Taming Marketing Babylon

Prompt: the tower of babel made of neon marketing ephemera against a stormy sky (MJ5)

It’s often said that the very things that initially attract you to someone are the things that eventually begin to grate on your nerves. This old saying perfectly captures my relationship with the marketing industry.

Early days, I fell in love with Marketing’s creative, “whatever works” approach. A magpie-like mentality to pick and choose the best concepts and strategies for success from our own as well as other disciplines. Yet, over time, I have become increasingly frustrated with the neverending onslaught of synonymous, mutated, and spliced frameworks, models, labels, jargon, and “stuff”. It’s bloody exhausting.

The tragedy of this situation is that the genuine ideas, original concepts, research and science that underpin our profession are buried beneath this barely held-together tower of shiny marketing trinkets. This dearth of context and historical understanding has led me to call my blog “Marketing Babylon”. Way back in 2006, when I was still a fresh-faced agency-side rookie.

The paradox of marketing is that the creative freedom we love is both our saviour and our tormentor. It’s what makes our industry innovative and adaptable, but it also spawns a convoluted mess that leaves most marketers befuddled and, frankly, less effective. And in a classic “it’s always the children who suffer”, it also stunts the growth of our junior team members, even those with some formal training. 

The blame is on agencies, consultancies and most self-appointed gurus, trying to feed clients’ endless appetite for the new and sell the same ideas by “Rebranding Branding™” (and the other core concepts, but that’s the one with the pun). 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the “whatever works” mentality. It’s what separates us from the more rigid disciplines. However, it’s about time we got our act together and cut through the BS. Here are some “radical” ideas:

  1.  Keep the cutthroat attitude where it belongs and mix in some collaboration. Instead of playing a constant game of one-upmanship, let’s pool our collective knowledge and create shared resources like industry-wide working groups, open forums, and databases, where marketers can easily access the research, science, and historical context behind the strategies they implement. (We have some fantastic professional organisations and trade publications, someone should introduce those paywall-happy, premium-membership-hungry mavericks to the concept of “freemium”).
  2.  Next, let’s champion education and professional development. If marketers have a solid grasp of marketing’s history and science, they’ll make better decisions and contribute to the field’s advancement. And the mentors, especially the on-the-job ones, should tell juniors where the fundamental concepts come from. And if they don’t know, it’s time they found out.
  3.  Finally, whenever you can, choose clarity. Credit the models and frameworks you use rather than painting them over with new labels. Kill the bad, mutilated and mutated concepts standing in the way of understanding and effectiveness. Never pretend to have invented or reinvented the wheel. And generally, can we go easier on fads, buzzwords and jargon? This will keep us focused on the concepts that work and make both collaboration and education easier. More marketing, less “marketing marketing marketing”.

I’m not suggesting we replace the mess with tyranny, but Marketing Babylon doesn’t have to be the norm.

With a more open, honest, and collaborative approach, we can transform our industry.

(And we’d better do it before the coming tsunami of LLMs, with their mix of generated approximations and absent or invented citations, makes this condition irreversible.)

Where would you start?

Version 1.5 of “The Sceptic’s Guide to ChatGPT” is out.

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