1. Conrad Gessner (1516-1565)
Swiss naturalist and biographer, Conrad Gessner, became a reluctant marketing genius of the word-of-mouth kind when he created an easy to repeat poem about tulips. Although the impact came much later, it was Gessner’s words that introduced Europeans to a flower they had not heard of and inspired what came to be known as Tulipmania.
In 1635 a sale of 40 bulbs for 100,000 florins had been recorded. By the following year tulips were being traded on Dutch stock exchanges and speculation in the tulip market soared. At its peak single tulip bulbs were selling for a staggering amount of money, estimated as the equivalent of $1 million dollars by today’s standards.
Tulipmania never quite reached the same degree of frenzy in other parts of Europe as experienced in the Netherlands but in 1800 it was common in England to pay fifteen guineas for a tulip bulb – a sum that could have kept an average working man and his family in food, clothing and lodgings for up to six months at that time. Since then, large economic bubbles have been described as ‘Tulipmania’.
2. David Ogilvy (1911-1999)
David Ogilvy had a chequered life before becoming known as the ‘Father of Advertising’. He dropped out of college, worked as a cook, salesman, diplomatist and farmer before founding Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson and Mather in 1948 – which eventually became
Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide. Within the agencies first 25 years he won assignments with some of the most prestigious brands around like Lever Brothers, American Express and General Foods.
Shell gave him their entire North American Account and Sears hired him for their first national ad campaign. He became the authority on split testing which is a marketing method using different messages or different graphics to test which message and graphic combination get the highest response.
He used marketing codes to identify between the promotional messages, and this form of testing is now standard among marketers whether working online or off. One of his most famous quotes is: “Never stop testing and your advertising will never stop improving.”
3. Mary Kay Ash (1918-2001)
Another of the greats that succeeded without finishing college, Mary Kay Ash set to work for a variety of direct sales companies – and she was good at it!
She rose through the ranks but quit her last job when she was passed over for a promotion by a young man she had helped train and who went on to receive twice as much pay. This stung, and convinced her that as a woman in a male dominated business world, her success was always going to be limited unless she did something about it.
She started to write a book to draw upon her experience in the hope she might help other women, but before it was even finished she realised she had the making of a great business plan. As a result, she went on to launch her own direct sales company, Mary Kay Ash Cosmetics and became a pioneer for multi-level marketing. She was a firm believer in the power of praise, offering incentives for recruiting others and recognising and rewarding achievement.
She practised what she preached by giving away gold pins and expensive gifts like pink Cadillacs. As testimony to her marketing genius, Mary Kay Cosmetics continues to employ over a million consultants and is expected to make in excess of $2 billion in sales this year.
4. Seth Godin (Born 1960)
As well as a genius marketer, Seth is an American author, entrepreneur and public speaker. He graduated from Tufts University with a degree in computer science and philosophy and earned an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Leaving his job as brand manager at Spinnaker Software, he began Seth Godin productions – a book packaging business. He went on to found Yoyodyne where he promoted the concept of permission marketing and wrote the book, ‘Permission Marketing: Turning strangers into friends and friends into customers’, which is one of many he has written on various marketing techniques.
He believes marketers must show more respect to the consumer – no spam, no deceit and no broken promises. According to Seth, people are attracted to the remarkable and the ‘purple cow in a herd of black and white Jersey cattle’ is one of his well known illustrations.
In 1998, Godin sold Yoyodyne to Yahoo! and became Yahoo’s vice president of direct marketing, a position he held until 2000. He has since gone on to launch community website Squidoo and has been involved in a number of other people-focused projects.
5. Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
Apart from being an inventor and entrepreneur, Steve Jobs was a marketer in the true sense of the word – he knew what his market wanted. Co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple Inc, Steve left after a power struggle with the board of directors and founded NeXT, a computer development company specialising in higher education and business markets.
Wherever he went during his time away from Apple, he seemed to transform the industry he was involved in. Then, in 1996, after Apple had failed to deliver its operating system, the powers that be turned to Steve and his NeXTSTEP platform became the basis for the Mac OS X system.
Steve returned to Apple as an advisor, then interim CEO, bringing Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy to profitability. In 2011 Apple was hailed as the world’s most valuable publicly traded company and Steve’s part largely regarded as the greatest business turnaround ever.
Steve Jobs was able to see beyond the technology. He understood his market and, although he wasn’t the first to bring technology and design together, he showed that although design isn’t everything it’s still a pretty important factor in marketing.