phone in 1983. But instead of dominating the market, they used their revenues to expand into new market segments – computer workstations, PowerPC chips and satellites, to name but a few.  By 1995 Motorola described itself as: “One of the world’s leading providers of wireless communications, semiconductors and advanced electronic systems, components and services.  Major equipment businesses include cellular telephone, two-way radio, paging and data communications, personal communications, automotive, defence and space electronics and computers.”  I am sure the management team was proud of its diverse range!

Nokia, on the other hand, was a company that had a presence in a number of markets but which decided to concentrate exclusively on the market for mobile phones.  It therefore sold off all its other businesses.
The result: During the last 10 years Motorola had revenues of $329b with net profits of $1.6b, Nokia $370 with net profits of $44b.  As the authors put it: “It’s not how many products you have that determine whether a company is successful or not; its how much money you make.”

The point is that left brain logic would suggest that product diversification is good.  It reduces risk, builds a presence in multiple markets and, as managers often say, it leverages the brand.

Right brained marketers, on the other hand, would argue that it dilutes the brand and confuses the customer. 
The book is packed full of many such examples, each of which is eloquently used to illustrate a particular point, making it an easy-to-read book that will appeal to many readers.

On a more negative note, I feel that the right-brain, left-brain argument is applied inappropriately in many instances.  I completely agree that management is a predominantly left-brained discipline and that marketing is more right-brained, but the truth is that good managers understand the right-brained needs and good marketers are capable of explaining right-brained concepts in left-brained language.  The distinction therefore is between good and bad management and good and bad marketing – but unfortunately terms like those don’t sell books!

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