The Marketing Bureau

Specialist Marketing & Communications Resourecs



Out Of The Mouths of Babes

"Strategies are OK’d in boardrooms that even a child would say are bound to fail. The problem is, there is never a child in the boardroom."
Victor Palmieri, Business Takeover Financier

Have you ever encountered the phenomenon that so frustrates Palmieri? When it happens, you may well find yourself thinking, as have I on more than a few occasions over the years “That makes no sense at all – still, I guess they must know what they are doing”

An ad agency I once worked for in the UK was briefed to prepare marcoms materials for a new UK - Europe passenger service to be introduced by a client – a Jetfoil service operating from Tower Bridge in London to Bruges in Belgium. (A jetfoil, for those who don’t know, is one of those fast, jet powered vessels that are commonly found operating ferry services in places like the Greek Islands)

The client was very excited by their new & innovative service which, they almost breathlessly told us, meant that, for example, business travelers no longer had to trek out to Heathrow Airport from central London to head into Europe – a short taxi ride and they could jetfoil into Europe from their base on the River Thames – fantastic!

Back at the agency we subjected the Brief to the scrutiny that we always did, including attempting to do a quick & dirty target market segmentation – who needs/wants to travel to Europe? How do they currently travel? What benefit does the Jetfoil offer? (No rocket science needed in marketing)


Pretty straightforward really – business travelers heading for Brussels - up to 1 hour to Heathrow, 50 minute flight to Brussels - allow for check-in formalities etc., and total journey time is around 3 hours.

Jetfoil time?

Up to 30 minutes in a taxi to Tower Bridge. 3 hour crossing to Bruges. 1 hour by train to Brussels. Allowing for check-in formalities and rail connection time, total journey time around 5 hours.

Jetfoil benefit? Ask a child!

Other possible target markets bombed out – holiday traffic? Largest percentage travelled with a car, using cross channel ferries. Jetfoil did not take any wheeled traffic.

Freight? All wheeled. See above or ask the child again.

Problem – we were unable to identify a single, sustainable target market segment for which the Jetfoil service even matched, let alone exceeded, the benefits of current offerings.

That made the development of marcoms very difficult indeed. We discussed this with our client but nothing changed – in a Boardroom somewhere, long before we were briefed, the strategic decision had been made, the service was ready to go, the vessel had been commissioned from Boeing, terminals were close to completion  - well, you get the picture.

Now, if only there had been a child in the boardroom when that decision had been made (or, at the very least, a marketing specialist although I do think a child might have been preferable).

I guess the real benefit of the child is not that they are brighter than us oldies but that their thinking is remarkably uncluttered – they are only just programming their hard drive and it is not fragmented, is unlikely to suffer from viruses and there is processor speed and drive capacity to burn – net result is the “Out of the mouths of babes…” wisdom that can so often take our breath away ( I well remember looking at my, now, teenage son in awe as he sat in the back of my car at the age of three and the Maori news came onto National Radio. “Dad” he asked. “Is that man speaking in Maori and thinking in Maori or is he speaking in Maori and thinking in English”. Wow! I simply can’t recall how I answered that one)

Clear and uncluttered thinking is surely the goal of all business people in whatever specialist role but it must be marketers, more than any, who are vested with that responsibility. The marketing concept is not hard but it has been made to be oh so complex and complicated over the years that it is becoming hard to discipline ourselves to ensure that clear, simple and logical thinking is brought to the development of business strategies that ooze market orientation. And it is market orientation that they must ooze as, without it, you end up with a Boeing Jetfoil, bobbing empty and forlornly, at a wharf somewhere close to Tower Bridge.

Hope the boat isn’t yours and that the child is.

Brian H Meredith


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