When people think of marketing, they tend to think of the old glitz and glamour (Mad Men?) side of what marketing appears to be: advertising, commercials, websites and colorful brochures or collateral. And while that is a visible aspect of marketing execution, in reality it is only a small part of what a marketing professional can deliver for a business.
We are often asked by young, upstart talent in waiting, what area they should focus on in college to “get into” marketing after they graduate. The immediate inclination is to suggest they stay away from college marketing programs entirely. “Marketing” in itself is like “premed” as a course of study. It is so broad an area that until someone specializes, it is rendered almost useless. It would be better to focus completely on a specific avenue of discipline immediately instead of larger concepts, waiting for those larger concepts to come into play after they gain experience in the work world.
Aside from the almost certain initial disheartenment such a proclamation might provide, a better consideration is to suggest a more useful avenue of study, a path that may actually help businesses grow in a practical manner rather than theoretical one. And that is to recommend they focus on finance, lean process development or design.
Borrowed Culture of Marketing
A missionary acquaintance from Indonesia returns to the states every four to six years. In a recent visit he described how people from the country are being “Americanized” at extreme speeds. Instead of a normal cultural cycle of slow to moderate learning and unlearning, where errors and victories can be understood, the Indonesian culture has been introduced to hundreds of years of technology and social structure in less than 60 years. Children who use iPhones and video games as a norm are balanced by parents who don’t watch TV or use computers at all. That is to say, not only is there a proverbial firehose of culture hitting them, but more critically, it’s a culture that hasn’t earned its own history in a sense. Instead, the small country has injected the newly introduced ways into a people who didn’t do the hard work to get there. It is, plainly put, a borrowed culture. As a result, the “understanding” that accompanies time in a developing culture is lost. How to manage growth, economy, technology and other byproducts of culture acclimation tend to hit back harder than sometimes expected. Crime, for example, is one way the borrowed culture shows tension. Metropolitan areas such as Jakarta, and other locations like Aceh and Central Sulawesi are often cautionary destinations for westerners due to very high crime rates.
When it comes to brand building, marketing professionals have a difficult time agreeing on who or what controls the brand of a company. Some marketers lean towards the idea that the consumer controls the brand. What consumers say about the company is what makes the brand relevant. This describes the “perception is reality” take on branding. Other marketers feel the company controls the brand reflected in Henry Ford’s quote about automobiles. If Ford had listened to consumers, he would have made a faster horse, not a car. This reasoning tends to think company leadership in any marketing space outweighs consumer response or feedback. Without thought leadership within the company, there would be no brand to follow.
The truth, for business and the marketing professionals who help them, lies somewhere in between both extremes. Branding is controlled both by the company who has created it and the consumers who provide insight and feedback into what they feel the business brand is. The challenges a company faces in branding effectively reveal themselves when a company doesn’t believe in or understand the consequences of how to brand well in this dynamic.
The ability to develop substantial brand communication has suffered. It’s not necessarily the fault of the brands themselves but seems to rest on delivery and communication methods. Arriving in the last 10 years is an unprecedented accessibility to publication and consumers. Gone is the slow burn and thoughtful presentations brands relied on. In it’s place the quick, down and dirty availability of social media and online distribution is an often careless “push marketing” frenzy. More succinctly, in a world that proposes to deliver profundity in 140 characters and relies on large images and brief quotes to provide impact and substance for consumers, the ability to create deeper, long-lasting foundations for brand building has faulted.