Commentary

The Case For Strong External Marketing Partnerships

We like to spend time with others who agree with what we have to say. In her book "Reclaiming Conversation," Sherry Turkle says this leads to us living in a bubble -- in this case, a bubble of agreement. While soothing to our own sensibilities, this can be a dangerous path to walk down. It leads to dangerous biases in perception like Group Think and Information Cascades. It doesn’t give us a true picture of what the world is really like.

Last week, I said that a shorter “sense-making” cycle is one reason why moving advertising and marketing in-house might be a better way to go. But what if those sense-making cycles lead to a skewed view of the world because of perceptual distortion? What if it leads to us seeing the world not as it is, but as we wish it was?

Today, as promised, I want to look at the other side of the question: the advantages that can come from having strong external partnerships.

As I said last week, Bayesian Strategy relies on three principles:

--      Strategic planning is a continuous and iterative process.

--      Strategic plans are nothing more than hypotheses that are then subject to validation through empirical data.

--     The span of the loop between the setting of the strategic frame and the data that validates it should be kept as short as possible.

While moving more functions -- including marketing -- in-house helps with the last of these, it can lead to problems with the second step: Empirical Validation.

Prolonged ideological homogeneity is never a good thing. Yet human nature craves it. So, from Socrates on down, we have created rational frameworks that force us to consider divergent thoughts. Democracy is built on such a framework. But over time, most organizations naturally move toward a shared opinion of the world -- and that opinion usually starts at the top. It’s what Avinash Kaushik calls the HIPPO Syndrome: The Highest-Paid-Person’s Opinion.

Agreement bubbles expand due to confirmation bias. Even if we pay lip service to validating our opinions with empirical data, what we count as data depends on what we believe. We look for evidence that confirms our beliefs. We can deny we do it, we can chastise ourselves for doing it, but the fact is, it’s human nature.  In the end, we’ll still do it, because we’re programmed to do so.

One way to reliably poke our “agreement bubbles” is to build robust mechanisms to both encounter and embrace ideas from outside the bubble.

Remember a few months ago, when I wrote that cultures in which higher percentages of atheists are found also tend to be more innovative? The same factors are at work here. Those cultures have more ideological divergence. More perspectives are considered. The result is almost always a more-accurate view of the world. Everyone wants to believe they are “right," but what is “right”  -- or as close as is possible -- is a synthesis of many different opinions and beliefs.

In this case, especially with something as vital to strategy as marketing, a strong external partnership can force us to consider our agreement bubbles.  This is where an agency can bring new views to the table.

But the agency and the client have to realize that this is where the value of these partnerships lies. They have to embrace this role and build the trust required to introduce external perspectives into the strategic sense-making cycle.

With two sides of the argument now sketched out, next week we’ll consider how the agency partnership of the future might look.

1 comment about "The Case For Strong External Marketing Partnerships".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, March 30, 2016 at 7:25 p.m.

    Instead of thinking in terms of having one big bubble, I see the problem as four bubbles. The advertisers are in one bubble. Then you have the publishers, then you have another player rarely mentioned being the ad distributors. If their is a fourth bubble it would be small but influencal in hardware, mainly the demand incrrease in smart phones. Both bubbles in ad distributors and smart phones have put pressues on the other two bubbles in advertisers and publishers. Now we have a fifth bubble putting pressure on all the other with Ad Blocking. I think the problems can't just be agreement upon but long term committments need to be made without staking of their own turfs for their own self interest.

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