When we look back on the craziness of 2016 there’s a risk we’ll miss one further worrying development.

This was the year the world became slightly obsessed with ‘what can we learn about marketing from [………] posts.  

I thought I’d do my bit and make a contribution. I’ve been searching for a relevant topic to have a go at for quite some time.

It’s no easy feat, let me tell you. It seems no topic, no matter how obscure, has been spared the treatment.

Writer Ann Handley, having realised Google returns over 350,000 hits on the topic, decided to bring her view into the moment by talking about a very delicious meal she enjoyed.

A Google result for “What marketing can learn from” delivers results as diverse as: What Marketers Can Learn from Netflix. What Marketers Can Learn from Trump. Or Hillary. Or Zoolander. Or Prince. Or Beyonce’s Lemonade. Or Super Bowl 50. Or other marketers. And then Trump again.

And there are many, many more sources of potential inspiration.

I’d like to believe this one is true:

This one definitely has potential:

Here I sense some exaggeration:

And here I sense… nonsense:

So this dramatic increase in fantastic new learning has improved the calibre of marketing, right?

Not really!

If anything the increase in articles about ‘what marketing can learn’ seems inversely proportional to the effectiveness of marketing’

How can this be?

In order to solve that puzzle I realised there was one topic yet processed through the ‘what can we learn’ filter that we can reach to for an answer.  The mother of all questions…

What can marketers learn from endless articles about what marketing can learn? (do you see what I did there?)

Because if you actually turn analysis to the subject it reveals some interesting learning about marketing. (No, honestly it really does ;-)

Here are some thoughts….

When marketing is good…

1) Marketing is simple.

It’s no real surprise you can connections in just about anything. When done well marketing is a simple process. We seek to influence what people do by making them think and feel things. This has to be meaningful in the context of real lives not some abstract concept in the boardroom. Actions are more powerful when embedded in everyday lives and recognizable situations.

2) Metaphors power marketing:

Marketing functions on finding short cuts to meaning; connections that can trigger thoughts or feelings. The more capable of triggering an emotional response, generally the better.

Quickly & simply embedding your message through the power of semiotics, memorable assets, archetypes or timeless narratives helps you bring to life your brand meaning effectively and efficiently.

3)  Marketing is about telling the same stories in different ways

You repeatedly see the same narratives repeated in different films and TV shows, with the wrapper of the genre shifted to make the stories more meaningful to different audiences.  

Creating meaning to different groups by presenting issues and stories in a way that feels relevant and appealing. Strong brands are similarly built on these stories.

4) Everyone is involved in marketing to some extent

Doesn’t everyone seek to influence the behavior of others in some way? Aren’t we all a little bit marketer in our lives? It therefore follows that everyone in an organization in some way contributes to what people think and feel about it, or the products and brands it produces. They have a point of view, they can be advocates and can access key channels

When marketing is bad…

1) Marketing is built on tenuous associations

Too often marketing ends up trying to form connections with tenuous links devoid of insight, or in unrealistic and irrelevant situations.  Brands are too often talking about themselves and what they know or do rather than what people are really interested in.

2) Marketing is too focused on copying

There is a worrying lack of original thinking. There is tendency to convergence in categories, of following the leader, jumping on the bandwagon with a slight twist. A lack of uniqueness becomes tiresome and bland

3) Marketing is just plain silly

Sadly, our industry can sometimes let itself down. Ideas get out of hand, indulgences get fed, creativity runs away wrong. No one pauses to say “hang on this is ridiculous”.

4) Marketing tries too hard to make people like it.

For some reason marketing has always had a niggling worry about its value. It likes nothing more than making itself relevant and important. A puppy-like enthusiasm can sometimes result in naïve behavior as well as an outbreak in articles about what it can learn! Unfortunately, marketing seems to like talking more than it likes listening!

So there we go. I’m sure we can all agree we’ve learned something from that.

With thanks to Michael Palmer for the image