BOOK REVIEW / Good management advice - but can you follow it?: 'Marketing Myths That Are Killing Business' - Kevin J Clancy and Robert S Shulman (McGraw-Hill); 'Value-Added Marketing - Marketing for Superior Results' - Torsten H. Nilson (McGraw-Hill)

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The Independent Online
If lateral-thinker Edward de Bono is to be believed, 19 out of 20 people in Britain tend to think in negative terms. Give them uncertainty and they will fill it with negative speculation, which rapidly becomes accepted reality.

Whether this is a legacy of 400 years of media onslaught or some national genetic defect is open to speculation - think the worst if you like. What is certain is that with so much advice, through the media and books, managers may well feel that they do very little right. Meanwhile, they subscribe in large measure to the 'if it ain't broke, why fix it' philosophy.

The happy minority see things differently. What they do is fairly successful, so who can help them do it better? The added-value view has an upbeat, continuous improvement value-system - 'if it ain't broke, it will be, so let's fix it before it does'.

The question for all of us, though, is how best to take good advice on board, assuming that we want it.

For behaviours to change, three conditions need to be met. If they are not, then managers will favour the status quo.

Attitudes must shift; if there is no recognition that alternative ways have merit, the case is lost before it starts.

Knowledge may have to be acquired to sustain the momentum achieved through a change in attitude. Third, skills will be needed to put the new attitude into action.

Too often, temporary shifts occur because of a fashionable, but essentially short- lived, pursuit of the latest business-school teaching.

Arguably there is nothing worse than half-hearted change; the final result may well be worse than the starting point. The wreckagestrewn trail of the Total Quality Management drive of the 1980s is testimony to the failure of its advocates to support the changes with valuable knowledge and the skills to install and sustain it.

Many management books aspire to 'why' and even 'how to' insights. Fine for those who have the optimistic bent to have a go, but less than complete for those who fear to go where gurus tread.

This is the real problem for the reader - I may be convinced, but how will I make it happen? Here management books can fail, arguably because they are the product of academic research rather than a first-hand understanding of how things are done.

Research is essential, but organisations suffer from too little help in turning it into action - certainly not a role for academics, but the responsibility of practically oriented corporate development providers. It is the partnership between concept and delivery that proves so elusive.

Marketing Myths That Are Killing Business makes an entertaining read - every prejudice I have ever met in my marketing career is nicely conjured. There are 170 of them listed. Examples include: 'advertising budgets must be set and controlled as a percentage of sales'; 'working women don't watch daytime television'; 'price sensitivity is a function of the customer's personality'; 'technology is working to distance business from its customers'.

These, and 166 more, are well observed. After each comes a dramatic claim - 'the truth'. Well, not quite. Rather, a detailed working up of why these myths came into being, often witty and incisively explained. But what of the solutions? Nowhere to be seen.

Real value, I suspect, would come from sitting down with colleagues and playing a true or false game around each of these myths. Just thinking about them might be enough for change to become possible.

Without a firm commitment to harness Clancy and Shulman's efforts through challenging the myths in your business, the whole thing might smack of those irritating colleagues who ask 'why don't you?'.

Value-Added Marketing is for positive thinkers. Its rationale is to improve what is done by thoroughly examining every aspect of the marketing agenda that affects customers and proposing practical steps for raising the game.

Admittedly, Torsten Nilson draws heavily on his years in FMCG marketing, but the messages are portable.

What I found particularly attractive was the plain common sense on offer. No intellectual arrogance here, just gentle rebukes and discomforting insights into the marketing that characterises so many businesses where processes, as well as mind-sets, are never quite thought through to achieve added value for all.

Helpful diagrams and the sort of sub-heading that catches the eye (the main weaknesses; reversed salami tactics; consistency; the real reason for promoting pride in the workplace) make the browsing reader feel welcome. Especially useful are the 200- word conclusions at the end of each chapter - not a lot to read, but important to remember.

Whether you are one of Dr de Bono's many or few, neither book will give you the skills to bring about change, but they might provoke you into thinking how you may fix a problem.

The author is director of marketing at Sundridge Park Management Centre.