My son, a Senior in high school, was recognized with his classmates during a marching band event last night. Each student was asked to list the universities to which they are applying (our “home show” came early in the college application season this year) and their anticipated major. I was distressed to hear only a couple of state schools when my son’s submission blared over the PA system. Not because they weren’t perfectly fine (and affordable) institutions, but that his real application efforts are directed at schools like MIT, Dartmouth and Princeton. He’s certainly got the academic credentials to be seriously considered at all three and will likely attend an Ivy League or similarly prestigious and rigorous school (if that’s what he really wants). But here’s the distressing part: When I asked why he didn’t at least include them in his list, his response was that he didn’t want his classmates to think he was a pretentious elitist (he actually used a slightly more colloquial and off-color phrase, but his subtext was the same).
This is frightening on a number of levels. Evidently, to be academically gifted or at least perceived as intellectually superior to one’s peers gets you the same scarlet letter Emma Stone has donned this weekend for “Easy A.” President Obama is labeled an “elitist” and an “intellectual” derisively by the Fox News-devouring masses (on a side note… I’m not a Republican, but if I was I would be very, very afraid that my party was being overrun by fear-mongering simpletons and that “Red State” is becoming increasingly synonymous with “Red Neck”….). I won’t retread an excellent essay Joel Stein contributed to Time Magazine a few issues back, but the United States didn’t become a world leader by rewarding and regaling the left side of its IQ bell curve.
The same thing is happening in marketing communications these days (in case you were wondering if I’d be reeling this week’s post back to our usual topicsphere…). Today’s marcom landscape is incredibly complex, wide-ranging and fluid. Every message we deliver has even less of a chance of reaching and impacting the intended audience than the ones we delivered last week. We are sitting at the nexus of shrinking marketing budgets and expanding competition for mind share.
And yet, many marketers are getting increasingly impatient when their agencies respond to requests with intricate, multifaceted solutions. “I just want something easy” or “we need to start small” are frequent responses. I promise you, the marketer that wants to solve their business problems by only focusing on tactical band-aids won’t last long. Marketing is getting exponentially more difficult as social media and mobile channels entrench themselves. Now that you have fairly instant access to everyone and everything, how much harder will it be to get you to focus on any thing, much less get you to concentrate on that thing I want you to do.
Now is the time when we need to embrace the systems thinkers in our industry (it would be cool if we could embrace them in all aspects of society, but first things first…). Complex problems require critical thinking to uncover the best possible use of your limited marketing dollars. Don’t hire Sexy; don’t let your procurement office talk you into hiring Cheap. Hire Smart. Surround yourself with thinkers and you’ll save enough to execute cost-effectively and return enough to your bottom line to maintain your employment status. If enough of us embrace inspiration over perspiration, maybe the intellectuals in our industry can come out of the self-imposed exile necessary to “just get along” and join us at the table. Marketing is hard enough without killing our companies and our careers looking for the “Easy” button.