CMO Mondays: Have We Become Too Specialized?

A CMO recently asked me what is one of the biggest pitfalls I see brands falling into. The number one issue that I see is that marketers have become too specialized and too siloed, and therefore the full potential value of the brand is not capitalized.

Growth in complexity from technologies, channels and data.

As you can see from the slides above, marketing has experienced a proliferation of new technologies and channels, and this intimidates marketers and executives. In an effort to make marketers’ jobs easier, companies building products for marketers have actually made their jobs harder and more complex. So, now you see this trend of marketers becoming over-specialized and marketing teams more siloed. Someone might only know analytics, or only know social, or PPC and display, or brand and creative. And, they advocate for one discipline over the other because that’s what they know and are comfortable with. It’s the lens through which they view the world. But, great marketing isn’t about technology or channels. It’s about audiences. It’s always been about understanding audiences’ human behavior to create products, communications and experiences that enroll those audiences to buy into the brand. If we know our audience inside and out, then deciding which technologies and channels to apply to engage those audiences becomes much easier.

The exponential growth in data hasn’t helped in this matter. The need for data has reinforced our nature to play it safe and created some false positives. This is symptomatic across business – not just marketing. “Advertising is dead.” “Why invest in creatives when the data will just tell us what content audiences want? Then, we can use tools to automate content creation.” These philosophies are easy to spout in an era when marketers are being pressured to lean budgets. But, when everyone is swimming in the same direction, opportunity presents itself in the opposite.

Great marketers think more like anthropologists and communicate like orators.

The growing need for general marketers.
The best marketers are Renaissance people. They don’t live solely in the art bucket or science bucket, but, rather, they bridge the two. Great marketers think like anthropologists and communicate like orators – painting a view of the world and enrolling us into that view. They study human behavior from a mix of hard data (think analytics), soft data (think observations) and experience (think intuition) to arrive at universal human truths about customers and their wants and needs. From these truths, great marketers create solutions to those needs – whether they be in the form of products, services, business models, experiences or, simply, stories.

Two Thinking Systems
Perhaps my favorite article on this subject is “The Second Road of Thought” by Tony Golsby-Smith. Here, Golsby-Smith discusses how “the western world bought the wrong thinking system from Aristotle.” An excerpt below:

“This ranks as one of the worst investment decisions our civilization has made, and it has led us into using the wrong toolkits for our enterprises ever since. The thinking system we invested in was Aristotle’s ‘analytics’, and we made the choice around the era of the Enlightenment which ushered in what we today call the Scientific Age. That decision has proven so sweeping that it now monopolizes what most people characterize as ‘thinking’. Thinking processes are dominated by the culture of the sciences, and you get no better evidence of this than our universities, the home of thinking, where any subject must position itself as a science to be taken seriously. Traditional approaches to strategy sit fairly and squarely at this table of logic and Science.

What few people realize is that Aristotle conceived of two thinking-systems, not one. We made the big mistake of just buying one, and allowing it to monopolize the whole territory of thought. We should have bought them both, and used them as partners. Instead we have only one thinking tool in our hands and we are using it for all the wrong purposes. Here is how it happened.

Aristotle was the first person to codify thinking into a system. He did this for a reason: he lived in perhaps the most dramatic social experiment of human history, the invention of democracy by the Greek leader Kleisthenes around 450 BC. This political system did what no other had tried to do: it delivered decision making into the hands of human beings. Prior to that, regimes were governed by the king of the gods. That meant that no matter how sophisticated they might have been in terms of Engineering or Mathematics, they were not sophisticated about human reasoning, especially where decision making was concerned. Clearly, Kleisthenes’ political reforms created a great need to codify the processes by which humans think and can arrive at ‘truths.’ If ever there was a do-it-yourself manual, this was it! Ordinary humans were playing god in Aristotle’s Greece.”

Golsby-Smith goes on to describe the two roads of thought:

  1. THE LOGIC (or ‘analytics’) ROAD: This is ‘where things cannot be other than they are’ and is tied to the realm of natural science.
  2. THE RHETORIC (or ‘dialectic’) ROAD: This is ‘where things can be other than they are’ and is tied to the realm of human decision making.

The Logic Road is the process by which we diagnose what already exists, whereas the Rhetoric Road is the process by which we humans design the future. I would argue that while marketing is experiencing a renaissance right now, it is headed squarely in the direction of ‘analytics’ because of the overwhelming technologies, channels and data discussed above. As business and finance has disappointingly placed statistics (which is the mathematical application of diagnosing the past to predict the future) at the center of its theory and practice, so now marketers are following this trend. But, the breakthrough brands that capture our hearts and minds (and wallets) in the future will be those that master the art of rhetoric as equally as they master the science of analytics.

The art of storytelling
David Ogilvy was quoted as saying “It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night. I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea.” Never has this been more true. Audiences today experience an attention deficit from the devices, channels, messages and alerts that bombard their senses every waking moment. Content is more fleeting than ever, and audiences’ retention is shorter than ever. Yet, great storytelling increases audiences’ sense of trust and empathy and increases their retention. This enables us, as marketers, to direct human behavior. Indeed, neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, taught us that character-driven stories consistently cause the synthesis of cortisol (a hormone that focuses our attention) and oxytocin (a hormone that creates a sense of empathy and connection). In other words, the better crafted and more relevant the stories we marketers tell about the brand, the more our brand will stand out to and connect with audiences. There is, apparently, scientific benefit to the art of storytelling. See the video below for more details on Zak’s research.

So, all marketers should be trained in storytelling. The Coca-Cola Company has invested in having screenwriters train their marketers, and IBM has recently been hiring screenwriters. If you want your brand to stand out, invest in striking creative and crafting remarkable stories. Yes, by all means, leverage new sources of data to glean insights about your audiences that can inform that creative. But, people today – more than ever – need to be inspired. We need brave brands (and brave marketers behind those brands) to take chances and inspire audiences into action.

The science of analytics
Meanwhile, every marketer should be trained in basic market research and data science, so that they know how to run their own analysis, as well as review others’. Not every marketer needs to be a practicing statistician by any means. But, the important thing is to understand what questions to ask when reviewing data, so that we know how to interpret and apply its findings to actions that the brand should take. Critical is knowing what you’re looking for in the first place in order to design an analysis and measurement approach that can glean the knowledge you seek.

The tactics of channels and technologies
If you have a handle on storytelling and analytics, then channels and technologies become fairly simple. From the data, we glean what story might resonate with customers, what channels they engage in, what their behaviors are in each of those channels, what content formats they engage with most, and we have a sense for what we need to measure in order to learn and improve over time. The trick is then to tell the brand’s story consistently and natively in each of those channels. And, we look for technologies that meet the specifications we need in order to tell that story effectively in each of those channels, and to capture the data we need to measure and learn from our activities.

The need for speed
Given the pace of business is only increasing, it doesn’t make sense to have large groups of hyper-specialized individuals trying to figure out how to work with each other, interpret each other and take actions away from each individual’s contributions. When one does not have context (experience) for what another person does, it’s difficult to make create action. Rather, if we want to move at the speed of business, we should have less, more well-rounded people collaborating. Thus, every marketer should gain experience in both the art and science of marketing. Read Scaling Agile @ Spotify by Henrik Kniberg & Anders Ivarsson to see how this approach has worked in agile software development at Spotify.

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