Marketers: Be They Sceptics?
I’ve just read a great book by Richard Wilson – the philosopher and writer ( http://richardwilsonauthor.wordpress.com/ ) – which concerns the worrying trend for people to believe and think uncritically. From religion, to politics and business. It’s a very interesting read that challenges your own beliefs. And it made me think; just how sceptical am I? And should the best marketers be more sceptical? Or put another way – do the best marketing ideas and activities extend from an open or a sceptical, critical mind?
The easy answer is of course that marketers need both. An ability to both think of new things that never were – whilst avoiding slavishly following fads and gizmos that lead nowhere. In modern marketing, the rise of the importance of digital has created an interesting paradox. On the one hand, promotional measures, call centre data and web stats and clicks mean there is more empirical information available than ever before. But – this coincides with a dangerous proliferation in every business tool, media channel and consultant. Does every new idea replace (not complements) the old? Does each new web trend become a pillar of marketing success that needs investment? Wilson’s essential premise in his book is that we too often, too easily, believe and absorb too many things – uncritically. As life quickens, we have less time to cross reference and check even though everything is a click away on a search engine – and it is often easier to appear a bold radical challenger.
I worked in e-commerce (print management and e-tail) during the first dot.com boom in the early oo’s and remember well the presentations explaining how all retail was going to change, every shopping mall was going to die and banks would become mobile phone companies. I’m surprised we were not told that hover cars were to take us to the centre of the earth and the Mars colony would be open by 2012. Boo.com was going to be the biggest clothing retailer in the Universe, even though nobody really wanted to buy clothes on-line and it was making no money. The ‘old-rules’ did not apply. Marketing forces? Propositions? Mechanics? So, so passe. The smartest lesson I learned from all of this was that channels evolved and very seldom disappeared because alternatives come along. Radio and cinema did not replace theatre. TV did not replace movies and digital music will not replace the live concert. Printed media is the latest to be told it is going to die but I would bet that whilst it will evolve and change it will not go away. Then – Friends Reunited was going to change everything. Then Facebook. Then Twitter. And to be fair, maybe social media channels will change a lot, they will have a place in the mix and will evolve as another tool in the marketing box but let us not avoid critical thinking when listening to the high priests telling us social media will dominate the future. E-marketer projects the toal ad-spend across Europe on social networks by 2012 as approx. £500M – and other revenue models, be they CPA or Freemium or not proven.
Wilson points out that the ‘new paradigm’ has a strong cultural base that is often hard to counteract even with logic and evidence. ” The legend of the new paradigm is the classic story of good guys V bad guys. The young, genius visionary has a radical new idea that is going to change the world but the stale old fogies don’t get it. They are so bogged down in their old ways of thinking that they cannot understand why the new is so great. He is Galileo, Dylan, Einstein, Darwin and Branson. They are the Pope, the King, British Airways and Nixon. He is Captain Kirk, Batman and Evel Kneieval. They must innovate or die and they just don’t want the kids to have fun’. In other words – to resist the notion that the new is always brilliant is to appear old, doomed, obsolete and conservative. But – how many new ideas that were championed and promoted passionately as the new paradigm were complete flops? Fascism or communism anyone? Boo.com? Friends Reunited? Balancing radical ideas with rational actions is the increasing challenge of marketers and with the proliferation of marketing channels and tools, it is the decision about what to communicate, to whom and how that will remain. As Kelly famously put it; ‘ In an endless world of abundance the only thing in short supply is human attention’. Scepticism is not the same cynicism; a healthy dose of the former seems a useful asset the latter will just lead to stagnation.