Food for thought: my articles

Where is your mentor ?

We all need mentors.  It’s a question of good balance, better performance and…happiness ! Look at great sports(wo)men or great show performers. They may be at the top in in their field, they may master all professional skills, they may excell in using the newest techniques but they nevertheless work day by day with a personal coach.

In business as in life, mentoring brings the serenity needed to face new challenges. You can’t make wise decisions if you don’t sit back and reflect in a non-stressful atmosphere, with no interference from outside pressures or hierarchy. You need to share and reflect. You have to voice your doubts in full confidentiality. Then you’re ready to go back to the field.


Most of my younger friends agree with me on the idea to be mentored but they often ask me : « Where can I find my mentor ? And by the way, what is a good mentor ? ». Actually, answering the second question first might help answer the first…

Mentoring is sharing experience for a better performance and a better being. So you need to be mentored by someone who is a good listener. Someone who will not judge any of your thoughts or behaviors. Not judging but understanding. Someone who will not make decisions in your place but clarify the options, suggest new alternatives and illuminate your mind.

Experience is another thing you will look for in a mentor. If you need to solve strategic business problems, look for someone who already experienced strategic problem solving. If you need to share human relationships issues, search for someone who faced a number of relationship situations in the past. A mentor is not a friend. Rather a benevolent person who will reassure and push you to go over your own limits.

Mentoring is a one to one interaction, based on trust and understanding. It’s the process of providing personal advice on how to approach business problems and life. Trust is something you can’t formally define. You need to feel it. And it works both ways. As a mentor myself, I met some mentorees who were not sincere about their intentions. They had a hidden agenda linked to internal politics or a need to gain power instead of improving themselves. In that case, I could not trust them and declined mentoring them.

So, where can you find a suitable mentor ?


Some big groups offer that opportunty to young managers. They assign an internal mentor, a senior executive not working in the same team or the same country. But it’s not frequent. So, you need to be smart. Go networking with people older than you. Locate « good people », those who listen and talk rarely but wisely. Let your feelings play. Ask for a lunch or dinner and share some problems unformally, just to see. If you feel comfortable, you might ask for more.

If you want to have a more professional approach, go for a professional mentor. It may look expensive sometimes but actually, the time you need to spend with him or her is quite limited, so overall, it’s great value.

Be inspired.



FINTECH, the new playground for marketing professionals

My team and I put together the Fintech Marketing Hub inspiration days this last week ( and I got inspired by a number of young Fintech entrepreneurs who are challenging the banking and financial services industry. The Solvay Fintech Marketing Hub is an innovative independent world-class lab specialised in the marketing of tech-based financial services. We launched it 2 years ago with the support of a major actor in the finance industry.

A number of you may not be aware of the huge development of this new branch of finance. Fintech becomes a sector competing with traditional services like banking. It’s made of startups allowing customers to access a service (payments, investments, crowdfunding, peer to peer lending…) with no intermediaries. Banks are worried. Some are not conscious of the danger of cannibalization. Some others now realized how fast they could be replaced by these new players and are moving towards collaboration with them. But it’s the same clash of culture as we saw a few years ago in other industries.

As marketer, I’m most interested by detecting and understanding the new challenges appearing in these businesses. One of the goals of the Fintech Marketing Hub is to help Fintech entrepreneurs to address these challenges in the most agile way, train them and also advise them so they can be more successful.


Let me first restate what marketing means today.

For a long time marketing was restricted to a support function aimed at just generating more sales. Then, it evolved as a set of techniques aimed at delivering value to customers and generating satisfaction. This led to the emergence of customer-focused corporate cultures, solution-based products and services, customer care programs and the like. This is called demand-based marketing.

Now we entered a new era, a time when marketing is at the heart of the entrepreneurial process. Detecting opportunities, practicing creativity as the source of innovation, setting up new business models leading to market creation. We call it innovation-push and it’s the new game of marketing.

This new game means new rules but we don’t know yet what these new rules are. We must invent them day by day. Of course we have new buz words like « agile marketing », « content marketing » or « digitalization » but most entrepeneurs I meet ask me basic questions like « how can I recruit more customers ? », « how can I make my customers loyal ? », « how can I build trust in my brand ? », « how should I price my services ? », etc. This is reinforced by the fact that most Fintech managers are coming from the IT or the financial worlds and lack marketing knowledge.


That’s why Fintechs are an ideal field to invent marketing of the future. Marketing of the past is easy to grasp ! Just google « marketing plan » and you will see dozens of templates, book references or articles that will inform you about what was (and still is) usually done. But it is of no use here !

We face new challenges like :

  • How do we make sure that our product meets a market ? And by the way , which market ?
  • Besides a product, what is the real « value proposition » ? And how should we price it ?
  • How do we differentiate our business vs competitors now and in the future ? Who are the real competitors ?
  • How do we set up a strategic marcom plan ? Target, content, tools, budget…
  • How do we recruit enough customers to reach breakeven as soon as possible ? What are the right customers to go after ?
  • How do we create and monitor customer delight ?

Success of business comes from a smart combination of strategy, marketing, money economics and supply chain architecture. The new Fintech sector now needs to address marketing issues in a professional way. Marketing people can find here new opportunities to show their talent !

Be inspired !

For those interested in knowing more about Fintech, here are some links :

My seven rules for today great marketers

The world is changing. Consumers are changing. Marketing is changing.

However, when I observe some young marketers, I sometimes feel like I’m watching politicians. They enter the profession with a lot of ideals and after a few years it seems they forgot all of them. They are taken by the job. They are prisonners of their ambition. They forget about the ultimate goal of marketing – i.e. creating value and delivering satisfaction – in order to focus on short term sales and profit because they think they will be judged on that !

Besides the fact that it’s futile, this attitude is also pointless and useless in the context of today ‘s marketing. That’s why I want to offer here my seven rules to follow if you want to always be a great marketer.

1. Practice real marketing, not fake marketing
It’s just basic but very often forgotten. Real marketing is the process of generating a long term sustainable flow of revenue thanks to a mix of 3 ingredients : customer loyalty, strong reputation and constant innovation. If you focus on short term sales, you’re not a marketer, you’re a salesperson. If you focus on short term profit, you’re not a marketer, you’re a finance person. Explain that your boss !

2. Forget about models: real life is never as in the models
I’m used to see students and young professionals use models. They feel comfortable drawing matrices, tinkering a SWOT or swinging everything into a business model canvas ! Most of the time, it’s poorly done. It does not have the substrate necessary for understanding the key issues.
Forget about all that. Organize your ideas differently. Create your own model, your own canvas, your own plan. Make powerful analysis based on your own reality. And forget about the 4p’s, it’s just all stuff of the 1950’s !

3. Understand the world and immerse yourself constantly in the society
Great detectives like to smell the scene of the crime ! They don’t stay in their office. They’re in the field. Great marketers also. To address customers’needs and understand behaviors, you need to penetrate the society. Not only your own circle of millenials but also and foremost all layers of the population. Not only your own country or city but also other places in the world. Not only on some days or weekends but at all times. Every 4 or 5 years, take 3 to 6 months to travel around. Open your eyes and your ears and rediscover the world.

4. Be a citizen: responsible, respectful, militant
Marketing today is about being engaged. Brands should mean something else than quality, reliability and seduction. As a marketer you have a strong influence on society. You have the power of words, the power of action and sometimes the power of money. It’s a high responsibility. Use it wisely but use it. Don’t use demagogy to sell your stuff. Respect the customer, respect the product and respect yourself. When time will come to reflect on your life, be sure you’re proud of what you did as a professional.

5. Be sexy but not over-sexy: be genuine and authentic
Marketing is about seduction, right ? Seduction is the process of deliberately enticing a person, to engage in a relationship. But as Tom Martin wrote in Advertising Age                   « …seduction is hard. It requires time, patience, skill and a willingness to give before you get… »  In marketing as in real life, fake behavior may get you short term recognition but will eventually result in some kind of disaster. Consumers were often mistreated and have been too often deceived. They became suspicious. Authenticity is what will make you win the hearts of your clients !

6. Have an immense culture: read, listen, discuss
Complex, paradoxal, ambiguous. This is how our world is now. It makes it hard to understand, even when you rely on the best experts to help you. And most people became so ignorant today that those who are cultivated have a definite advantage when comes the time to perceive reality and find great solutions. Cultural intelligence has never been so crucial for leadership and success. Be distinctive. Spend time, much time, to build and maintain a solid CQ (Cultural Quotient). Read less business books and more essays. Attend conferences, discuss with philosophers and devour TEDx talks

7. Sleep with your customers 
When I started my career in marketing at Procter & Gamble, my boss took me in his office and urged me to take home a full load of P&G products. « You should use your products » he told me. « You should love your products. You should sleep with your products ». He was right. At that time, product marketing was the ultimate strategic posture. Today these times are gone. Marketing is about offering solutions to customers, bringing them the most value, oversatisfying them. To do so, you need to know your clients intimately. So, if he were here today, my ex-boss would say : «…know your customers, love your customers, sleep with your customers… » 

Marketing may be about technique but it’s about attitude and mind openness before all ! A marketing person should be madly curious, a fierce fan of new trends and intensely passionate. S(he)’s the one who will open the eyes of her (his) organization, stimulate everyone’s mind and fight for innovation and creativity of all.

Be aware of your responsibility and be inspired !

Why we should bring the customer back into the boardroom

It’s been more than 10 years since McGovern,Court,Quelch & Crawford wrote an article called Bringing Customers into the Boardroom As a founder of the Fondation des Administrateurs, a Belgian association advocating the professionalization of Board of Directors, and as the holder of the marketing Chair at the University of Brussels, Solvay School of Economics and Management, I was doubly interested by the topic.

If we look at the situation today, i’m afraid that board discussions continue to focus more on investments, corporate control, company performance and the like… Strategic decisions are the prerogative of Board of Directors and yet, marketing is still believed by some board members to be some kind of operational function, guided by the outdated 4p’s model. For those directors, strategic marketing decisions (choosing markets to be in, positioning adequate value propositions, creating value through the portfolio of businesses,…) are away from their immediate worries. It’s pitiful and dangerous in a VUCA type of business environment.


I advocate an equitable distribution of the subjects to be treated in Boards. Strategic marketing issues are as important as financial, social or nominations ones. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about a Board discussing on a new corporate logo or giving intuitive advice on an advertising campaign ! I’ve seen so many of these meetings turning out to be a « discussion de café du commerce ».  I’m talking about (1) being informed on key market trends, (2) reviewing the company positions on strategic market segments, (3) understanding competitive dynamics, etc. The key is to avoid the so called Kodak syndrome and keep alert and agile on the strategic fields.

To be practical, I recommend here after a number of measures that a Board Chairman could take to bring the customer back into the boardroom. After all, marketing is all about delivering value to customers to generate so much satisfaction that they want to be oyal to you.

  1. Invite real customers at a board meeting at least once a year

As Hans Hickler put it in a 2015 excellent article in the Huftington Post,«  Adding customer discussions to the Board agenda is an important part of a broader customer engagement strategy with the board, including the regular review of customer survey results, engagement metrics, segmentation reviews. But nothing beats engaging directly with the customer ! »

  1. Create a strategic marketing committee

Besides the usual audit, strategy and nominations committees, etc. we should have one caring for the follow up of the marketing function. Linked with the strategy committee (I recommend 2 members attending both the strategy and the strategic marketing committees), it should watch and monitor closely marketing plans and KPI’s and, as importantly, signal changing market trends quickly enough to the board. Remember that  IBM took nearly two years to realize that Apple was more than some kids playing in a garage !

  1. Include marketing performance KPI’s in the Board dashboard

Financial reporting is about past and present. Marketing reporting is about the future. KPI’s like customer satisfaction index, customer churn rates ( and other relevant metrics may be signals of future performance. But, more than that « boards need a thorough understanding of how their companies are meeting customers’ needs and how their marketing strategies support those efforts Board members should be critical and demanding as to the why’s and how’s and challege non specific answers.

  1. Be sure to have marketing specialists on the board

Marketing is as technical as IT, supply chain or accounting. Yet a number of people, even professional managers, still believe it’s intuitive and within the reach of all. Actually, it’s not ! Especially today ! With the emergence of new analytical tools and new metrics, with the development of 360° multimedia marcom and with the advent of sophisticated marketing intelligence systems, marketing is now technically tough to understand. So boards should not be the hostage of a management team informing them about things they don’t understand with a new obscure jargon. Boards should have seats for marketing professionals.

  1. Have a regular evaluation of the marketing talents

Marketing today includes classical and progressive methods. The war for talents is real today and especially for marketing functions. The CMO role is way different from what it was 10 years ago. We need teams who ally analytical hard skills with softer creative skills. We need passion and ethics. We need a deep understanding of emerging trends and proactivity to take opportunity of them in the most agile way. It’s hard to find marketing executives who can manage teams like that ! Not only should we find them but we also need to keep them long enough so they can really influence the business.  Boards should consider this issue as being of the highest priority.


Marketing and customer matters have been considered by Boards as secundary isues for too long. Today, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment, no company can consider the future with « sleepy confidence ».

Marketing is the engine of innovation. Its strategic role is to ensure the long term sustainabilty of revenues and corporate reputation. That’s why Boards need to get involved !

Be inspired !


The five facets of “Positive Consumption”

I’m just coming back from BIOFACH the yearly German trade fair showing new products and trends of the booming bio/eco market This is all about food, cosmetics, lifestyle products and the rest. All green, organic, healthy things. The fair alleys were crowded. Much more than usual. I could feel the pulse of the market. I love that !

It’s interesting to watch European consumers becoming green crazy. The trend is not new. It started here in Europe 20 years ago. I will always remember one of my students proposing a thesis subject about “green marketing” at that time. Nobody, included me, knew what it was at that time. Now , although the bio sector only represents 2-3% of household food expenses, the EU market for organic products is growing constantly at annual rates of 7-8 %. This is exceptional given an average annual growth rate in grocery retail markets of around 2% to 3% over the last 10 years (Source: Case “Preserve® Products Strategy for Europe”, Baeyens, Brussels 2015).

Consumers are definitely spending more on organic food: between 2005 and 2014, per capita organic produce consumption increased by 110% while In the same period, household consumption of food in general remained almost constant. (Source: Organic In Europe: Expanding Beyond A Niche, Matthias Stolze,1 Raffaele Zanoli2 and Stephen Meredith3, in ORGANIC IN EUROPE: prospects and developments 2016, IFOAM EU Group,

But the most interesting aspect of “green consumerism” is its integration into a larger trend of “positive consumption” as Sharon Greene, the managing director of RISC International, a global consumer behavior consultancy already put it in a 2009 interview:

“We identified an increasing convergence of five facets of the Positive Consumption trend, which all come together within the same individual consumer:

  1. Social Engagement – or consumer empowerment – is the main dimension driving Positive Consumption across the world, it reflects a growing desire to engage and give back to society but also to take back control over one’s life, it’s all about reciprocity.
  2. Environment – characterized by an active concern for environmental issues and a desire to do what one can to protect the environment

  3. Health – reflecting concerns for the effects that products can have on one’s health and the health of one’s family. This dimension is increasingly linked to environment.

  4. Feel Good – an aspiration towards enhancing personal and individual well-being a dimension which emphasizes the fact that the Positive Consumption trend is not about denying oneself pleasure

  5. Ethics and ethical behavior – a preference for ethical business and an increasing sensitivity to the collective responsibility we have to ensure that companies do business in an ethical way.

Marketing often addresses these dimensions separately. But consumers will increasingly look for products and services which satisfy all five aspirations.”

This calls for an integrated approach to formulating value propositions. Consumers are complex and more demanding than ever. That’s why I love socially responsible marketing. It obliges us to be more sophisticated, more intelligent marketers. It forces us to practice a more respectful marketing and it finally allows us to reconcile our personal values with consumers current needs and wants.

Be inspired !images-2.jpg

We’re in business for people, not for money !

I watched a TV documentary yesterday about the founders of a social company recycling old furniture and objects they collect at people homes
The company is growing, now employing 40 people among which a number of handicapped people. « We’re not a non profit business, but we bring value to the community and the community is giving back to us » said the owner and he went on : « a few years ago, people were saying I was outdated, now they’re saying I’m fashionable ».

Is caring about people needs some kind of fashion ? No ! Actually that’s at the origin of craftmanship and trade. When money became the moto and when the profit of some became the only reason for doing business, industry started creating pseudo-needs. It took gigantic proportions with the development of the market economy. It reached a point where marketing is perceived by most people as a tool invented to manipulate masses instead of a way to bring value and satisfaction to customers.


Now is the time to come back to basics an reinvent business and marketing. The excesses of mass marketing not only did not generate happiness (at most it created comfort) but it devastated our planet’s resources. Look at the terrible « visual pollution » created by generalization of shopping centers on the outskirts of cities. The « all for money » principle led to a perverted society that lost its human values and promoted all forms of violence as a way for our youth to find some sense of life

Happily mankind has its good sides ! Civilization is when human beings’s good sides dominate the bad ones. And, as a witness of young future leaders today, I can see new ideals and new values emerging making me very excited about the future. I’m watching young entrepreneurs with a healthier business philosophy who see profit as the outcome of value creation instead of the result of some kind of customer manipulation. They understand that the most value you create, the more sharing you can do. And they care for sustainable social value as much as their own pocket.

Years ago, we were teaching that the purpose of business strategy is to generate a long term sustainable flow of profit. Today, we preach for the triple bottom line paradigm It leads to more competitiveness while bringing a brick to the wall of humanity. Because who are entrepreneurs but the builders of the future ? And who are we, professors, but messengers of hope ?

Be inspired !Unknown.png

10 reasons why business needs creative minds

I have been working a lot on creativity teaching over these last years. As the founder of the Advanced Master in Creativity and Marketing at Solvay Brussels School, I happened to exchange a lot of ideas with my colleagues and friends among which Mark Raison, on the the most famous creativity trainer in this world Here what I got out of all this and mainly the rasons why business more than ever needs creative minds.

Reason 1: All recent marketing hits (Apple, Nespresso, Tesla,….) come from superior creativity, whether it’s market creation or radically new ways to do business

Reason 2: Confronted with technology, new media, globalization and an incredible diversification of supply sources, consumers and business customers don’t want to be just satisified, they want to be excited

Reason 3: Lawyers, accountants, software engineers: that’s what Mom & Dad encouraged us to become. They were wrong. Gone is the age of “left-brain” dominance. The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers...”, Daniel H Pink

Reason 4: You can be creative in math, science, music, dance, cuisine, teaching, running a family, or engineering. Any business today should be about generating original ideas that create value.

Reason 5: Nobody has a clue what the world’s going to look like in five or ten years, or even next year actually. If you can’t predict the future, invent it.

Reason 6: The challenges we currently face, from overpopulation to a shortage of natural resources, are without precedent. New problems call for new solutions. New opportunities call for new approaches.


Reason 7: “There is little to no time allotted for real thinking, brainstorming or experimentation without judgment. With so much pressure to produce quick results in the current economic environment, it may seem like a luxury to walk away from the mountain of tasks to be accomplished but, actually, it should be at the top of the management agenda”, Sandi Edwards, senior vice president at AMA Enterprise

Reason 8: Today, developing a competitive adavantage, the base for business success and survival, requires innovation and creativity at the strategic level, not only at operational level.

Reason 9: If we still leave businesses and economies in the hand of purely rational people, it will lead to more disasters.

Reason 10: After all, what is life without pep, fun and excitement ?

Be inspired !Unknown.jpeg