Monday, April 30, 2012

Dead is the new black

As I'm about to demonstrate, the best way to start cheap conversation is to declare something dead -- an industry, a technology, a hallowed way of doing business. The web is dead. The phone call is dead. The press release is dead. (Hell, the press release dies more often than a Spinal Tap drummer.) Why are people so eager to declare something not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead?

I know, I know. Repeating that line from The Wizard of Oz is dead, just like declaring things dead is dead, as some of the commenters on this article about Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts declaring marketing being dead have noted. Hell, this isn't even my first post lamenting it. And yet, people like Kevin Roberts keep doing it, and this latest incarnation, if you will, is so absurd that I can't help but pay it the ridicule it so richly deserves.

Is marketing dead? Well, is selling people things dead? What, Amazon doesn't employ marketing? Apple doesn't use it? I get it. Consumers are more savvy and sophisticated than they used to be. All that means is that marketing has to be more savvy and sophisticated as well. Read this article about Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia sounds like exactly the kind of company that Kevin Roberts extols. You think what they do isn't marketing? Then you need to read more carefully.

But it's not enough for Roberts to declare marketing dead. He's like a business school butcher. Management is dead. Strategy is dead:

“Strategy is dead. Who really knows that is going to happen anymore in this super VUCA world? The more time and money you spend devising strategies the more time you are giving you rivals to start eating your lunch.

“Management is dead. To win today you need a culture and an environment where the unreasonable power of creativity thrives. Ideas are today’s currency not strategy. Martin Luther King did not say ‘I have a vision statement’ did he? He had a dream. You have to make sure you have dreams and your brand also needs a dream.”

I'm not a CEO, but strategy strikes me as nothing more than identifying your goals, how to measure them, and tactics you will employ to achieve them. As for MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, I've actually heard it described as a mission statement. The best mission statements, the ones that actually make an impact for organizations, set forth measurable objectives. And while what King called for in his speech was somewhat ephemeral, it was a blueprint for a very specific legislative agenda. In other words, you can be dreamy and strategic, all at the same time, despite what Mr. Roberts would have us believe.

But I digress. What is it with people prematurely declaring death like some unethical transplant surgeon? For one, it makes them sound more enlightened and with-it than the rest of us. Two, it relieves them from doing the hard work that goes along with the traditional ways of doing things. The challenge is not in deciding between the old tools and the new ones. It's that we have to use both, which isn't easy. And third, giving all these would-be coroners the benefit of the doubt, they want to bury practices that they see being misused, or done poorly, or in ways that bring discredit to an entire profession or industry. It's not press releases that are dead, it's bad press releases. It's not marketing that we want to kill. It's lousy marketing that insults our intelligence.

To that I say, hear hear. The king is dead. Long live the king.

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