Commentary

Teaching The Old Dog Some New Tricks

Business has only two functions:  marketing and innovation.”

This quote is attributed to novelist Milan Kundera, according to most places I searched (some people attribute it to business author Peter Drucker).  It’s a great quote, though I'm not sure how  Kundera is qualified enough in this arena to have made this statement in the first place.

But I do find this ideas interesting as a thought-starter. We live in a world where marketing IS innovation, and now we’re knee-deep in the evolution through two generations of marketers. 

Allow me to explain.

When this business started, back in 1994, visionaries foresaw an opportunity: a world where the Internet would become the central communication tool, and they would establish a basic business around it – that is, a marketing business.  During those years we sat back and pontificated about a world where the “dinosaurs” would become extinct and the new generation would take over.  We imagined what it would be like when the marketers who believed in digital rose up through the ranks and took their rightful seats at the head of the table slowly being vacated by the old marketing guard.  This old guard firmly believed in one inalienable truth: that TV advertising was the driver of business growth.  

This succession came not so long ago, when most every major brand in the world awoke to the idea that digital drives its customer interaction strategy, sitting alongside TV as the lynchpins of marketing efforts.  All roads drive to digital, and those that don’t are slowly creating atomic bonds with digital as a means of measuring their traditional performance.  That brings us to where we are today…

We sit at a tipping point driven by data , and the quants are saying the same thing about the generation in front of them: They can’t wait until the digital leaders move out of the way and make way for the data scientists.  Those “established” marketers who believe (unfortunately) in click-through for direct response and reach/frequency for brand-building are on the precipice of being succeeded by the data junkies whose analytics chops are deeper and more determined.  These are the people who revel in the value of database analytics and the algorithmic modeling of customer profiles.

Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong, and even fewer like to admit they don’t know or understand something.  If you’re 20 or even 30 years into your career and you plan on working for another 10-20 years, you are being forced to acquire a whole new skill set, one that may not come naturally to you.  That can be hard.  Many years ago I wrote a column about how our brains, those of us in our 30s and 40s now, are being rewired to process information particles from numerous sources differently.  We are satisfied with input from many sources, only an inch deep, to allow us to formulate our opinions.  We are directional in mindset and can make our decisions, implement and move quickly, all the while understanding that we may have to revisit those decisions later. 

Behind us sits a more analytical generation, who thrive on the ability to run permutations of data to determine the proper decision to be made.  They will take longer to make a decision, but that decision will be more informed and odds are that it will survive in the long run.

These are the people you are hiring, who will eventually inherit your job.  In the meantime, this is what you need to do to be successful for the rest of your career: You need to learn some new tricks.   You need to be comfortable with the fact that innovation does not always look like revolution, but that it can be slower and evolutionary.   You may have to look deeper at challenges and find different solutions rather than work the first one that comes to you.  You may need to become more analytical, or at least make space for those around you who are naturally more analytical.  Marketing innovation is being driven by analytics and the ability to put analytical outcomes into action.

The rate of business growth is not directly proportional to the process by which decisions are made, but its very possible that if you crunch enough of the data that your decisions, once implemented, will have a more profound effect on the results than the agile-driven, directional decisions you previously made.

Are you the old guard now?

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