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Making Waves: an interview with Mark Davies and Tina Catling

Interview by: Debbie Hepton

Options:     PDF Version - Making Waves: an interview with Mark Davies and Tina Catling Print view

Mark DaviesMark Davies and Tina Catling both have 25 years experience in marketing, working for some of the largest advertising agencies in the world – including Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy and Mather. They founded the award winning outside the box – www.outsidethebox.co.uk – in 1993, one of the best known creative agencies in the UK, and they quickly established a reputation for marketing excellence with clients like Thomas Cook, Boots, Dulux, Royal Mail, Hitachi and Visa.

They lecture at many UK Universities and speak throughout the world on the subject of "thinking outside the box", and train organizations to be more innovative through their innovation management company, Think – www.thinkso.co.uk. Mark and Tina have many licensees trading as Think all around the world which helps to give them a global perspective. They have a shared passion for learning and innovation.

Mark Davies and Tina Catling are authors of the bestselling book THINK, a ground breaking business book that really wakes up your brain!

Their latest book, Making Waves, is a straightforward practitioner's guide designed to provide marketers with comprehensive information on contemporary direct response integrated marketing and its ability to make an impact.


DH: What is your inspiration behind writing Making Waves?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

There was a gap in the market. We know this area well because we have both worked in "marketing" for 30 years. There have been many practical guides for marketing over the years but nothing has stood out recently, and marketing has moved on…a long way.

DH: Who should read the book, and why?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

The book is aimed at giving advice to anyone who is generally interested in or practically involved with the promotion or communication of a service, a brand or a product. It can be beneficial to GCSE students – right up to seasoned professionals in the field of marketing.

DH: To quote the book: "any purchase is usually preceded with a mental calculation of Value – found through the multiplication of Quality and Benefit divided by Price – versus the Time and Effort that it took to make the money required." Can you explain?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

Yes, this is what we all do when confronted by "making the decision to purchase…or not"…we may not know we are doing it, but we are evaluating if the "perceived benefit" is worth the price?

DH: How can a brand ensure that it differentiates itself from the masses of marketing messages that flood everyday life?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

All brands are unique. The role of a marketing professional is to communicate the features and benefits of this uniqueness to the specific target audience required. Done correctly it is differentiated. You can also help to differentiate with the choice of media. Red Bull comes to mind with their really innovative ways of promoting themselves.

DH: How does an organization know when it has the right product, in the right place, at the right time and at the right price?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

You can never be sure all the time. However continual testing of the above will help to determine some of the optimal decisions. However as we all know…time changes everything! So just as you think you have got it right…it may change.

DH: You founded "outside the box" in 1993. Can you tell us about your agency?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

Outside the Box creates interactive marketing campaigns for some of the best companies in the UK… Companies like Thomas Cook, VISA and Npower. What makes us different is that we believe that it is the quality of the idea that creates the biggest return on Marketing Investment. We specialize in techniques for creative thinking.

DH: Outside the box has created a process for the development of promotional campaigns, which involves a number of techniques that you claim never fails to deliver innovative solutions and significant results. What is this process and what makes it so successful?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

All campaigns are different so there is no single solution that fits all. However we often consider AIDA (how you ensure the target audience runs through the flow of getting their attention, attracting their interest, create their desire…and getting them to act). Other things we regularly look at are:

  • What space can they "own"?
  • What gets customers excited? (Functional and emotional benefits)
  • Senses…we look at all the senses

(Sound, feel, look smell, taste)

  • Insights…what are the moments that matter to a customer?

DH: Would you like to tell us about your innovation management company, Think?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

think helps individuals and teams in the best organizations in the world…create and implement innovative ideas.

Many of our clients have approached us because they are looking for new ways to resolve their business issues, and want to be more innovative.

You may have got stuck in your systems and processes, or you may want to motivate teams by empowering them to contribute to the development of your business, to be more creative, or looking for a competitive edge by offering something new, doing something differently – but
may not know how. You may want new products or new services, a new business or to improve what you currently do.

We start our relationship by meeting with you to understand your issues and what you want to achieve. We will plan activity to meet these needs, taking a human-centred approach – whether it is consulting, creative workshops, events or training.

"A good strategy enables you to target the right message to the right target audience at the right time. It's vital to great marketing."

think works best when we work with client's long term, most of our activity will develop into profitable on-going relationships with our clients…but we may also undertake a one off piece of work. We help public and private organizations innovate and grow by guiding them to have more and better ideas, build a creative culture, embed these new skills or create internal systems to sustain innovation.

We are an innovation management business – helping companies to manage their innovation by unlocking creativity from within their organization. We will be using think skills and techniques to help them achieve their goals.

Our work with clients mostly begins with Consultancy to support and sustain innovation within their organization. We then support this work with Workshops, Events and Training.

We franchise the think brand globally, so we have thinkers around the world who have been trained in our techniques and run their own businesses trading as think.

DH: Blue chip organizations such as Apple and IBM have successfully adopted the idea of "open innovation". What are your thoughts on this approach and why do you think this has not been more widely adopted?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

We are very supportive of open innovation. Open innovation (Oi) is prevalent in world class organizations. Oi invites new innovative ideas from inside and outside an organization based around a structure of "events". We have developed techniques to use to develop internal systems for our clients. We also team up with software providers to offer our clients the best Oi technology to suit their needs.

DH: How important is an effective communication strategy?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

A good strategy enables you to target the right message to the right target audience at the right time. It's vital to great marketing.

DH: In a digital and environmental focused world, why do you think people still like to be contacted via direct marketing?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

First of all direct marketing is a philosophy not a tactic. Marketing directly to your prospects and customers can be achieved by numerous communication channels and tactics both online and offline. Direct Mail is one such tactic. Most people trust direct mail more than online communications…particularly if they do not know the company they are receiving the mail from. There seems to be a paradox in marketing communications…there seems to be a fixation on all things digital, but nearly 90 per cent of all marketing investment is made offline. There seems to be a moth and a light approach to digital social media currently, there are very few organizations making significant profits from it. We fully embrace digital communications, we love it…but it has to be used "as well as …not instead of" other forms of media.

DH: To quote you, "if you can't solve a problem, it's probably because you are playing by the rules". Can you explain what you mean by this?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

This is advocating disruption. Sometimes it is necessary to stop doing what you have always done …try something completely different. You never know what will happen. Intuition seems to have taken a back seat in marketing communications, marketing directors now follow the XL spreadsheet rather than have an emotional feeling.

DH: Many companies swear by the practice of brainstorming. Why do you think this is the case when many studies actually show that brainstorming is detrimental to ideation?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

Brainstorming doesn't work

We all know the scenario: lots of people gather in a room to brainstorm a strategy, product idea, tag line, or mission statement.

Veterans approach cynically, new recruits think it will be fun, and after an hour — or two or three — has passed, they all emerge drained, depressed, and demotivated.

Why is this a recurrent story?

Some academics in Texas set out to understand what goes wrong in brainstorming. Nicholas Kohn and Steven Smith's analysis is impressive, not least because it reflects an appreciation that the executives who do brainstorming are also human beings.

This means that they become anxious about their own contributions; in academic parlance, they suffer from "evaluation apprehension", meaning that they worry people will think their wild ideas foolish.

Sometimes there are too many ideas and we can't keep them all in our heads. Then there's the phenomenon psychologists call "social loafing", which we probably all recognize: the people who sit at the back of the room contributing nothing at all.

Only slightly less lazy is "social matching," which means that we are very likely to contribute lots of ideas so similar to each other as to be indistinguishable; it feels like we're making a contribution, but the range and variety of suggestions remains small. Conformity plays a big part here; our desire to belong restricts the breadth of ideas we might think of but don't dare to offer, it reduces creativity and increases conformity.

Moreover, creativity declines with time. In experiments, students from A&M University were asked to come up with ideas for improving their school. After twenty minutes, their ideas were coded (for variety, novelty, quantity and range of categories), and what was striking was how fast the group ran out of steam: the first five minutes were the most productive.

Most intriguing of all was that brainstorming alone proved to be more effective than brainstorming collectively. In those first five minutes, participants who sat at a computer and generated ideas came up with 44 per cent more ideas than those in a group. This challenges received wisdom that says groups of people will come up with a wider range of ideas than similar minded people or those working alone. But what it takes into account is that when we come together, like it or not, we all start to become a little homogenized. What this finding implies is that the way to get the creative value of diversity – and every company I know finds this a challenge – is to encourage people to develop ideas alone, and only then bring them together.

DH: For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us what you mean by "brain writing" and why this is a better method than brainstorming?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

This method is simple…and in thirty minutes can produce lots of ideas! This technique really works well if there are people in your team who are being overpowered by other team members...it allows the quieter more thoughtful people to get their ideas across.

How To Apply It

  • Your group sit in teams of no more than 8, sit them in a circle if you can.
  • Tell your group to take a few minutes to think through the best idea they have individually for the topic you are working on. This is not a group discussion, each person works on their own initially, no talking, no sharing of ideas. Quiet reflection.
  • Get them to write their idea …as neatly and simply as possible at the top of an A4 piece of paper.
  • Participants then pass their ideas on to the next person to their right in the circle.
  • When the person receives the paper, they should do two things:
    1. Read it carefully, take time to consider it.
    2. Add value to the idea to make the idea better and develop new ideas because of it, writing these additional ideas beneath the ideas offered by the previous person.
  • The process is repeated until every person has contributed to every other person's original thoughts.
  • When everyone has added value to all the ideas, the process can start again with new ideas.
  • When time is up, the ideas are discussed and having chosen the best, get your group to look for possible improvements by further discussion.

Get them to present back their best ideas to the wider group. The thing is with this technique is that everyone has the opportunity to push their own idea…and everyone has the opportunity to develop everyone else's ideas.

DH: Why is integrity more sustainable than novelty when it comes to building a brand?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

We often talk about "brand truths" which brings to life the uniqueness' and the real bits behind a brand communication, if you approach this correctly and honestly, we believe this honesty will have more resonance with consumers. Novelty is by it's very nature temporary.

DH: What are "sponsored questions"?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

Research within marketing communications.

DH: What do you mean by "cloud computing"?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

Throw away your servers! You will not need them soon…all your files can be kept in cyber space so you can easily access them anywhere using a multitude of devises.

DH: Testing of marketing activity is often neglected by many companies claiming that it is too expensive, protracted or complicated. Why do you think this is the case and how can organizations be persuaded otherwise?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

Simple, if you fail to test alternative solutions to your marketing you will eventually stagnate.

DH: Finally, do you have any closing comments?

Mark Davies & Tina Catling:

The world of marketing is a turbulent place, moving at an incredible pace as attitudes and technology changes. Making Waves rides the chaos and sets free the power of the masses.


August 2011.


The views expressed herein are those of the interviewee and, unless specifically stated, are not those of Emerald Management First or Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Emerald Group Publishing Limited is not responsible for any content posted by members of the public on this website or for the content of any third party websites. Any links to third party websites do not amount to any endorsement of that site by Emerald Group Publishing Limited.