Like every powerful thing in this world, in the wrong hands templates can kill.
Templates can make your work simpler, more repeatable and capture the learnings of the greatest minds. Want a work plan? Microsoft has a template for that. Need a snazzy Zoom background? There’s a template for that. Want to make your product a winner? I’ve got templates for that. Heck, I have a book chock full of amazing strategy and marketing templates coming out this year. (I did a whole interview with Hindu Business Line on Campus around my love for templates and frameworks.)
A great template can help you organize your thoughts and, to use a McKinsey catchphrase, ensure that your plans are MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive). Which is a fancy way of saying you’ve covered all possible angles. When these templates are used to ensure that people get access to the medicines they need, they do good. When they persuade you to try a new soap, it’s harmless. But when the templates create plans to get people addicted to drugs, to drown out the voices of parents of victims applying the principles of getting customer references, and recommend payouts based on the number of overdose cases that a pharmacy contributed to – it is marketing gone wild.
Earlier this month McKinsey agreed to pay $600 million to settle an investigation into claims that it helped turbo-charge sales of Oxycontin, an opioid. Allegations include that they pushed for prescriptions of higher dosages, targeted doctors who prescribed the most with incentives, and estimated the cost of an incentive program based on the number of deaths caused. Tom Peters – a McKinsey alum – wrote a very anguished piece about this for FT.
What are the takeaways from this?
One is that if you tell bright people that this is your objective and hand them the right toolkit they will succeed. You cannot count on them to exercise moral judgement. If your product can be dangerous in excess – whether it is alcohol, drugs, sugar, fat, loans, screen time – the controls have to come from the very top to calibrate incentives. As we move into process automation, these controls are even more important. If consultants could not exercise restraint when faced with a life and death situation, algorithm designers may not either. Can marketers have morals?
The second is that no product sells itself – even a highly addictive one needs a little, er, help. I often hear CEOs say “my product is so good it should sell itself”. Possible, but only when it has been scientifically designed to “Diffuse” itself. I discuss the ABCD model (D stands for Diffusion) in this session on Frugal Product Marketing conducted for the Institute of Product Leadership.
Third is that with the intelligent application of frameworks and toolkits product adoption can be accelerated. It is important to remember that no framework can be a 100% fit for your organization, because it is unique. The “point of difference” comes from the customization to your situation, and that’s where the skillset of the person applying the framework comes in. So you need someone who not only has a set of tried and tested techniques, but who is also willing to invest in understanding the nuances of your situation.
I recently contributed to an article on “Regional Goliaths” by Rajiv Singh in Forbes India. It highlights the success of non-metro businesses like Goldiee Masala, Indigo Paint, Raj Super White and others. My take is that while yes, the biggest marketshare of around 30% in each space has a well-known branded player, getting even 1% results in a Rs 600 crore to Rs 1000 crore company. These 1% despite their varied and non-MBA origins eventually found their way to executing a standard marketing playbook. And that probably is why they succeeded. If you are able to acquire the frameworks – and the savvy to apply it correctly – sooner, it will ensure faster success.
Templates can change lives. Or kill. It’s in your hands. Use wisely. Have a great weekend!