We love to learn and in a normal year you’ll find us on a tonne of training courses. Whether it’s trying something new or just hearing a fresh perspective on something we do every day, training keeps the wheels turning. Last year was a little different. Neither us, nor our wheels, were going anywhere. So we committed to remote learning and four of us studied Mark Ritson’s Marketing Week Mini MBA in marketing.

It was extremely valuable. To anyone thinking of doing it – go for it. It’s quite a big time commitment on top of a busy work life but you won’t regret it. Here are a few little gems that have stuck with us…

1. Embrace the humility of marketing.

The second you take a job in the industry you lose your genuine opinion. You’re no longer a normal customer and your opinion is biased and dangerous. The trick is to know you’re not the customer and make sure you connect with them. Understanding your weakness becomes your biggest strength. Once you accept that you’re in the dark, you’re going to want to switch the lights on. Enter Market Research. One of the first things you’ll learn is that while your brand means everything to you – it means almost nothing to your customers.

2. Don’t take it out of the horse’s mouth

Research insights are most powerful when you don’t paraphrase them. Ideally present video footage or audio recordings… if not try direct quotes – ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’.

3. Kill the hypothetical customer.

The ‘hypothetical customer’ never surprises us, does exactly what we want, and somehow always has the needs we want them to have. They’re all basically the same so they make marketing plans very easy to develop. Unfortunately they don’t exist. And marketing plans built on them are doomed to fail. Segment your market based on real data not stereotypes. And remember they’re individual people. Never, ever try to average them out – the average person in the UK has one testicle.

4. Segmentation is making the map. Targeting is taking the hike.

Good market segmentation should be purely descriptive not strategic – it’s not about you, it’s about the market. Once you have the market segmented up then you can pack your bag and trek onto targeting – where you’ll be glad to hear it is all about you. You can’t please everyone though so think carefully about where you want to go. And where you don’t.

5. Don’t be in a rush to position your brand.

Be disciplined and make sure you do your strategy in the right order. Segment the whole market first, pick your targets second, and only then should you think about how to position your brand. Otherwise who are you positioning it for? And how could it possibly be relevant to them if you didn’t know who they were when you did it?

6. Don’t get carried away with all the brand fluff.

When you do come to position your brand don’t get bogged down by all the latest lingo (DNA, essence, promise, purpose, proposition, beliefs, values, principles, personality, voice – we could go on). Keep it simple and make sure you’ve answered the important question: “What do we want to stand for to our target customer? What should they think of when they think of us?”. Remember, this has to be clear enough to unite a tonne of people with conflicting priorities and different backgrounds and experiences. If your computer died just as you were about to save your positioning slide, you should be able to remember it word for word.

7. The only difference between a brand and a commodity is meaning.

Both have a function, and both have a price, but brands add meaning where commodities don’t. Deviate too far from the meaning you’re trying to build and you’ll erode your brand back into a commodity – which is, of course, a race to the bottom.

8. You’re more likely to be too cheap than too expensive.

Pricing is tricky, with risks of going too high or too low. But if you’re on the fence take heart in knowing where history stands on this: 80-90% of pricing errors are underpricing.

9. Look at the job before you choose the tool.

A plumber who arrives at the job with only one tool is a bad plumber. A good plumber looks at the job and goes back to the van to get the right tool. The same is true for creative. An open-minded, output-agnostic approach will always beat a prescriptive, fixed approach. All media plans take into account your audience, but the best ones take into account your brand and your idea too. A brand built on being ‘big, bold, and untamed’ might suit outdoor more than editorial. While a brand built on being ‘discrete and personal’ should maybe only be seen in private – like on mobile ads.