Most great brands are the creation of a single vision but as marketing becomes increasingly institutionalised, the skills for swift and surefooted development are being lost says Simon Sholl When we look back to the Glory Days of NPD and Brand Creation, we find ourselves wondering, "Why, with all the tools, techniques and technologies at our disposal, is it so much harder now?" How did they launch Hovis, or Camel, or Oxo, without the benefit of Bases 2, or Heinz Baked Beans without recourse to sequential recycling research? Of course, things are harder now. Oversupply is rife, markets are saturated and it is more and more difficult to create brand and product propositions that truly "make a difference" in a relevant and motivating way. At the same time corporate risk minimisation, with all the checks and balances that this requires, often results in reluctance to invest, and lengthy research, feasibility and refinement processes that can be the sworn enemy of brand and product creation. Additionally, the great brand innovators of the past were in close touch with their consumer, and used their instinct to respond to consumer needs quickly and insightfully, without the need to gain corporate approval for their efforts. As a result, new products succeeded swiftly and became quickly indispensable ­ tarmacadam and the Dunlop pneumatic tyre being good examples. These brand entrepreneurs were instinctive marketers', in direct dialogue with their market in a way impossible for marketers who inhabit office blocks on the outskirts of London, Vienna or Seattle. By contrast, true marketing skills have diminished in direct proportion to the degree to which the marketing discipline has been institutionalised. What is now called marketing ­ definition, "Anticipating and satisfying consumer needs profitably" ­ has been degraded into a glorified sales function, "Selling what you happen to make as efficiently as possible". Sales is every bit as important as marketing ­ but a sales philosophy will never be the source of original brands and products that "anticipate and satisfy consumer needs". Marketing and brand development, are creative functions that need intuitive flair and what I call informed instinct as much as process and management. Essential though these are, too often they can strangle a commercial idea at conception. Most great brands are created thanks to one single vision, and many modern industrial practices are fundamentally incompatible with successful NPD. We need to replicate the swift and surefooted approaches of successful brand developers in a modern context if we are to "anticipate and satisfy consumer needs profitably". What approaches do we need, and how do we carry them out? First, we must ensure our organisations speak and act as one entity. Consumers perceive a brand or product offering as one single thing, not as an assembly of elements. We cannot respond to this by adopting a "production-line" approach, in which consumer insight is followed by concept development, with research, feasibility and bench-scale testing at the end of the process. Instead, we must run all those disciplines in parallel. This means true interdepartmental communication. "Parallel processing" is essential to developing products and brands that are absolutely consistent in the messages they carry ­ from logo to product specifications, from advertising to closure mechanisms, from flavour variants to merchandising outers. And successful NPD is virtually impossible without creating motivated, well-led teams across, and beyond, the manufacturer company. Second, we need to think like consumers. If they don't understand a new brand or product proposition immediately and instinctively, they don't buy it. Industry should harness "informed intuition" and elevate it into a judgment approach every bit as valid as quantitative research. Third, we must believe in what we do. Consumers are quick to "suss" when we don't. This means manufacturers and marketers need to create an internal culture of belief in and commitment to what they do. Fourth, we must be fast. Consumers' environments are changing faster and faster, and they expect to see change in their brands. Lengthy processes are death to the creative idea. By stripping away processes, costs and time a six month programme can be collapsed into three days, and the concepts are far richer, and far more workable than would otherwise be possible. Fifth, we must recognise the critical role that pack structures play in communicating a brand proposition. Physical packaging can determine the success or failure of a brand, and even define it. If Toilet Duck had been launched in a standard cleaning pack, or Toblerone in a tablet, it is fair to say those brands would not exist now. Yet pack structure is often the Cinderella of the marketing mix. Where does this leave us? With an urgent need to change our ways of working if we are to repeat the NPD successes of history ­ and to emulate those of North America and Japan today. We need to change industry attitudes to investment, and to re-learn the creative techniques of the past. We need to break down barriers within our own organisations and between manufacturers and "expert suppliers". We could start by getting out of the office block, on to the street and into the store. {{MANAGEMENT FEATURE }}