The search for marketing Excellence could just be a snark hunt!
The science of our discipline appears to be rendering our brands impotent and all this at a time when brands need to truly differentiate themselves.
The Snark is Lewis Carroll’s elusive fictional animal that was constantly hunted and never found. This appears to be our current marketing model conundrum. We could be hunting something that does not exist or at least not in the way that we expect it to.
Marketing is making a conscious effort to become a science. We are creating models, metrics and academies to teach them. We are standardizing and simplifying in search of excellence and higher standards of rigour. These models, approaches and standards give us a sense of control; warm in the knowledge that we are using global best practice and systems that cannot possibly go wrong.
But we seem to be in a brand Snark trap. Our marketers are happily filling in boxes and completing frameworks confident that they are doing what is required. The problem, is as humans, we have a natural inclination probably honed at school; to fill in the space and finish the sentence.
The result is more and more strategies purged of the ability to guarantee the brand anything other than anonymity. The science of our discipline appears to be rendering our brands impotent and all this at a time when brands need to truly differentiate themselves due to the massive oversupply of everything customers hearts desire.
A quick glimpse back in time
When you look at our history our current dilemma is hardly surprising as we have been advancing the strength of science for decades.
The first time the word “Marketing” was published was in 1913. The dreaded 4 Ps that we love to hate emerged in 1953 along with the now infamous USP and “positioning”. The 50s were focused on the post war obsession of how to manage marketing and experts started to consult social sciences and management sciences for clues on how to get this marketing thing under control and give it formal structure. Science enters the fray
The 60s and 70s increasingly saw the involvement of psychology as a discipline in marketing and the development of tools that provided more in-depth insights and made understanding customers a more rigorous and formal process.
The 80s and early 90s saw a flood of economists, statisticians and business analysts getting involved in the discipline and developing more sophisticated and scientific measures. Marketers could now stand up in any boardroom brawl with the accountants and quantify marketings worth.
The 2000s are even more focused on accountability and financial rigour with the entire corporate universe becoming increasingly governance, transparency and shareholder return oriented. Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley, Kebble, etc., means that we must be responsible and accountable and profitable. No surprise then that we have focused on our science and created controls and systems and models; but we have lost something very precious.
The art of marketing and brand building!
If you start to really pay attention and look carefully at our consumer trends and market factors we are moving in exactly the opposite direction to the market and in fact global management best practice as well. Consumer trends are all pointing to collaboration, spontaneity, fewer silos and boxes, less structures and boundaries – it’s become plug and play, mix and match, click and go, loose tight. We are collecting spontaneous information, collaborating and sharing more than ever. It is an age of Blogs and Wikis, faster information gathering lower recalls, pop-up shops and me inc.
Millionaires are making money selling virtual property, anyone can be a reality TV star with or without talent, grown ups or GRUPS are no longer growing up and our children are hanging out on-line. LSM’s are moving upwards, per second churn is around the corner and boundaries are breaking down at an unprecedented speed.
It does not take an MBA and a plethora of expensive consultants to tell you that things are changing. Customer boundaries are blurring, their expectations are evolving faster than ever and everything is speeding up.
Will our models for thinking, models of behavior, metrics, formulas and frameworks enable us to play in this new game? Are they putting us in the way of great ideas and unlikely connections? Are we truly getting it, seeing it, feeling it or do we need to destroy a few things to be able to change our game?
Marketing is also significantly lagging management best practice. We are clinging to our brand onions and blue prints, to our traditional research and no time to coach must dash approach.
Management best practice is currently about open systems, flat structures, cross border, cross function and cross category collaboration. There is a talent obsession, a reinvention of traditional models and all to enable today’s organised chaos to thrive and deliver value leaps in business.
We are being taught how to solve problems across boundaries, how to unlock mental models and shock treat them so that the experience and success you have do not make you averse to change and novelty. There is a huge focus on building non-hierarchical based expertise and on purpose based solution thinking.
There are peer reviews and flexible learning models, more skill building through formal apprenticeships at the most senior levels as well as cross fertilizing experience, the creation of ambiguous reporting lines and the institutionalisation of innovation.
The current corporate and mana-gement changes are being hailed as a once in a lifetime event; the collapse of an outmoded corporate form and the emergence of new management ways.
In the face of this can we honestly say that we are delivering more value to our organisations and enabling our brands through our models, standardization, uniform procedures and plans that we create in boardrooms with the usual suspects?
We are absolutely hunting the Snark! I believe the current market dynamics, consumer trends, management best practices and basic economic dynamics of over supply cannot be conquered by models or metrics, by excellence or control.
We need creativity, we need a few more lunatics, we need imagination, we need heart, we need to get out, we need to listen to inexperts, we need to admit that it’s labor intensive and a little out of control, we need to blurr our own boundaries, we need to think again.
Progress is a human affair and to finally capture our elusive Snark we need to engage in some reengineering.
We need our models and metrics even if they are in need of an extreme makeover; but we need to understand their role and find ways to ensure that they are infused with creativity, inspiration and sensory overload.
There is a complimentary relationship between art and science and we must ensure we achieve this balance.
• Science empowers, art inspires.
• Art shows us where we need to go and science helps us get there.
• Art focused on meaning and science on use.
• Science breaks things into their constituent parts; art rolls things into holistic experiences.
Where do we start?
• Harness new spontaneous and live knowledge sources like Wikis and Blogs.
• Collaborate more across divisions, hierarchies, categories, marketing partners and disciplines, ignore territories and egos and create a compelling reason for collaboration.
• Stimulate and encourage debate, it is one of the common factors of GREAT organisations. Find those who will debate and include them in your thinking processes.
• Employ more people with streaks of irreverence.
• Fire parochial suppliers who only want to take care of their area of responsibility and don’t want to share.
• Start to train people as much in” getting the idea” as what you do “after the idea”.
• Coach people in generating ideas, if ideas are the boss’s territory and anyone else’s idea is not an idea – resign today.
• Provide your team with more breadth of experience to sensitise them widely.
• Establish formal coaching programs in the business and within partners businesses.
• Let the juniors play and lead.
• Get out more, mix with dangerously different minds.
• Give “uniformed” and “inexperienced” insights more airtime.
• Destroy the concept that power is owned by the most senior people and let it reside with the person with the best ideas or most insight on that subject or task.
• Give everyone two day jobs; their traditional role and a new role that stretches them into a new space.
• Be sure that how you measure people is not absolutely focused on the short term or you will never enable future focused thinking.
• If everything is very focused and controlled; sense check it annually not for consistency but rather audit for relevance and inspiration.
It is your responsibility as marketers to RE-IMAGINE in the words of Tom Peters. Get off the sidelines and do something, turn your discipline upside down. Use this decade to reinvent and re-imagine so we can use the next for something exciting rather than extinction.
Creativity, art, unconventional wisdom, unlikely connections and mayhem will be the place we find our next great moments and while we need the models to help us frame our tasks we need the freedom of the art.
It is time to bring back aspects of our craft that made us special and different in the beginning. It’s time to get over our inferiority complex as scientists and become the messiahs of ideas, of blurring boundaries and unlikely connections so we can build great brands and invent new customer futures.
Let’s also leave that Snark free. Where would marketing and branding be without a little myth, mystery and the odd impossible quest!
Kay Nash is the Group MD and partner of Yellowwood Brand Architects and has focused her efforts over the past year on reengineerig the business for growth and delivery of Unconventional Wisdom after having merged her business with Yellowwood in early 2005. Kay is a well recognised strategy leader and larger than life personality in the local industry.