It’s becoming really cool these days to poke fun at people in business. This is not new news, but it does feel to me like there has been an increase in the amount of poking in recent months. Especially in technology. Certainly in the marketing industry. And I’m not quite sure why this is.

 

The targets are easy to spot. Whether it’s marketing professionals trying to say something useful. Or graduates finding their own voice as they start to write some content of their own, and then decide where to post it (heavens forbid you post it on your WordPress bog instead of Medium). Whether marketers are trying to have an opinion on a new social network, or write a comment about some new technological innovation. It seems like the people who try to say something are putting themselves out there to be shot down. It’s a brave thing. But they’re taking too many hits.

 

It’s easy to hate. It’s easy to stand in our corporate castles and poke fun at people because they used one buzzword too many. Maybe they quoted a book that most people in the industry read 5 years ago. Maybe they got excited about it, wrote something about it, and now a few people have made them feel stupid, because everybody else read it ages ago and they are now SO 2011. Of course those people aren’t going to be as brave the next time they post.

 

Linked In is also over run with posts about IoT, customer centricity, social business and emotional intelligence. Why? Because that’s what the trade magazines are writing about. That’s what the “thought leaders” are talking about. So clearly that’s what we must talk to our customers about. Have you actually looked at what the analysts are really saying? The #1 most impactful trend most likely to mature over the next 10 years for example? Real-time marketing. But no. You can’t talk about that, because despite its transformative effects for any organisation who gets it right, we’ve been talking about it in the industry since 2010, so talking about it just makes you sound irrelevant.

 

hypecycle4digitalmarketing

 

Social media has put a magnifying glass on everything. For the large part this is a really good thing. But it’s sad how many new people are finding their way into the marketing profession only to realise that there are hidden rules. And if you don’t play by those rules, you are unlikely to be taken seriously by your peers. Marketing is hard. We’re all still trying to figure it out. Take social media ROI. We’ve been talking about it for years and still very few brands are in a good enough position to say with any degree of certainty exactly what it is for them. Is social media a sales platform? Or should it only be used for customer service? And Just because something works for one brand doesn’t mean it will work for yours. But yet professionals cite case studies as if they are one-size-fits-all marketing plans which will guarantee you marketing success. And thought leaders in the industry often act as if they have the right answer, so you better make sure you are totally up-to-speed with everything they say. Whatever you do, don’t miss an episode of Bloomberg West or listen to the a16z podcast before your next meeting…

 

What else? Maybe it’s due to bad advice and short-term thinking, big brands everywhere are running around jumping on the bandwagon of the next new shiny advertising opportunity, when in many instances direct mail, TV or press ads could still be your best bet. But that’s not cool either. Of course you must have a Snapchat, Periscope and Blab strategy (even though your service is terrible). Yes you can run that amazing soon-to-be-award-winning 30 second TVC during the Super Bowl (even though spending your money on customer service reps is likely to deliver a much higher return) etc.

 

And you should of course be hash-tagging the crap out of Instagram and working out your Facebook Live calendar whilst trying to figure out how to bet your chips on Twitter. And when someone asks you what platform you like now, or how bullish you might be on a certain trend, God forbid you get it wrong and look foolish by quoting the one that was SO. LAST. MONTH.

 

Younger marketing professionals are terrifying of saying the wrong thing. From where I’m standing, it seems to me that we have done a great job of embracing the fail fast philosophy in technology, but we haven’t managed to do it very well in marketing. I’m not sure why that is. Is it a people problem? An industry press problem? Has it always been like this?! (And by the way, I’m not talking about bad campaigns run by people who should know better, I’m talking about newbies who have just joined the marketing profession and are running from campaign to campaign as excited as a puppy with two tails, keen to tell everyone about it).

 

I don’t usually rant, and writing like this is uncomfortable for me, but it feels like important stuff is passing us by as we try to navigate our way through the world of marketing: saying the right thing… quoting the right people… betting on the right platforms… “You liked Mr ________?!”… (“Well they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about” may be the next comment as soon as you are out of ear shot). It’s happened a few times to me recently. I’m not even sure if it is being pretentious, arrogant or bitchy. It just feels mean.  Bad form.

 

Of course none of this talk of technologies and platforms really matters, because the job of any marketer, young or old, is just to tell better stories. It’s not complicated. It’s what we’ve been doing for years, long before marketing was even a thing. Granted, some of us are better at storytelling than others, but you know the best thing about stories? They don’t care which platform they live on. Put them on paper, stone, parchment, vimeo or ideapod ~ they don’t care. A good story is a good story. Naturally, the job of the self-respecting savvy marketer is to figure out where and how to place that story for maximum impact, but why we as an industry still spend all our time discussing the medium and not the message saddens me.

 

We debate the platforms ALL DAY LONG, but don’t spend anywhere near enough time crafting good stories, and figuring our better ways to tell them.

 

Here’s a good example of decent brand storytelling >>

 

Marketing is a noble profession. We are all in the same boat trying to find a way to cut through the noise of whatever client we are representing. And it’s really flippin’ hard. But as I have spent a much higher than average amount of time trawling blogs, forums and social networks these last few weeks, it seems to me that the marketing industry is not doing itself any favours.

 

Our role as marketers is not, despite common belief, to sell more stuff to people who don’t need it, who buy it with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like. For our organisations and our clients, our role is to tell better stories that inspire people and elevate the conversation. But for our peers, our role should be encourage and support each other. That’s what a real community is. (If you’re unsure of what a real community looks like, check out M. Scott Peck’s description on Wikipedia).

 

But the language that I see every day on Linked In, or sarcastic comments I see on blogs, conversations I overhear at conferences and chats in private groups poking fun at the person who over-used a buzzword or played a video that most of us have seen before, is not cool. I’m just sayin’. Not every marketer lives their life on the cutting edge. And those who aren’t are not likely to get there if they are terrified about saying the wrong thing. “What do you mean, you didn’t see that report that was published at midnight last night?“. I love to gossip as much as the next person, but I do think if we are not careful, the marketing industry will become the most “liked” lonely community in the business world.

 

And that would be a real shame.

 

<< Rant over >>

Evangelist @IBM • IBM Watson • Travel Around Talking about AI, Big Data and the Future of Marketing • Lover of Old Business Books and Good Bourbon • Based in London, UK.

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