The 4 “C” adapted to marketing.
Expert, but of what?
When choosing a program of study, a first career, additional reading or online training, one question is inevitable: what should I learn to improve in my profession?
For some areas, the answers are easier than others. The expertise is more linear. But not in marketing. Not because it is a more complex expertise than others, but because its nature is far too broad and changing to paint a clear picture. And this uncertainty is perfect for creating an endless hunt for trends. One year, you would all have to be UX experts. The following year, it is essential to know how to code or analyze Big Data. Within 5 years, it will probably be necessary to be a virtual environment designer or die. That being said, chasing after trends is certainly the best way to achieve widespread uselessness.
Let’s admit that behind this quest for meaning, there is an unavoidable question: how is it possible to remain qualified enough to keep one’s place in an economy rapidly transformed by automation, artificial intelligence, access to freelance workers and cheap labor on the other side of the globe?
The 4 “C”s.
In his latest book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari positions himself on what the essential components of education today should be: Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
I found the process interesting and wondered how it would be possible to transpose these 4 elements into the marketing industry and therefore, for those who are currently trying to find a place for themselves.
1. CRITICAL THINKING
Critical mind: In an individual, all of his conscious faculties, or thought, that pushes him to question, to judge, to examine almost all questions by appealing to reason.
We now all have free access to the most incredible school ever designed in mankind: the Internet. The answer to almost all the problems you will encounter is probably hidden somewhere in a dark corner. You can learn anything today if you have the will and discipline, and I can certainly say that you will find a teacher who will live up to your ambitions with the necessary patience.
There is only one major flaw in this wonderful invention: it is not equipped with any barriers. It does not prevent anyone from participating in our global knowledge, however ignorant or ill-intentioned they may be. So we are all there as students and teachers, sometimes in spite of ourselves. It is therefore your responsibility, during your readings, to know how to identify the conspiracy theorists, the troublemakers and, as far as we are concerned more precisely, the sellers of cheap marketing theories. And be careful, there are many of them. With Powerpoint full of useless adverbs and E-Books, they often use anecdotes to create theories and lucky moves to fill careers. Believe me, they have not often visited bibliographies of credible works to learn more. They do not want to push their expertise further in a specific field. On the contrary, they take advantage of the lack of knowledge of the younger ones to pocket a few dollars on a PDF that is not even worth the price of paper to print it.
Don’t fall into the trap. It is in your best interest to be proactive, stay informed and take every opportunity to develop. But each interesting page is often buried under 25 pieces of rubbish, so don’t believe just anything.
And when you have found something of value, make sure you understand it and assimilate it. Elon Musk attributes his success to a few habits, including this one:
“When I read something, I always wonder how it fits in with what I already know. How I can make information functional in my current system of thought. If I don’t understand it well, I try to get back to the basics of the concept to make sure I understand it before going any further. Finally, I look in the references to read another paper on the subject that helps me to further explore the subject” (freely quoted).
So there is no reason to wait to learn what you will need to navigate in marketing. Get started now. Keep an eye out for any papers that are not worth your attention and make sure you understand those that deserve it. Be critical.
The act of communicating with someone, of being in contact with others, usually through language; verbal exchange between a speaker and an interlocutor from whom he or she seeks an answer
Communication. This discipline that means everything and nothing at the same time. It becomes easy to call yourself an expert communicator because everyone has their own definition of effective communication. That being said, it seems to me that we often miss the point of the most important element for a strong communicator: empathy.
We talk about charisma, attitude, well-built speech, interesting ideas, expertise or humour, but we do not emphasize empathy enough. The best speakers (and when I say the best, I mean the elite) have one thing in common: it’s never been about them. From the first sentence written in a notebook in preparation for a presentation, they already think about the people who will be in front of them. In the state they’ll probably be in. To their expectations. To their fears. To the fact that a Monday at 9:00 is not an ideal time. And throughout this communication, they seek to decode the reactions and adjust the focus.
You will have to present expensive and complicated ideas. Great ideas that make you dizzy. Ideas that are difficult to hear but necessary. And every time, the idea won’t do all the work. The rest is up to you. But the rest is never about you. If the person in front of you does not understand, have the humility to say that it is your fault. Be sure you understand who you’re talking to before you pretend you know everything about him. Too many experts make the mistake of drawing conclusions without ever having been face-to-face with their subject (hard to have a better example than the American media during the 2016 presidential campaign) to finally be outraged by its unpredictable reactions.
Marketing will require you to put yourself in everyone’s shoes. So be prepared to forget yourself for a while, and show empathy.
A state of mind and a pattern of behaviour in which individuals conduct their relationships and exchanges in a non-confrontational or non-competitive manner, seeking appropriate ways to analyse situations together and in a shared manner and collaborate in the same spirit to achieve common or mutually acceptable goals.
In his video Millenials in the Workforce, Simon Sinek talks about the circumstances that shaped the behaviour of the millennial generation. One of the issues addresses the strong sense of uniqueness often created by parents. According to him, the current generation feels more than ever that it is completely unique and deserves to be treated this way. Whether this is true (or not, as Sinek argues), part of the damage is done. The thirst for uniqueness is very real. So is the opposition syndrome and nihilism that emerges.
Tell a group that you understand their behaviour through theory X or Y and they will be quick to act irrationally, simply to get rid of your projected “ grasp “ of them. All you have to do is look at the “comments” sections of an article about a particular group or generation and you will always find that it is a complete lie, it is said.
“I’m really not like that.”
50 years ago, it was more difficult to call yourself unique. The interest groups were quite limited. All passed through approximately the same educational, social, belief and professional networks. Whether unique or not, homogeneity was strongly encouraged and reinforced. Then, non-conformists were called marginal, with little or no nuance. The reality is quite different now.
Technology has brought to life echoes of chambers in every corner of the web. The strangest idea or conviction will probably find support somewhere in the world. A feeling otherwise perceived as unacceptable will probably find accomplices as validation, hidden under distant IP addresses. So really, more than ever, we are facing a society marked by an impression of uniqueness that functions as a multitude of singular individuals rather than as a diversified mass. The “we” gives way to the “I”.
And it is in this context that you will work. It is in this context that you will have to think for people to find innovative and new solutions that they like.
Good luck with that.
If you ask my humble opinion, you will not succeed alone. You will need teams that are diverse in genre, background, talent and beliefs to have any chance of surviving in marketing in this day and age. Not everyone may be unique, but we can admit that the target groups are breaking up quickly. So have representatives from these different groups around the table if you want to be able to speak for them. Accept with humility that your ideas are not universal. Accept that you lack a lot of perspectives to develop a “universal” vision. If you want to succeed, be ready to collaborate.
Creativity is defined as the ability to produce a piece (an idea, an object, a composition, etc.) that is new, original (i.e. different from what exists) and adapted to the context and constraints of the environment in which the piece is expressed.
Let’s start with the most important thing: creativity is not witchcraft. This is not the exclusive result of a trip of hallucinogens in the forest. It’s not just for the elite. Our vision of the creative process is far too fictionalized.
Great illuminations may have their place in the narratives of classical art or music, but in marketing, this is not realistic. This work cannot be done without any creative regularity. Of course, the solution does not always appear when desired, but it is still necessary to be able to generate high-volume creative leads. And if it’s possible, it’s because there are reflexes to be adopted.
The best parallel for me is improv comedy. If you have ever attended a high-level improvisation match, you will have understood that, no matter what the challenge is given to the players, they always manage to get out of it. Sometimes with a stroke of genius, sometimes with an unexplainable reflex or thanks to a character always at hand in their back pocket, just in case. Creative marketing seems to me to be very similar. Even if it is always possible to find an unexpected opportunity, you must give yourself as many chances of success and safety nets as possible to meet the volume of work that awaits you. Here are some of those safety nets:
- Hard work: creative work is exhausting. The first 15 ideas are probably déjà vu. You have to be ready to work hard to get quality equipment. As Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) says in her Ted Talk, the best you can do as a designer is to show up 40 hours a week in front of the drawing board, the rest will come sooner or later.
- Empathy: This must be repeated. You don’t create for yourself. You work for others. I firmly believe that a good creative listens more than he talks. And once he has listened carefully, he does not jump to conclusions. He’s asking the right questions. The answers are easy to find. It is the right questions that are rare.
- General literacy: Probably the number one weapon of a creative artist. A professional whose name I forget has already told me that, for him, creativity is a huge whiteboard on which words are written as we learn. Then, our task is to draw an unexpected link between two notions that no one had considered before. Well, in that case, the best thing to do is to write as many words as possible on this famous whiteboard. Reading, traveling and immersing yourself in new contexts; it seems cliché, but it remains true.
After all this, he remains the greatest challenge of all: to create, for real. Anyone can think, imagine, conceptualize, but the famous creative people are the ones who have completed their project. Creating does not mean thinking. It means creating. To bring into the world. Making it happen. So finish your projects. No matter how good or bad they may be. Repeat 100 times. A project that remains in your head has no value.
In the end, it’s not often about what you know, but about what you do. So, what will you do after that?
For the original version of the 4 Cs : 21 lessons for the 21st Century.