Marketing is a very judgmental business. Business owners, CMOs and marketing managers are constantly judging their marketing efforts, and it’s almost always on subjective terms. Only a tiny portion of their overall branding efforts can ever be judged objectively, so it’s no surprise that so many people fail to make good marketing decisions.
Ad agencies and design firms judge each other in a constant battle of “my work’s cooler than your work.” They also subject themselves to judging in award shows, where a few peers get to judge the work of hundreds of competitors on an entirely subjective basis.
TV viewers sit around and judge the advertising they see, based on entertainment value alone. If it’s entertaining enough, they might talk about it over the water cooler. If not, they vote with the remote.
But playing armchair critic is less harmful than being judgmental in a business leadership role.
Critical thinking is tremendously important in marketing. If we didn’t look at things critically, we’d never push ourselves to come up with fresh, new ideas. Critical thinking is a key to good judgement.
You can be critical of someone’s ideas without judging the person. That’s constructive criticism. But there’s no such thing as being constructively judgmental.
For example, “That’s the worst commercial he’s ever done,” is being critical. “That director’s an idiot for making that commercial” is being judgmental. Judgmental of who he is, versus critical of what he does.
Being judgmental has negative, disapproving connotations. It’s based on intolerance, stereotypes and prejudice.
I’ve seen a lot of sensible, savvy business owners and high-level managers make hair-brained decisions because they were too judgmental. One client I know believes that all advertising people are evil con-men, preying on well-meaning business owners. Once burned, he lets his past experience cloud his judgement to the point of being obstinately ineffective.
His poor judgement in that one area puts his leadership in question and hurts the morale of his entire team.
Good judgement, on the other hand, is the ability to form sound opinions and make sensible decisions, even if a lot of the criteria is subjective.
Great leaders and effective managers continually demonstrate good judgment and make good marketing decisions.
They’re open minded, they listen well, and they make good decisions based on balanced insight, rather than conjecture or some ill-conceived notion of what’s worked in the past.
Many people who strive to be less judgmental in their personal lives still fall into the trap in their professional lives. It creeps into their hiring choices, their strategic planning, and their marketing plans.
Here’s a classic example that I’ve heard more than once: “Oh, I tried radio, and it doesn’t work.”
That particular business owner condemned an entire medium based on one lame attempt… he had a crummy story to tell, a poorly-written script, and a media schedule that was thinner than a supermodel on a new year’s resolution. Of course it didn’t work for him — that time.
I’ve heard other business owners complain that digital advertising doesn’t work. One look at their ads, and you can see why.
I’ve even run into CEOs who are completely biased when it comes to color. And I’m not talking about race. I’m talking about favorite colors and pet peeves like red, yellow or any shade of orange.
How rational is that?
Personal preferences and stereotypes creep into this business constantly. And stereotypes, based on judgmental conclusions at best, are not a helpful component of your marketing program.
In fact, poor judgment based on stereotypes or close-mindedness can ruin a small business.
At my firm we go to great lengths to get beyond the usual stereotypes, especially when it comes to the target audience.
One sentence on a creative brief cannot possibly sum up the feelings, attitudes and behaviors of a broad group of prospective customers.
On the creative side, we always try to develop intriguing stories with quirky, unexpected characters. (In Hollywood writing circles it’s common knowledge that most memorable heroes and villains are those that defy traditional stereotypes.)
Here are a few stereotypes from the marketing world that I’m familiar with. If you fall into this trap, you’ll have a very hard time making good decisions.
- CMOs can’t possibly be creative.
- Copywriters aren’t analytical enough for strategy work.
- Art directors don’t know a thing about business.
- Account planners can’t possibly contribute on the creative side.
- Anyone over 40 can’t be trusted to manage social media or digital advertising.
Nonsense. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Writers and art directors pick up a lot of business acumen by listening carefully to clients in a wide variety of business categories. And creativity is not something you lose as you get older.
Being judgmental is so common it’s listed as a personality type on Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator tests. And it’s so ingrained in American culture you even hear it in post-game interviews… athletes who come in second openly admit that the winner was a “better person.”
No he isn’t. He just performed a little better that one time.
Unfortunately, we judge the quality of the person according to his or her performance. Ironically, we even judge ourselves for being too judgmental.
Blogs can be pretty judgmental.
The whole idea of an on-line soapbox lends itself to judgmental rants on just about any subject imaginable. I’ve written about the soapbox syndrome, and I’m working hard to make sure this blog doesn’t digress into a petty critique of the latest marketing blunder.
I urge you to do the same. Be open minded. Use good judgement and you’ll make good marketing decisions across the board.
• Don’t let preconceived notions and stereotypes cloud your judgment when it comes to marketing programs.
• Don’t rush to judge someone based on their performance on one day, in one meeting, or on one project. Just because you didn’t like one idea, or one campaign concept, doesn’t mean the team is a failure. Good marketing decisions usually involve a lot of trial and error.
• Make sure you’ve done your homework — your research — before you dive into something. That’s a prerequisite for good judgement. If you’re trying to manage something that you know absolutely nothing about, it’s going to be hard to make wise decisions.
• Set aside your personal preferences when making decisions about creative execution. Even though you may not personally like orange doesn’t mean it should be eliminated entirely from the brand design guidelines. Even though you may not like the initial idea of this Nike ad doesn’t mean it’s not great advertising that’s going to resonate with the women you want.
• Remember that you are NOT the target audience. You know too much! You, as a marketing insider or business owner, can never see things in the same way a consumer sees it. But you have to at least try.
• Remember that your creative team is constantly judging their own work against the best in the business. And if they’re any good, they’re probably quite hard on themselves.
• And most of all, be open minded to new ideas. Don’t reinforce stereotypes, break them.