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By 18th April 2017July 10th, 2023No Comments

How to learn from someone who says he doesn’t do marketing

It’s not unusual to hear of savage slanging matches between the various camps of a business. Perhaps none more so than those targeted at that poor blighted department: marketing.

Marketers like us often feel a bit intimidated and looked down on. Sure, there are some awful examples out there and that’s inexcusable. But what about the countless hours of honest hard work that great marketers put in every day? For sure, marketing is massively misunderstood.

There are even some people who have claimed they’ve built their entire business without the help of marketing. I mean, seriously? No marketing?

One such person is John Timpson, owner of Timpson… yep, that Timpson. Now, I have great respect for the guy – he has built up a huge and very successful business. But his insistence that he’s done it with no marketing… well, in the nicest possible way: I’d like to prove him wrong.

First things first, let’s clear up the definition of marketing. There are hundreds of examples out there, but I’m going to use the trusty CIM version:

“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” (CIM)

So let’s take look at how Timpson has made such a huge success of his business and why marketing played a far more important role than he might think. I’ll use the CIM’s 7 P’s of marketing to prove how every good business is permeated with amazing marketing skills.


Culture: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (Merriam Webster)

You might be wondering how on earth the culture of a business is relevant to marketing, but hear me out.

In the best and most successful companies, internal marketing is regarded just as highly as external marketing. This involves exposing all the ‘people’ including staff to the values, attitudes etc that the brand stands for so that everyone is on board. In short, so that the right culture is flowing through the entire organisation.

Getting that exposure to the right people at the right time with the right message involves a very specialist set of skills – just the sort of skills marketers use to encourage customers to buy. So surely then it makes sense that marketing teams handle the internal communications as well as the external?

Timpson’s most fundamental principle is their ‘upside down’ management culture. Effectively what they are doing is encouraging empowerment in the workforce, removing layers of stifling management and self-advancement. The Timpson family take time out to visit and understand their staff, empathise with them and prove to them that they are respected.

This is one critical area of the company that they have really mastered. So many little things add up to make the difference, such as their weekly 16-page staff newsletter, their 5 holiday homes for staff to freely use, internal manuals full of illustrations rather than words, their collaboration with prisons to give former convicts a chance to re-establish livelihoods. The list is truly endless.

So that’s one big tick for the first P of marketing – in the words of James Timpson, CEO:

“You employ good people, with lots of personality, give them lots of training, let them get on with it and look after them well… We do the basics well because we have the best people and train them thoroughly”


There really is absolutely no point in offering something that your customers don’t want to buy, right?

Many businesses decide what they want to offer first then start to look for a market where they can sell it. The successful ones turn this on its head – they spend a lot of time and money looking into what the customer really needs (and sometimes, the customer might not realise they need it yet – that’s the groundbreaking revolutions).

Timpson as a company takes great care to provide what the customer wants. Development plans and future growth strategies are built around finding the opportunities to fulfil a need.

So they’ve diversified from the original shoe repairs and key cutting into mobile phone repairs, same-day laundry cleaning, engraving and photo processing. All of these serve a very defined market and offer massive opportunities for Timpson to cross-sell.

Timpson gather their ideas from the frontline – the shop staff who meet with customers every minute of the day. These ideas they turn into products (including services) that are as insightful and well-thought-out as you could possibly ask for.


Price is another area where Timpson offer a very different approach. Their stores are empowered to charge ‘whatever they like – the price list is just a guide’.

This is based on a belief that important decisions which affect the customer (such as the price) shouldn’t be made at some ‘Head Office’ far away, but by the store staff who are at the forefront.

In fact, they don’t even operate a centrally managed EPOS system – they prefer to keep everything simple and entirely controlled by the staff at each store based on their own instincts, experience and initiative. (If this sounds crazy, remember that the bonus scheme is based on a percentage of revenue target for the store less total wages of the staff working there).

Their pricing structure isn’t necessarily aimed at a particular audience – they say that it is simply ‘middle-level’ pricing. Now, this is just a surmise but I reckon they base that pricing structure on the commonly held philosophy that most customers choose the middle-priced option.

So that’s a whole load of psychological analysis and a very customer-centric mindset. A masterstroke in the art and science of marketing…


For any business to be successful, it must make itself available to the right people at the right time and IN THE RIGHT PLACE. And as convenience becomes more and more important, being in the right place can literally make all the difference.

Timpson have for years been a high-street presence but they’ve recognised the way modern shopping habits have shifted from town centres to more convenient locations. Supermarkets, for example, are often out-of-town or on the borders of large residential areas. These places attract huge volumes of traffic… and they’re just the sort of demographic (busy householders included) who are prime targets for Timpson.

So what have they done? They’ve begun installing ‘Timpson Pods’ in supermarket car parks to maximise exposure to this perfect audience.


I guess this is one of the more contentious elements of my argument but despite the Timpson chief’s insistence that they don’t do marketing or PR, there is definitely a lot of promotion going on!

Now, I suspect that a lot of people who don’t understand the true meaning of marketing consider ‘promotion’ to be nothing more than special offers and sales. But it actually covers an awful lot more than that.

Promotion is all about communicating the benefits of your brand/product/service to your target audience. That doesn’t mean slashing prices or offering multi-buy discounts. It simply gives your customers a reason to choose your brand over every other competitor on the market.

This in turn means that customers will become promoters of your brand. And that’s something that Timpson are very proud of – no advertising, because the customer does it for them. Word-of-mouth and referrals are really important but the main thing is to get the basics of customer service right so that promotion is a natural next-step.

It’s not just confined to customers either: staff are included. And as you’ve read in the ‘People’ section, Timpson are definitely masters at promoting their brand values and ‘reasons to believe’ to their staff. In fact, they’re probably the best I’ve ever seen at that.

So, well done Timpson! You are (unknowingly) the Promotion Kings!


This element is another that Timpson are very strong in. It involves the entire customer experience on their journey with your brand, from the very first interactions through to aftersales service and beyond.

You could say that getting the process right is the most fundamental part of what Timpson do – they seem to be totally focussed on getting the experience right for their staff so that the customers in turn have a similarly rewarding journey.

For example, Timpson love to put a smile on the faces of their customer. How do they do that? Certainly not by merely telling them to smile, or giving them a really cheap price. They’ve done it by making their staff happy and therefore more likely to spread the good vibes to customers.

Good quality, well-trained staff are the perfect platform for a seamless customer experience. A supportive team structure that helps the process flow smoothly is vital and that’s exactly what Timpson have. In fact, they say they don’t have a Head Office – the central office is there to support the frontline staff, not to tell them what to do. This is part of the famed ‘upside down management structure’ that has been the keystone of Timpson’s success.


Physical evidence exists to give assurance to new customers of the quality of product or service they can expect to receive.

So, if the shop is scruffy and in a bit of a mess or the webpage is disorderly and hard to navigate, it doesn’t give a prospective customer the confidence to buy.

Again, the staff at Timpson are empowered to make all the decisions necessary to make this happen. One of their only rules is to ‘look the part’ – IE, to give the right impression first time even before the customer has bought anything.

This is so important – one of the biggest barriers for new customers is the fear of the unknown. But a focus on physical evidence is the best way to remove as much of this fear as possible.

So there it is… Timpson is, after all, a massive marketing success story. It’s all about the psychology, the raison d’être that gives them such a competitive edge.

What’s in it for you?

Here’s an overview of everything you’ve learnt in a nutshell:

People. Yep, I’m banging the drum for people power yet again. The thing is, it’s so critical to get it right and to invest in great staff and the relevant training. Just don’t forget that the best way to connect with your customers and build a relationship-oriented business is to make sure the potential in your staff is realised to the full;

Product. One key lesson here – whatever you do, research the market first and find out what the customer wants and where the gaps are to be filled. Then develop your product around that. Sounds basic, but it’s so easy to forget when you spot an idea that you think is amazing;

Price. Remember that your price-point is going to be seen as a reflection of your position in the market. So, if you’re trying to sell luxury goods make sure the price is reflective of that. If you’re into mass-produced commodity goods then you’ll need to keep your prices low. You may well find that if your product is somewhere in between then your sweetspot for pricing is bang in the middle;

Place. Whether you sell in physical stores, through distributors, online or a mixture of all three, having your presence in the right place is going to make all the difference. Make sure you’re as accessible as possible for your audience to reach out to you;

Promotion. First things first, make sure you and your staff are true ambassadors that are convinced of the benefits of your brand. Then make sure that it is as clear as daylight for your target audience so that they’re in no doubt that they have to buy from you;

Process. Have you ever travelled on the same journey that your customer does? Have you tried out your competition to see how the experience compares with yours? Make sure that it is flawless, smooth and enjoyable… and better than everyone else;

Physical Evidence. Make sure you’ve removed as many barriers as you can so that it is an easy decision for your prospective customers to choose your brand. Make sure that your website, shop, sales reps, emails and all your literature is reflective of the quality of product or service your customers can expect to receive from you. If you’re selling quality goods or services, do take the time to check for spelling errors and unclear literature. And make sure that customers can easily find testimonials, case studies and reviews to give them extra confidence that they’re on to a good thing.

Do you know of a brand that is successful? How can you learn from what they do well? Maybe you own or manage a brand and want to share your story. Share your insight with us here…

Sources:,,,,, Shutterstock (imagery), (People image created by Javi_indy – (Business image created by Jcomp – (Travel image created by Jcomp – plus a good dose of my own personal opinions and experiences. This post is written by our marketing suit Simon Besley and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the company; it’s intended to be a helpful review to dissect what I think the brand does well, and how we can all learn from it. If it’s helpful to you, then I’m happy…

Simon Besley

Author Simon Besley

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