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Managing Marketing: The Relationship Between Strategy, Tactics And Creativity

Jon_Bradshaw_2019

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Jon Bradshaw, Director of Brand Traction returns for his second chat with Darren, this time sharing his thoughts on the essential role of strategy in a world obsessed with short term results and tactics. Plus he reflects on the role of creativity, not just in the advertising process but for strategy, new product development, innovation and business generally.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing. Today I’m sitting down with Jon Bradshaw who is the founder I guess, the CEO, the Chairman and everything else at Brand Traction. Jon, welcome! Welcome.

Jon: 

Hi Darren.

Darren:

Look, Jon one of the things that I’ve always admired about you is one, you’ve got quite a varied career. You’ve worked in telco, you’ve worked in packaged goods, beverages but as a marketer you’re incredibly passionate about strategy, innovation and creativity. What was it in your career that really got you focused or were you attracted to marketing because you always had passion for those things?

Jon:

Oh, those are the ouroboros of a thought if ever there was one. I think it’s all of those things. I think I’ve got a natural bent to think about bigger puzzles from a bigger picture, longer term perspective. I think I’m more strategic than tactical in my DNA.

I was definitely attracted out of the sales function where I started my career and into the marketing function because I saw marketing as having a bigger impact on the business overhead, bigger horizon and a bigger toolkit to play with. But also, I was really lucky relatively early in my career to be really well taught by some great coaches about what business strategic thinking is and how to conduct it. So I’ve got an orientation, a career choice and the privilege of being taught and educated how to do it properly.

Darren: 

But you think it was almost like a calling to a vocation because you already had those sort of ways of thinking; that strategic or big picture thinking?

Jon:

Yes. I’m naturally built to think about things that way, to think about the destination and the end point and the bigger picture of how we might get there and not, “What should we do next?” and is the thing I’m currently executing working? I’m built that way.

Darren:

But the other thing I really appreciate about the way you talk and think and act is your almost passionate desire and championing of creativity, not just in creative advertising, but creative thinking as well. I mean, you’ve always been the sort of marketer that is very focused on inspiring the agencies and the people you work with to push the boundaries, haven’t you?

Jon: 

That’s because I think there’s a myth about strategy, that it’s all numbers and analysis and mathematics. And don’t get me wrong, I think there’s an absence of numbers and analysis and mathematics in marketing at the moment and we should be doing more. But again, I was taught very early on by one of my mentors that he who thinks they have the right answer is the person who is wrong.

Darren: 

Yeah!

Jon: 

There are no right answers. There are a bunch of options in a pool of rightness and your job is to strategically analyse and understand where the pool of rightness is and then make bold choices. Now when we get to the bold choice making bit, then we need to leverage the creativity muscle. And especially when we get through the bit of marketing that’s about advertising.

It’s a long way down the track from the stuff we were originally talking about but advertising is interesting and important. What we do know is unless it’s creatively disruptive, it’s wallpaper! And if there’s anything that advertising should never be is it’s like boring wallpaper that nobody’s got any chance of paying attention to.

Darren:

Hmmm.

Jon: 

They don’t want to watch it in the first place. They’re trying to avoid it and get around it or at least go and make a cup of tea while it’s on. So as soon as you start to make the thing in and as of itself, dull. If you don’t exercise the creative muscle when we get to the advertising bit, we have no hope in hell in persuading anybody’s behaviour to change.

Darren: 

I think your approach to advertising is often the most visible expression of creativity but in actual fact, when you talk about you know, as you said, further maybe up in the process..

Jon: 

Yeah.

Darren: 

There is still an element of creativity.

Jon: 

Always, always!

Darren: 

Because that’s the other part, there is definitely numbers and analysis as part of strategy, but it’s wrong to think that strategy is devoid of creativity.

Jon:

Absolutely!

Darren:

If anything, it is the most creative.

Jon: 

But if we can define creativity and I hate to do this, I don’t like defining creativity, it’s a terrible thing to do. But if we can define creativity as the ability to see patterns.

Darren: 

And especially new patterns that other people haven’t seen.

Jon: 

Yeah. So whether that’s in story telling, in advertising or whether that’s in kind of analysis and strategy.

Darren:

New product development.

Jon:

Correct.

Darren: 

Or new markets, whatever it is.

Jon: 

That type of creativity, the new pattern spotting and the ability to stick things together in unusual ways and be able to imagine what would happen if we did that, that’s the core of the strategic thinking process. Otherwise, any monkey with an Excel spreadsheet could do strategy.

Darren: 

Hmmm. Or AI could do strategy.

Jon: 

Yeah.

Darren:

Because you know, one of the things that I like is even those working in artificial intelligence say that creativity is still a domain of the human being because AI always learns from what it knows but doesn’t necessarily make those quantum leaps.

Jon: 

It is all those stupid problems we’ve got as a marketing industry where because there are people at one end of the spectrum who’s job is called, “Creative” something, Creative Director, that we think that’s what creativity in marketing is. Whereas, for most client marketers, like, where we want them to be creative is in the innovation process, the strategy setting process, the, you know, activity choosing like processes.

Darren: 

Hmmm.

Jon: 

It should be celebrated in all of its forms and not just its art copy and you know, software building forms.

Darren: 

Yeah it is funny, isn’t it? Because as soon as you put a label on a group of people, that they’re the creative people, even within agencies, does that mean that everyone else is not creative?

Jon: 

Absolutely not. And it’s interesting, I’ve been rolling out a whole bunch of training with a major client recently around innovation, how to do consumer-driven innovation in a way that helps you invent things that people actually want rather than things that the manufacturing teams can make.

Darren: 

Yes.

Jon: 

And one of the groups of people we’ve been talking to is…

Darren: 

Sorry, say that again?

Jon: 

Inventing things that consumers actually need and want rather than things that manufacturing can make.

Darren: 

Oh my God, you mean actually rather than factory out, customer in?

Jon: 

Desirability led, feasibility and viability second. Let’s make sure we get the desirability bit of innovation right.

Darren: 

Yes!

Jon: 

Have they got something people would really like in their life? And then let’s solve the problems of, can we make it and can I make money out of it?

Because as soon as we bring the can I make it and can I make money out of it questions too early in the process, the poor old consumer gets shoved out in the realm of practicality and commerciality. Don’t get me wrong, those questions are absolutely critical before you launch something.

Darren: 

Yeah, you answered at the right point. It’s a bit like De Bono’s six hats, seven hats, you know, that you have to have that stage, just don’t bring it too early because it will kill creativity.

Jon: 

Anyway, so yeah, we’ve been rolling out this training with a bunch of people in the client’s room and some of the greatest people we’ve had are the technologists, the scientists, the designers, you know, the people who understand the technical aspects of this complex set of products.

They have been the most creative and welcoming of the consumer led process out of everybody. Like, once you give those types of people that you would consider to be the analysts and the scientists and the logical rational thinkers of the organisation, it seems we give them some talks that are off on a creative journey that’s as inspiring as anything I’ve seen an ECD do. We’re all creative at some level, there’s very few of us that don’t have a creative aspect to our being.

Darren: 

It’s part of the human condition, you know. And I think that people that say they’re not creative it’s because at some point in their life, they’ve been told that. They’ve been judged as not being creative and so they’ve suppressed that as an expression of who they are.

It’s interesting that you should say that because there’s a book, ‘Technique for Producing Ideas‘ which was written by James Webb Young who worked at J. Walter Thompson back in the 40s and 50s and he actually maps out the creative process in a book.

It’s only 50 pages and quite relatively small but the first part of it, in fact, I’d say the first two-thirds of it is absolutely diving into the problem or diving into the information and doing all of that analysis because he says, “Creativity only occurs in the brain in the subconscious once you’ve filled it up to the brim with everything you could possibly know about the problem” and then you give it time to actually you know, germinate or ferment or whatever technique that you want to use as a metaphor and then ideas start popping out.

Jon: 

I think you touch on one of the things that ails us as a community really nicely, Darren, which is this notion that process and framework are a mathematic creativity whereas my opinion is they are the absolute critical partner if we’re talking about business creativity.

Darren: 

Hmmm.

Jon: 

But sure, if you want to go and make art, I don’t know anything about making art but potentially you can do that in a slightly less frame worked and processed lab kind of way but we’re not making art. We’re making advertising if we’re talking about that bit or we’re making strategy if we’re talking further up the stream and that’s a creative process that sits within a framework.

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

And the two are not in-congruent and inconsistent. And yet I hear that a lot.

Darren: 

Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it?

Jon: 

Your process is killing my creativity man and it’s like, well, that can’t possibly be right because both of these things have to co-exist or we get creativity not connected to strategy and business objectives or business objectives that are executed in a dull, boring way that nobody wants to pay attention to. It has to be earned, it can’t possibly be one thing or the other.

Darren: 

Well, in actual fact, because when you read a lot of biographies or even autobiographies from famously creative people; composers, artists, musicians, all these people, every part of the creative process is accumulating knowledge experience that becomes the food for the creative expression.

All that happens is that we bring into that process of collection a commercial focus which is a particular process or opportunity or problem that we’re trying to solve. And that’s the part. Look, I have the same thing. I often have marketers phoning me and saying, “The agency has told me that we’re killing their creativity” and I explain to them that there’s a very distinct process up to the point of the creative germination. And that is the one bit of magic that happens.

The part up to that is very much a process and if you get it right, every creative person I’ve ever spoken to says if you get that process right up to that point, it makes it so much richer and rewarding to generate ideas. Whereas you know, the open brief, the lack of detail, all of that actually is why many creative people struggle to in quotes, “crack the brief”. You have to get it right.

Jon: 

I agree. And also, I would also agree that clients do kill creativity almost as often as agencies kill commerciality in the advertising process. I think it’s because in my experience, in a broad-sweeping generalisation, people haven’t really stepped back and understood how advertising works.

And yet, over the last ten years certainly, and you can probably go back twenty, a bunch of very smart people have done an awful lot of work to try and understand at least the basic mechanics of how advertising works. It tells us there are two sides to it. That without it being emotional and playing to emotions and not features and benefits and kind of rational reasons to believe, and without finding some way of making the advertising famous or disruptive or talked about and attention grabbing, the advertising doesn’t work because people don’t watch it and don’t respond to it.

But we also know that they need to be able to comprehend it and process it because only in understanding it do we remember it. And actually the single biggest determinant of did it work or did it not work or was it correctly branded or not? Which breaks my heart, right?

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

Because it really ought to be the thing that we didn’t need to think about anymore that of course a damn advertisement is heavily branded. But actually it’s the thing that’s missing most often is the branding bit. And you can even see that in emotion, fame, comprehension and branding, there’s creativity in process.

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

It has to be incredibly emotive and talk to the kind of heart strings of human beings. It has to be disruptive and engaging and get people thinking about and talking about it because it was something that they felt they hadn’t seen before. But it needs to operate in a way that we can process and it needs to have the distinctive assets of the brand shoved right in the middle of it.

That’s process and creativity working hand in hand right there. And these are some of our best advertising practitioners that are telling us, those are the things, those are the big rules.

Darren:

The elements that have to be there.

Jon: 

Those are the big rules. Now when we get to the execution of the particular piece of work, the big rule’s probably not enough. But we’re not playing the big rules, never mind trying to understand some of the you know, smaller nuances.

So no wonder clients kill creativity, because they’ll just come along and want more features and benefits and more talk about how the product works and make the logo bigger although it turns out they were right about make the logo bigger.

And a bunch of creative people go on, “We need to tell a big story. We need to kind of engage people and disrupt the market.” And both are right.

Darren: 

Yes.

Jon: 

And the hard bit about advertising is it’s got to be both.

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

It’s got to be disruptive and familiar and that is almost oxymoronic but that is the modern challenge.

Darren: 

There’s another challenge, a modern challenge as well because in everything we’ve talked about, there’s an element of going through the process to actually produce the outcome and I’m not just talking about advertising and the creative process, but in everything you’ve talked about today.

You know, from strategy, new product development, all of these things, it takes time to actually do that process right. To really get your mind into the problem. And yet, we increasingly live in a world which there’s an expectation of doing things faster and responding faster.

We hear people talk about agile organisations and being able to respond in real time and things like that. How do you think people can come to terms with the fact that you know, on one hand, Rome wasn’t built in a day but if you don’t adapt, you die?

Jon: 

I think it’s another false dichotomy, I think you just described the marketing job quite well. We have to take a long-term strategic view of how to build the number of customers, consumers, shoppers, users that shop with us on a regular basis. That is the long-term strategic job.

Changing consumer behaviour is hard and it’s complicated and you know, building mental availability and physical availability, how do we want to define that? That is a long-term strategic game that requires objectives, analysis and a strategic choice.

Darren: 

It can’t be done on a quarterly reporting basis.

Jon: 

It cannot be done that way; it should not be done that way because we need to make tough choices about how to allocate resources. Like the outcome of marketing is more consumers, it’s actual function is a resource allocation mechanism. Pointing people and money and attention at these two things, not those two things. It’s no more complicated than that, really! But, strategy and the absence of execution is like intellectual wankery.

Darren: 

Yeah!

Jon: 

You have to get off the power boring page with the nice strategy pyramid and into the actual doing something otherwise you’re not going to deliver any business change whatsoever. And you were talking about your sailing analogy earlier. I’ve always described strategy like an expedition. There needs to be a destination for the expedition.

We need a route that we’ve decided ahead of the expedition otherwise there’s every chance that things are going to go horribly wrong the minute we leave the front door. We need a bunch of resources and equipment to help us in a way and then we need to set off. And as we set off and we realise that the map is not the territory and the thing we thought was a small hump is actually a huge mountain covered in snow, then we may need to adjust the plan in flight a little bit.

Darren: 

Well, even more, to use your analogy, your metaphor, the weather changes, you know?

Jon: 

Yeah!

Darren: 

Or the path is eroded or there are so many things that happen that the best laid plans, what do they say? When men make plans, God laughs. That’s part of this. That the market is so dynamic.

Jon: 

But the problem with that quote, however cute it is, is that it’s just that planning is meaningless, which it’s another one of these things, alright?

Darren: 

Yes.

Jon: 

You need a strategy and a plan in order to allocate resources in the most efficient and effective way you possibly can, and you need the lack of hubris to be able to be in the middle of the plan and go, “This is a terrible set of choices upon reflection and we need to do something slightly different”.

Darren: 

But without the plan, you wouldn’t know that because what would you have to judge against?

Jon: 

You have no idea whether you’re doing it right and it doesn’t change the destination by the way. I’ve worked in enough businesses in my time to know the destination is always the damn destination and going back to senior people with more power than you and going, “I’d like to sail quite a lot less if that’s alright” is very rarely a comfortable conversation to have.

But I’ve never had a problem going with, “We thought this was a great plan to follow. It turns out we’ve learned half way through that it’s not working like we thought. We’d like to change tact”. That approach has always been welcomed because it’s a future oriented, positive conversation about this doesn’t seem to be working. Sorry about that. Got a new plan.

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

Got an alternative. Got another way of getting to where we need to go to that now we’ve learned a little bit more, this one should be better.

Darren: 

Well I think it’s about setting a plan to achieve the objective but also being open to take advantage along the way or to address the short-term obstacles that present themselves.

Jon: 

I agree and that’s how agile should work, similar to rapid prototype if you put it into an innovation context. The problem with both of those words, agile and rapid prototyping, is people have latched onto the semantic meaning of those words without any understanding of the richness that was built around agile project management methodology and rapid prototyping.

It is a discipline without design thinking for a warm way of kind of categorising that word. And it’s not like that. Rapid prototyping sits in a bigger process of consumer-led innovation and is very framework and process-y and structured and makes you solve specific problems in specific ways. It just uses rapid testing and learning to get to better solutions, faster.

Darren: 

Same with agile.

Jon: 

Same with agile, right. It exists in a very structured environment that allows you to kind of iterate very quickly but within a framework. We’re talking about exactly the same concepts in different ways.

Darren: 

It’s interesting and I’m glad you’ve brought that up because one of of our biggest frustrations is the conversation that goes, “We need to be more agile” and when we ask what do they actually mean by that, it’s usually just “faster to respond”.

Now, you can only be faster to respond if you have a process in the first place that you then redesign to allow you to actually be faster. Faster to respond is not just shortening all the timelines of the existing process because in most cases, it doesn’t work.

Jon: 

These are things I see missing quite often. The skills of objective setting and objective laddering of understanding the bigger goal and being able to set sub-goals that ladder back up to the goal and be able to do that at one, two, potentially even three layers deep, depending on the complexity of the organisation and the puzzle that you’re trying to solve.

And the skills of measurement and evaluation, of measuring the right things and of knowing whether you are on track or not and it’s time for an agile zig or whether our current comfortable zag is doing quite alright, thank you very much. Both of those things are less prevalent than I think they should be. Again, we’ve been chatting about creativity right, and the real importance of that skill. But I see the mathematical analytical skill missing more.

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

I see creativity in the absence of analysis. And I see that client side that’s not an agency critique per se, that’s, I see that more often. Some of it’s time and some of it’s people haven’t had the privilege I’ve had of being taught how to construct a piece of strategy.

But I don’t see them that often and I hear my kind of peers and mentors saying the same things, the tactification of marketing, the absence of strategy, the lack of analysis, the lack of comprehension of what the metrics are actually measuring and just obsession on the metric rather than trying to work out what are the right measures.

My time at Diageo, one of the most important things I was taught was that evaluation happens at the conceiving of the activity. That as you decide what it is that you’re going to do, you simultaneously need to decide how you’re going to measure its effectiveness. And what I mostly see is us measuring things that we’ve put into market with whatever measures we’ve got available.

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

You’ll never understand effectiveness that way because nothing is that simple. Like, hopefully with machine learning and AI, we might be able to do a whole bunch of retro-fitting of analysis to things we did and hoped we could measure them afterwards.

But the discipline of thinking like that is what’s missing, even if we’ve now got technological tools that allow us to be sloppy, we shouldn’t be. When you think of something to do, you should write the plan of how you’re going to measure it.

Darren:

What I like about that thought of at the time of conception, at the time you set the evaluation, is that it is very much true to the experimental design.

Jon: 

Yeah!

Darren: 

Right, so part of the scientific method; when you get to the part of setting the experiment, you’ve already set the criteria based on what it is. The hypothesis that you’re testing. Rather than, as you say, we’re absolutely flooded in all this, I love the word, ‘market telemetry’, you know, there’s all this data that’s just pouring out of the market all the time and trying to retrofit. How can we actually use what exists of all this data to actually test what we’re doing?

Jon: 

If we go back to our seemingly useful expeditionary analogy right, setting the evaluation plan is about really understanding the destination. And who the hell leaves the house without knowing where they’re going? Right?

Darren: 

Well?

Jon: 

There’s a time and a place for wandering. I would suggest when we’re investing millions of the organisation’s dollars, wandering is not what you want to tell your boss. “What are you doing at the moment?” “I’m off, strategically wandering, boss. Can I just have a few million bucks to see what happens?”

Darren: 

It’s interesting because what you said earlier that if you’ve got a strategy and you’ve got a plan and you get to the point where you go, “We need to change direction”, and you go and say, “Look, this is not delivering as we thought and we want to change direction”, most organisations are up to that.

I think it’s because when you can articulate a well-thought through, considered plan, people feel more confident. I’m just wondering whether part of the issue of all this short-termism that we keep hearing about, you know, CEOs of organisations being at the whim of the investors because they want to see their quarterly reports of growth.

They’re not interested in the long-term vision, is that perhaps because we’ve lost sight in business, of the power of that long-term sight. Because I remember reading about Jeff Bezos at Amazon, he, from day one, said to his investors, “I’m not going to pay any dividends because we’ll be reinvesting money back into this business for the next twenty years or more”.

Now, they came on board because they saw a long-term vision, a strategy to deliver it and a plan on how he was going to do that, that they could then get on board. Is strategy planning and the ability to articulate that, part of what’s required to overcome the short-termism, tactical dominance that we’re facing?

Jon: 

Yes. And absolutely a chicken and the egg, right? I’m too busy executing tactics in order to spend the amount of time and effort it would require me to write a decent strategy so I’m just going to keep throwing tactics at the wall is the vicious down cycle.

The ability to stop, take the time out, craft the plan, test the plan, set the plan, engage the organisation in the plan, will build a virtuous cycle in due course. But I understand when you’re in the thick of it, telling your boss you’re just going to take three months out to go away and have a think, it’s a very difficult piece of organisational behaviour to overcome.

But the great organisations do. So the question is, do you want to be a great organisation or not because the real powerhouses of the economy are doing this and finding the time to be strategic and any of the ones that have got sucked into tactification are not doing really well and the smart, the shared market definitely doesn’t help, right. It puts very short timeframes on things about something people care way too much about which is growth.

Darren:

Quarterly growth.

Jon: 

Personal wealth. We care about that thing.

Darren: 

Yeah.

Jon: 

But the smart investors get beyond the quarterly report and into the organisational strategy.

Darren: 

They take a two year, five year, ten year plan.

Jon: 

And if you’re investing for your Super everybody, those are the people, the managers you want to be with. Not the people who are following the whims of the quarterly report.

Darren: 

Yeah. The reason I raised it is because we often don’t see that type of vision and when we do see it, everyone jumps on board. You know, how many times have you sat in a presentation where an Apple gets wheeled out. And how amazing Apple is. But I mean, that’s about an organisation that had a leadership with a vision that was articulated and delivered.

Isn’t it?

Jon: 

Well that’s the other thing about strategic planning, right? As an organisational behavioural tool, it’s incredibly powerful. The best strategic leaders, once they’ve written the strategy, repeat the damn thing at nauseum every time you hear them speak. And that’s exactly what they should be doing, execution by repetition of the strategic framework is a great leadership behaviour.

So whilst hopefully yes, you do better answers and better plans and better tactics because you’ve done better analysis as the foundation for your thinking, you also need to get the herd of elephants that is your organisation to all kind of go in the same direction.

So again, this tactification thing is not helping organisations in terms of getting alignment and alignment is probably more powerful than whether the answer was right or wrong in the first place. Like a clear strategy executed brilliantly, aligned across the organisation is almost certainly more effective than a slightly better one that we haven’t got the organisation on board with. And unquestionably better than not having one at all.

Darren:

In the context of what we’ve been discussing, what’s your feeling about the rise that we’ve seen recently of the Chief Customer Officer, the Chief Growth Officer, I mean, to me, all of these are in some ways the task of a Chief Marketing Officer. Why do you think there’s been these sort of redefinitions?

Jon: 

I suspect it’s for the reasons we’ve been talking about. Marketing got over-tactified, if that’s a word, so.

Darren:

It is for now.

Jon: 

Yes. Certainly overly focused on the short-term, less strategic, that seems to be a common thread across all the commentators in the studies. And therefore marketing became less important at a c-suite level. If it’s just the tactics, it’s not what the c-suite tends to talk about.

But it leaves a vacuum, a vacuum of who in the organisation is responsible for customers, consumers, users, subscribers and who’s going to go find us some more? And if marketing is abdicated that role strategically, then no surprise, we see a Chief Customer Officer, a Chief Experience Office, a Chief Growth Officer.

There’s no reason why that title needed to change beyond somehow we created a bad smell around the “M” word. I’d kind of like us to go back and reclaim it if I’m honest. There’s nothing wrong with the word marketing as a description for people who are in charge of customer growth.

Darren: 

Well one of the big accounting firms, about six months ago, invited me to a breakfast that was for CEOs. I think they mistook the size of Trinity P3 because when I got there, it was actually 50 CEOs from private companies that were sort of 20 million to a hundred million which wasn’t me but it was an interesting conversation because it was about growth, it was about future growth.

They had some speakers there talking about growth and I was interested because the speakers were all talking about sales as the engine of growth and all of the CEOs in the room were talking about sales as being their growth engine and I raised the issue of the role of marketing in their individual organisations and almost to a person, the response was, “Oh, the colouring-in department” which is just such a poor view of marketing because for the CEO to say that, that means that that’s the way they think about marketing. It’s not what marketing is, it’s their interpretation of marketing, isn’t it?

Jon: 

Yes. I mean, who knows what the cart and the horse is there but.

Darren: 

But these are private companies, we’re not talking publicly listed companies. These are like, family businesses and partnerships and things like that. And it just worries me, you said about the poisoning of the “M” word or that it’s gone a bit on the nose, it worries me that marketing as a business discipline, I can’t quite call it a profession because almost anyone can be a marketer, you know?

Jon:

But I think you touch on, certainly something I believe, that if I’m to become an accountant and the Chief Financial Officer is the pinnacle of the management accounting route, there are a bunch of things I need to learn, skills I need to demonstrate, certificates I need to acquire that are part and parcel of the symbols of my professionalism.

Entirely possible I would have thought for you to learn all of those skills without getting the certificates and without going through the industry bodies but that is not how that body of people work because symbols and you know, certificates of authority are incredibly important in terms of how human beings behave. We don’t really have those in marketing. And yet, if we are conceptually organisationally the architects of growth within an organisation, there is no less skill, capability and therefore, no less need for the symbols and certifications of competence and authority than the finance department should have.

Darren: 

Well, to be a profession, to be considered a profession, there has to be a framework of qualifications. So to be a lawyer, you need to have a law degree, to be an accountant as you say, you have to have your accountancy qualification and certificates. To be a doctor, you need to have a medical qualification. To be a marketer, I mean, we’ve got that Gary Vaynerchuk openly on the internet saying, “Don’t go to university, don’t study marketing, just get out there and do it!”

Jon: 

But that’s the absolute epicentre of tactics first, strategy like never, right? And there’s no question that he’s wrong. There’s no question that he’s wrong. Builds up a very successful business out of being wrong, but no question that Gary V is not correct about that.

Put Gary V inside a Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Diageo or Coca Cola and watch his kind of house of cards collapse. I would suggest because those organisations have an understanding of the strategic role of marketing. I don’t know whether professional certification is a meaningful answer to the problem, but it is certainly part of a solution to rebuilding the credibility and perceived professionalism of marketers.

There’s a reason why I run a marketing training business and it is because there’s not a lot of competition out there for people who do marketing training and it’s a relatively open field. We, I should not be celebrating that.

Darren: 

No. And look, I think it’s interesting because we started this conversation, I asked you very deliberately, was this something that you came to because it was a vocation or was it something you learnt because of working in the marketing world and you said you were attracted to it.

Some of the best marketers I’ve met, are not people that are trained marketers but they have a vocation for marketing and because of that, their natural curiosity, their intellectual rigour, their ability to embrace critical thinking has meant that even though they may have started out a lawyer or a salesperson or a scientist or something else, when they are attracted to marketing, they’ve also embraced and learned the disciplines, right?

It’s interesting because even creativity, the most creative people in the world are not people that just suddenly go, “Oh I’m going to do this and be creative”, they actually learn the disciplines of their creative field beforehand. They need to master that, before they actually go to the next level of being able to express that creativity.

I’m wondering if because marketing has that dual analytical and creative element to being a great marketer, there’s some part of it that you can teach the basics but you can never actually teach the part that will make you a great marketer. That it’s part of having a vocation.

Jon: 

Yeah I’d agree. Not that I’m trying to draw parallels, right, but same with being a doctor or a surgeon, right? I would be a terrible surgeon. I probably have the intellectual wherewithal to learn what I need to learn about surgery, but I would be a terrible executor of that profession. I’m not built correctly and some people are and some people are not built correctly to be good strategic marketers.

The interesting thing though is, that sounds like an exclusive thought right, there’s a bunch of people who are quite good at marketing and then you lot who are not. Because as a profession we need to span the entire scope of rigorous strategic conceptual big picture creative thinking, all the way through to rapid execution tactical test and learn, I suspect most aspects of the human psychology would fit in an organisation somewhere as long as we knew what we were great at and we were allowed to just be great at what we’re great at.

There’s a need for people who are bloody great at focusing on the here and now and executing in any marketing organisation but a bunch of me people, me-like people, wandering around talking about strategy all the time, nothing ever gets done. Too busy trying to think of the next big growth idea and no-one’s actually focusing on whether we’re actually shipping boxes out of the factory today. There’s a broad spectrum within the marketing organisation.

Darren: 

Of those personality types that need to make things happen, yeah.

Jon: 

People have orientation, strengths.

Darren: 

Strengths, yeah.

Jon: 

And the other problem of course is the executors, the people we’re not talking about, right, but it’s hard for an executor to be promoted through the marketing organisation and yet, those people who are not like me are at least as important as me.

Darren: 

Because the ying and the yang.

Jon: 

We might need to think about career frameworks slightly differently. That’s a bigger thought for another time.

Darren: 

Jon, thank you for your time, it’s been terrific having this conversation that’s just had its own path really.

Jon: 

Yes, it has really. Seems to be the way with our conversations, Darren.

Darren: 

Just a final question, of all the brands in the world, what’s the one brand if it came along and offered you the CMO role, you would have to say no because it’s just too damaged?

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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