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Interesting post by JP Voilleque over at Marketing 2.0 this week about the use of mythology and archetypes when creating narratives for brands, but also (and more importantly) the generational roadblocks standing in the way of smart marketing being adopted by conservative companies.

Both of these topics are dear to my heart: The first because tapping into hard-coded symbolism and archetypes we project onto our various mythologies to make sense of the world can be the difference between an organization becoming little more than a company with a logo and that same company becoming a global lifestyle brand. The game here being one of identity and purpose, if a brand can tap into the collective need for a particular archetype, it can become a vessel for a culture’s very specific aspirations.

Nike is a perfect example of this type of exercise, from its choice of name to the way its brand is communicated via its many marketing channels. (Tell me Nike ads aren’t designed specifically to inspire the champion in you.)

The second is also crucial, especially in this economy, because it strikes the heart of Marketing’s Achilles’ heel: The seeming absence of R.O.I. (Return On Investment) at least in the minds of so many first wave baby-boomer executives. I have run into this my entire career, and I have to confess that has been one of the most frustrating of hurdles: Most business leaders simply have no faith in Marketing. They don’t see it as an effective business function, they see it as an expense rather than an investment, and more often than not, marketing takes on the form of a formulaic, uninspired afterthought that barely ever ventures beyond the stale world of “marketing deliverables” like brochures, websites, mailers and print ads. Worse yet, these deliverables are often utterly ineffective in both design and purpose, adding insult to injury in the world of pragmatic, no-nonsense business execs. This is not good, and it needs to start changing immediately.

Here’s what JP has to say:

I have a special place in my heart for resistance to change. It is endearing, like sepia-tone photos of families in Wild West garb. But when it comes to grappling with network externalities, it loses that cuteness and becomes a real impediment to rapid adoption of effective messaging. The people who are ordering the message don’t think it “belongs” in the Web 2.0 universe except in very narrowly sliced, buzzword-laden places that are no less guaranteed to provide a return than the entire space.

[…]

We’re talking for the most part about first wave baby boomers, but in some cases we’re discussing some “silent generation” folks. So depending on circumstances, these are people who are focused on toeing the line, “team play” as art form, and (for the most part) a hierarchical model of career development, decision making, and information processes. The 1984 Apple ad was aimed at/authored by the second wave of the baby boom, the ones that came of age during the sixties, and aggressively anti-hierarchy (though no less hard-working). The roadblock is the first wave. Worse, it’s a committee of them.

Read the entire post here.

Anytime someone talks about archetypes, metaphors and marketing all in the same paragraph, they have my undivided attention. There isn’t enough of this kind of thinking in our industry, and it’s a damn shame because it holds so much power. Unfortunately, the silent generation doesn’t always have time for archetypes, Jungian psychology or for peeling back the layers of mythology-inspired metaphor.

Fact: These guys don’t believe in the value of marketing because no one has ever shown them that it indeed has any value. Too many hacks in this business are content to charge exorbitant fees for deliverables without actually ever working towards actual business and brand-building objectives. (And I won’t even touch the topic of the growing number of internal marketing departments whose staff can’t come up with a single original idea, much less write half a page of decent copy.) Many small marketing and PR firms have thus become little more than job shops where a) the talent and the creative have – over time – slipped to the bottom of the commodity ladder, and b) have completely eliminated the strategic in favor of the tactical (if you can even call it that). This may be a great way to keep paying the bills, but it is no way to inject the true value of marketing into a company that needs it. Enough firms and practitioners do this, and the entire profession soon becomes plagued with low rent hacks selling “marketing” to business folks too busy running their businesses to know any better. This is how the marketing field spent the last three decades losing all credibility and value, bringing us to where we are today: A business world in which the first thing that gets cut during tough economic times is marketing. Bravo.

Incidentally, the one line-item in a business’ budget that should actually increase during difficult economic times is marketing. Why? Because the best time to reach out to your customers and possibly gain market share is precisely when your competitors are retreating. We’re upside-down in this scenario because for the last thirty years, hacks have been dragging this discipline down into the commodity gutter. Enough is enough. We need to get back to business now. And I mean right now, starting with the very same first wave boomers who currently have absolutely zero faith in the discipline.

To these folks, marketing is at best fluff. Pretty fluff, sometimes, but fluff nonetheless. And expensive fluff at that. They reluctantly sign off on brochures, flyers, websites, catalogs and the occasional press release (the latter usually aimed at investors and stakeholders rather than their customers) because they feel that they have to. It’s just a cost of doing business. *sigh* Aside from this expensive exercise in seemingly worthless self promotion (a concept they aren’t particularly comfortable with anyway), marketing seems to be an expense rather than a worthwhile investment. This is the biggest fundamental problem faced by marketing departments and firms today.

Another way to look at it is this: There seems to be little to no measurable ROI from most marketing campaigns or activities.

Chances are that if you are dealing with a CEO who has little faith in marketing, it is because no one has ever shown them the link that exists between real marketing (which reaches far deeper than just messaging), and something as simple as F.R.Y. measurements (Frequency, Yield and Reach), for starters. Forget brand valuation for the first couple of quarters. Don’t even bring it up. Just show them how great marketing can increase their sales through an increase in interactions between their company and its customers, a positive change in the average order size, and/or an increase in net new customers. This is something they understand. This is something that puts food on the table, therefore it is tangible. This is how marketing stops being fluff and starts being valuable. This is how cost becomes benefit. This is how risky expense becomes worthwhile investment.

In order to enable this transition, we need to connect the dots by demonstrating clearly and objectively that marketing drives business growth in a measurable, quantifiable way. Not only that, but your efforts have to show that the return outweighs the investment. Not through bullshit metrics but through measurables that actually show up on the P&L.

You aren’t going to turn the older boomers to pay any attention to quests and archetypes (unless they happen to work at Nike or Jaguar or Starbucks), but you can take these concepts and turn them into what they understand: ROI. Simple Business 101. Common sense cost-benefit data. Period.

Does this put marketing practitioners on the spot? You bet. And it’s about time too.

The shift that needs to occur is simply this: Marketing practitioners need to a) stop behaving like commodities salesmen, and b) (to borrow a phrase from the presidential campaign trail) stop slapping lipstick on a pig.

Our job is not to sell deliverables like websites, catalogs, print ads and clever copy (and especially not the mediocre kind). Our job is to help folks who already spend over 80% of their time running the day to day operations of their business connect that business with the outside world in an effective and extraordinary way. More to the point, our job is to help drive sales, create net new customers, and increase the number of positive interactions between the companies we serve and their growing customer base. Our job is to help delight customers so that they will become a) repeat customers and b) brand ambassadors. Our job is to bring context to products, services and companies’ identities in specific cultural subsets. Our job is to bring companies and “markets” together, which is really to say companies and people.

Summed up, our job is to develop all of the strategies and tactics that help companies find their audience, facilitate the first handshake, and develop lasting, delightful, fiercely loyal relationships with as many great people as possible.

Our job is to do this in a remarkable, memorable, delightful way. Our job, if anything, is to inspire our clients and the people they serve to engage in a relationship which benefits both parties equally, and somehow improves their collective condition in the process. Our job is nothing short of ensuring that the marriage between between them is a great and lasting one.

This is not the sort of thing you entrust to just anyone. Yet too many companies do just that – most of the time because they may not be aware that they have other, better options.

I say enough. Seriously. Enough with uninspired, ineffective mediocrity. Enough with chop-shop marketing. Enough with inexistent (upside-down) R.O.I. Enough with the snake oil bullshit.

Enough.

Not until that first wave of boomer execs start to see that Marketing is as vital to their growth and as worthwhile an investment as an acquisition or product innovation will they be able to connect the dots between marketing activity and simple, bottom-line, black-on-white R.O.I.

It’s time to start cleaning up our industry once and for all, one company at a time. If that’s what it takes, then so be it. I hope you’ll join me in this quest, assuming you aren’t fighting the good fight already.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. 😉

image by Chris Wray-McCann