Marketing's Big Problem

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Marketing has a problem.

The core of the problem can be traced back to one factor: We’re human. But that’s not very helpful in trying to address the problem so let’s back our way up the thread.

We humans (and thus, marketers)  have a tendency to hear what we want to hear. It’s only natural. We seek out information that supports what we already believe. We may like to think that we gather data objectively, and use that data to weigh the options and make objective decisions. But we don’t.

A few of the recent blog posts on this site help illuminate this:

1. In Do CEOs Really Need To Tweet? I highlighted some recent headlines from publications like “CEOs Who Tweet Held in High Regard” (eMarketer), “CEO Engagement on Social Media Positively Impacts Brand Image, Trust and Purchase Intent” (MarketWatch), and “Study: 74% Of Respondents More Likely To Buy From Companies With CEO Social Media Engagement” (The RealTime Report).

Each of these articles referenced a study that surveyed Fortune 1000 employees — not the general population (i.e., consumers).

But that didn’t matter to these publications. Nor, apparently, to the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people who tweeted the links to these articles. Why were the authors and the tweeters so eager to publish and push these conclusions? Because they fit their pre-conceived view of the world.

2. Why You Can–And Should–Measure The ROI Of Social Media highlighted a study conducted by IBM which revealed what that firm calls the Perception Gap: The differences between what executives believe consumers want from social media and what consumers themselves say they want.

Why would 61% of executives think that consumers connect to their firms on social media to “be part of a community” when only 22% of consumers say that they connect to firms on social media to be part of a community?

I can think of two reasons (there may be more): 1) The executives did market research which led them to believe that consumers connect with firms to be part of a community, or 2) They simply want to believe that consumers connect with firms to be part of a community.

The first of these reasons may be a function of the second. It’s pretty easy to construct a market research survey to generate the results you’re looking for. (If you don’t believe that, you clearly don’t read the results of political surveys).

3. In Data Is The New Sugar, I tried to argue that data was not “the new oil” as claimed by some, but that sugar was a better analogy. This prompted someone to comment: “This analogy leaves me with the feeling that data is just an extra additive to make decisions better. Shouldn’t data be of core importance? After all, data is fact, and even though it can be interpreted subjectively, is pretty much the closest thing we have to truth. ” (My emphasis)

Data is fact? Really? There’s no room for interpretation? Give five marketers the same data point, and you’re likely to get five interpretations — all influenced by what they already believe, and what they want to believe.

Tell Me Again, What’s The Problem?

Changes in technology, business, and society are causing changes in the practice of marketing. (Duh). But these changes also lead to changes in the fundamental definition of what marketing is. And there’s no shortage of people in the world of marketing with an opinion on what that new definition is.

In geeky consulting terms, this can be thought of marketing’s dominant logic. Marketing’s old, longstanding dominant logic was:

Brands build awareness and affinity with its target market through repeated, reinforcing, and consistent messaging.

There’s a lot of discussion, argument, and competition around what the new dominant logic is, or is going to be. But, at the moment, marketing has a big problem: There is no prevailing dominant logic.

With little consensus on what our function’s dominant logic is, we’re all over the map with our tactics and investments, seeing what sticks, and using whatever data, logic, and metrics we can to justify and prove that we did was successful.

Do you think that having a CEO who tweets is important? Well, here’s data that “proves” you’re right! But worse than the fact that the data doesn’t prove your point is that there is no explanation for WHY or HOW a tweeting CEO influences brand image and purchase intent. 

Do you think that using social media to help you connect to your customers will make them feel part of a community and lead to deeper relationships? Well, here’s some data to prove you’re right (or wrong)! But we’re still lacking a theory or explanation for WHY being part of a brand-led community would lead to deeper to customer relationships.

Mad Men reinforces the fact that marketing’s old dominant logic was about “repeated, reinforcing, and consistent” — and creative — messaging. But there is no dominant logic today. Marketing is rudderless. And that’s a problem.

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