The Sum of its Parts – How conglomerates and complex businesses can actually leverage value

Sum of its Parts Book Cover

This is my first book. It was written after a two-week Corporate Branding Session for a very large and complex client Business.

Too often, company mergers and take-overs (both friendly and hostile) disappoint. The synergies described in the takeover prospectii seldom emereg as the conjoined entity often gets subsumed into in-fighting, Civil Wars and endless politicking.

Drawing upon one of my favourite Management Mantras “The enemy is out there, not in here”, this book shows how even very complex businesses can align culture, processes and systems behind a single compelling vision to create real value from their merger, rather than wished-for but never-realised synergies.

Available in Kindle or Paperback format here.

Brand building options in a post-pandemic world

The world has changed forever.  Companies that were just getting used to a business environment where the internet had reduced once proud brands to the status of commodities, by price-comparison, ‘auto-switch’ and peer-review websites, now face a Global pandemic, financial crises and the potential terminal loss of customers.  To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “it was the worst of times, it really was the worst of times”.

Organisations that re-open their doors post-pandemic, may well have a very different worldview to the one they started the year with.  How it will pan out remains to be see, however, we can speculate…

My view is that Marketing will polarise between two extremes.  Before the internet, and certainly before Covid-19, there were essentially 4 marketing positions organisations could offer in the market.

The ‘Rip-Off’ brands were already in the process of being weeded out, peer-review sites and Social media were steadily eliminating them, but bargain brands had done well, as they seemed to offer good quality at a reasonable price.  With fewer, leaner, more price conservative customers emerging post-lockdown however, even these may struggle.  I see a world where the Primary driver will be a conservatism, a desire to avoid or eliminate risk.  In such a world, customers will go for either one (or perhaps a creative mixture of both) of two positions.

We have long known that in the customer’s mind, there is a clear link between price and quality.  The customer will allow an increase in price if, and only if, there is a corresponding increase in quality.

The interesting thing is that we know what price is (to two decimal places, e.g. $34.12), but what is Quality?

‘Quality’ is whatever the customer says it is, nothing more.  ‘Quality’ exists only between the ears of the customer.  Finding out what the customer thinks is important is the key to quality and therefore to success.

We can expect ‘cheap and cheerful’ to always find a place.  Companies can embrace the Proposition-flattening, commoditizing nature of the internet and offer a range of products that are unexceptional, generic and yet priced at a point that will gain significant traction in the market.  Such offerings will yield very low margins and so will require;

  • High volume sales
  • Efficient, cost effective and large distribution networks
  • Smart, cheap (but still effective) marketing
  • Extremely low cost-bases

It will not be much fun working for these companies, and it is not without risk (there is only one cost leader in any segment and the price wars as companies seek this position can be an economic blood-bath), but at the right ratio of price: quality, many companies will do well.

The other likely winning position is perhaps more sustainable, and that is High-End Brands.  Does anyone doubt that, when the Global lockdown ends and we return to something closer to normality, that Harrod’s and Selfridges in London will again be full of shoppers?  Will Rolls-Royce, Aston-Martin and Ferrari still sell cars?  Will Prada still sell expensive bags to ladies?  The answer, in each case is “Yes”.

Customers that emerge from the pandemic will want to do business with those they trust.  Trust and security will be the only things that matter post Covid-19.  If your product seems ‘OK’ and is really cheap, the trust is not as significant because the downside of failure is so minimal.  For everything else, for anything that requires a more substantial commitment from the customer, the need for trust is paramount.

The reason Big Brands are so successful is long debated in the business media but essentially it comes down to Trust.  People trust brands, they know what they are getting, and they trust the brand to deliver its benefits reliably.  The old maxim in IT used to be “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”.  Whilst that particular organisation may have lost its way in recent times, that level of trust is what customers will seek.

So organisations choosing not to go down the loss-leader/cost leader route, need to invest heavily in their branding and they need to engender trust.  Fortunately, this may not be all that difficult.

The phenomenon of ‘Behavioural Economics’ suggests that many, perhaps most purchase decisions are made emotionally, not rationally.  Our brains look for short cuts in the known and familiar and instinct and gut feel are far more important that most customers realise.  Even the most expensive of purchases often (usually?) have a heavy emotional component.  Think of your last house purchase.  Now perhaps you had a big spreadsheet and a long list of criteria, and perhaps you scored each property you considered and then bought the one that scored highest.  My bet is you viewed a certain property, fell in love with it, imagined yourself standing in the kitchen and then made an offer.

So, it will be with your customers post-pandemic.  They will be looking for partners, for brands, for someone to trust.  The re-emergence of awareness that the customer experience is important, along with the phenomenal power of Social Media can be powerful enablers.  Organisations that build their brands around the customer experience, that have intimate knowledge of the customer, his hopes, his dreams and his fears and which use customer-centric Branding strategies, fuelled by engaging Social Media can yet rule the Post-Pandemic world.

The choice is stark;

Be the cheapest

Be a trusted, customer-engaged High-Brand, or

Go home

Choose wisely.

Did Sales Training get it all wrong?

I recall, in the dim and distant past, my Sales Trainer grilling myself and the other Sales Neophytes in the Wonders of ‘Needs’ versus ‘Wants’ and how selling on ‘Wants’ was foolish and guaranteed to end in ignominy, whereas selling on “Needs’ was surely the way to go.

I took me many years (you could say it has been a rather slow-burner), but I am starting to wonder if, in this age of, 24/7/365, price-comparison, peer-review, ‘likes’, ‘follows’ etc etc etc, we didn’t get it EXACTLY wrong! (At least when Marketing high-end or luxury brands).

Consider this. If you had to travel from your office in, say, London, to New York on Business, you would NEED a flight, but you might WANT a Business or First-Class seat.

In order to drive to my office from home, I NEED a car, however I WANT an Aston-Martin DB9.

The ‘compare and review’ properties of the internet have commoditised the ‘Needs’, the explosion of Social Media, Insta-influencers etc etc has led to an outburst of aspirational purchase desire or, to give it it’s old-fashioned name ‘Wants’.

As we start the third decade of the twenty-first Century, we have progressed significantly up Maslow’s Hierarchy and, for most of us, ‘Needs’ are either satisfied or at least within easy price-comparison reach.

What we were all seeing as we did our Christmas shopping recently was an obvious, and sometimes frantic, expression of people looking to fulfil a seemingly endless stream of ‘Wants’

Perhaps it is time to re-write the Sales Training manual. We may have gotten it wrong all those years ago.

Customer Experience, the last Strategic Battleground

In this 24/7/365 ‘Always On’ world in which organisations now have to operate, it has become harder than ever to compete in pretty well any market.

Traditional points of differentiation have been whittled away by a perfect storm of Price Comparison and Peer-Review websites (think what TripAdvisor has done to the service delivery of the hospitality market), Auto-Switch websites (for example comparethemarket’s “Auto Sergei’ service) and the behemoth that is Social Media.

As a consequence even Brands which have been household names for years are becoming commoditised by the onslaught of Review, Price Comparison and Switch.

The effect of Social Media are perhaps the most powerful and ubiquitous of them all. Paradoxically, Social Media offers not only a solution to this Brand Erosion but the chance the rescue and redeem a Brand.

Customer Service and the Customer Experience, for so long the ‘poor man’ of the Marketing Mix is back. Not only is it back but it is now THE game.

The Customer is King, his experience determines his reality and the driving impact of Social Media makes the Customer Experience the ONLY strategy worth pursuing.

It used to be that if you gave a customer a good experience, he would tell an average of 7 people about you. These would be mostly close associates. Conversely, if you gave a customer a bad experience, he would tell an average of 22 people. Bad but nowhere near as catastrophic as what would happen today.

Interestingly, in. the old model, people tended not to really heed the advice or opinion of strangers. That has changed and how. Readers will be familiar of the following scenario:

You are looking to book a hotel for your holiday. So you visit a peer-review site such as You find a hotel that seems to suit your needs, it has 100 reviews, 98 give it 5/5, 2 give it 1/5.

Which reviews do you read?

Do you book this hotel?

This is the power of the customer experience.

In order to deliver a truly world-class Customer Experience, organisations need to re-align with their cultures and their systems to deliver compelling value and great customer experiences. Value is a moveable feast, it can be created, it can be (easily) destroyed, and it migrates from one business model to another.

In order to deliver lasting value, organisations need to align their cultures, processes and systems so as to deliver consistently great customer experiences (‘Moments of Truth’).

There is much being written right now about Digital Transformation but very little about the fact that this transformation MUST be centred on the consistent delivery of friction-free customer interactions (Zero Moments of Truth). If we go to the trouble of aligning all our disparate processes and digital systems to suit corporate needs rather than Customer Experience Improvement needs, we will have blown our last great chance of competing in the modern world.


Welcome to Mills Consultancy.

My name is Fred Mills, I am the founder of Mills Consultancy.  I have a B.Sc(Hons) Degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree.  I also hold the Diploma from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and have been elected as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (FCIM)

I have a wealth of experience in Pharmaceuticals,Medical Technology Assessments and a wide range of other industrial sectors

Additionally, I founded,set up and ran Appleby Brewery, a real ale brewery in Cumbria for four years, so have great experience to help others looking to start up a brewery or expand an existing one

We are a training and consultancy firm specialising In the following.


Setting up a micro-brewery



Key Account Management

Health Economics


Consultative Selling Skills


Executive Coaching

Feel free to contact me at