Marketing needs more polymaths. More magic please, but underpinned by logic.

By Paul Frampton | chief executive

May 16, 2012 | 7 min read

Today, the VP of Marketing for Unilever, Marc Mathieu was pronounced the most powerful UK marketer by Marketing magazine. High acclaim but so what? Last year, Marc came out with the provocative statement that the industry needed “more magic and less logic”. Having all experienced the paucity of great creative work in the last few recession years, I think we can all have sympathy with the sentiment of this proclamation. That said, I do fundamentally disagree with it.

My belief is the combination of both ‘magic’ and ‘logic’ will prevail. Advertisers, agencies and individuals all need a fusion of both. More importantly they need leadership to allow these often-conflicting forces to collaborate and flourish. You may recognise this point from my previous article. Celebrated Cannes winners repeatedly introduce us to magical marketing but often-insufficient thought is put in to what happens after the initial emotion hit. Programmatic buying & great content strategies in search are heavy with logic but too often the start point is anonymous data and not the audience need state.

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A lot of organisations conduct some form of profiling of their staff these days, whether that is Myers Briggs or Thomas International. My experience of these tools is that you invariably find that you are over subscribed in one area and need to re-balance for the perfect team. People are the heart of any business and people tend to lean more towards being left brain or right brain. There are very few who have strong scores against emotional intelligence, creativity, leadership, and commerciality plus demonstrate the ability to follow through.

I believe we need to help develop more of these people. The marketing industry needs more polymaths (dictionary definition = ‘a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning’) . In my last post, I talked about the need for channels and specialists in agencies to connect their skills together. This only happens where you have ‘natural integrators’, or to put it another way, personalities who have the ability to talk across strategy, planning, buying, technology, data and measurement. These ‘polymaths’ tend to have a healthier balance between left and right brain. They come up with big ideas but also make sure that those ideas are grounded, measurable and will deliver a return. They coach and nudge others towards great thinking. These people are the top marketers of the future. Rather than putting out endless job specs for ‘data scientists’ or ‘ideation experts’ perhaps as an industry we should be looking for ‘marketing polymaths’, the talented chefs and chemists of the marketing world?

Ultimately, our job should be to give people better experiences of our client’s brands; experiences that make their lives richer and easier. Being better is the key here and better requires a combination of left and right brain. The right amount of magic and logic need to be applied in careful measures, dependent on the task or brand in hand. If we all focused more on the consumer experience and what people actually see and do, we would be closer to this nirvana of being better and more meaningful. Think about your own frustrations with advertising messages today. Every day we see disconnected, confusing messages. The message in a certain bank’s ad proclaiming a customer charter and the experience in branch are alarmingly disconnected. Every day in looking for more detail on a brand or product, we experience frustrations in navigating to the information we need. How many times have you clicked through to a landing page where the content seems to lack the really key piece of information you wanted? After the initial excitement of getting your new iPad, have you like me ended up shouting expletives at the use of flash or miniscule size of a field when trying to buy on your tablet?

All of these examples are commonplace and there are unfortunately many many more. In a world that is hyper connected and hyper transparent, I believe our role (marketers and agencies) should be to create magical moments that connect seamlessly across devices and media.

We should learn from how technology is evolving the TV experience for consumers. A few decades back, I had just 4 channels. Now I have hundreds & I can watch most programs at a time convenient to me. With the emergence of connected TV’s, I can browse on demand movies and short form video on the same screen as I watch blockbuster TV. Perhaps, though the best articulation of a ‘better TV experience’ is Zeebox. Whilst watching TV, I can simultaneously see if another program is better than the one I’m watching, I can see if my friends are watching it, I can investigate the background of the show, characters or even a reference in that show. Within seconds, I can also share my thoughts on that show and see what my mates or the wider population has to say about the same topic. Just a year ago, this run of events was near to impossible or would have taken me 5 to 10 minutes. Now it can happen within a window of seconds; that’s much much better.

How do we achieve the same with advertising? How do we understand what different individuals seeing an ad want after seeing it and how do we give it to them as quickly and painlessly as possible? For starters, there will need to be a significant amount of data deep diving to arrive at that intelligence. At that point, the magic can begin. Once the magic is in market, the learning cycle starts all over again and logic becomes reality. Hypotheses become fact. The magicians should then be drafted back in to prepare a second attack. There’s a very good reason why military strategy unifies around the assertion that a war is a series of battles. Advertising is no different; you will not get everything right the first time around so after the first attack the ‘General’ (your polymath) should re-gather the tacticians & troops quickly, logically work out what didn’t work and try again with a fresh approach.

Achieve this marketing nirvana and it stands to logic, that consumers will be warmer to you as a brand. They will give up more of their time to build a relationship with you and they may even give you some respect. In a world where the expectation is that devices, media and messaging aren’t connected, delighting a consumer with a meaningful experience that does just this is pure magic. Those very same consumers will become your advocates and organically grow your business, reducing your reliance on paid media. Houdini would be proud but even he would struggle to create the illusion that everyone is a polymath. Identify those individuals in your teams who possess these unique and powerful skills and invest in them. Then sit back and wait for the magic to happen.


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