The marketing profession is singularly good at devaluing ideas, which is a shame because it is meant to do the opposite.
Marketing is obsessed with sounding more clever than it actually is. So it rebrands mundane endeavours like blogging with more intellectually satisfying labels like Thought Leadership. In the process it devalues the very idea of Thought Leadership for any brand that has put the effort in to do it properly.
Marketing is good at not doing things properly.
It can be a good idea to build a supportive Community of customers around your brand. The operative word in that sentence is not Community, it’s build. Building is hard work. It takes patience, precision and devotion. Without those things you don’t end up with a Community, you end up with a loosely affiliated rag-tag collection of followers on various social media. What marketing calls a Community exhibits none of the characteristics that would actually make having a Community a good idea. It sounds good but it doesn’t do any good. It sounds good but it means nothing. The misappropriation of these terms lowers the bar for the whole industry.
Next of kin to the idea of Community is the idea of Conversation. Remember Cluetrain? Remember the idea of brands climbing down from their corporate pedestals, coming out of their ivory towers, and conversing with an informed, empowered market of human beings who, through the very act of Conversation, would no longer be dismissed as mere consumers? Nah. Why bother? If a few people mention you on Twitter, you can say that they have joined the Conversation around your brand, without actually doing the hard work to broker and engage in anything resembling a real one.
Engagement is the real eye-roller. On the face of it Engagement is a great idea. We should be all about attention and the capturing of imagination. Engagement takes many forms, so it needs to be precisely defined and commercially valuable. Sadly the most commercially valuable forms of Engagement tend to be the hardest to measure, and therefore get the least attention. The vanity metrics spewed out by social media have a lot to answer for. Any old content can get a few likes. Engagement is all the rage but marketing becomes less engaging as a result.
Thought Leadership is a great idea. It is a challenger brand’s wet dream. Thought Leadership is disruptive and dangerous. It should be the highest plane of content marketing. The air around it should be thin. No vertigo, no glory. The trouble is that doing some Thought Leadership sounds a lot better than just publishing another unloved blog post, which, let’s face it, is what most self-styled thought leaders are actually doing.
It seems like marketing has wilfully misunderstood the idea of Brand Purpose. For the idea to work, why you exist and what you sell have to reinforce and amplify each other. At the very least they need to make sense of each other. It’s called relevance, and it doesn’t happen without authenticity. If marketing couldn’t do authentic Communities or authentic Conversations, what chance did it have with Brand Purpose? Brand Purpose has turned into Frankenstein’s marketing, like flared wheel arches and a rear spoiler on an Austin Metro.
What marketing does best is misusing and overusing the nomenclature of potentially useful strategic ideas to the point that no one who actually knows what they are doing would ever use those labels. They have been made to feel cheap and dirty.
Once upon a time the marketing industry latched onto the idea of Storytelling.