Why we need more naïvety in marketing

These are challenging times in marketing and there's no reason to expect this to change in 2014. A fragmented market, increasingly media-savvy consumers, a disintegration of trust in brands - it all feels increasingly out of our control.

Julian Pullan, president, EMEA, Jack Morton Worldwide
Julian Pullan, president, EMEA, Jack Morton Worldwide

And of course it is: it’s in the control of the consumer. Rather than being daunted by this, we should see it for the opportunity it is. Consumers may not be listening to brands, but they are listening to other consumers. Research carried out by Seven found that 43% of marketers still think the public wants to be talked to, yet just 15% of consumers agreed.

Of course, we know this; we are all consumers too. And our own research shows that the number-one way people learn about brands is through friends and family. You may not be able to buy media for this, but what you can do is give consumers something to talk about. We need bold ideas that get people talking.

Easy for me to say, you might think; and you’d be right, in that seizing this opportunity can seem fraught with difficulties. You may go to great lengths to create something worth sharing, but the sheer volume of marketing output reduces your chances of it actually being shared.

The thing to remember is that it’s not just marketers who are daunted by the clutter – consumers face the same dilemma. Therefore, marketers need to help them cut through it themselves. So worry not about the noise emitted by the competition: just create stuff that you feel is genuinely real, right and relevant (ooh, three Rs… there may be a book in this) for the people you want to engage with. If you do, they won’t be listening to the other stuff.

Seems a bit obvious? Yup. But achieving it usually requires a leap of faith. It’s not enough just to know that your idea can actually add something to the consumer’s life. Some of the best ideas never get off the ground because they are saddled by doubt. You need a touch of bravado – a bit of a gung-ho attitude to make it happen. You know that naïvety you have when you are young – the willingness to just go for it, because you are unfettered by years of knowledge of what may not work and what obstacles may be in your way? It makes me think of my children who all learned to ski faster and better than me while they were still pretty tiny because of their sheer lack of consideration as to the potential dangers.

The easiest job in the world is to find reasons why an idea may not work. stick to your guns.

This is what we need a touch of in marketing – the naïvety of the young. The ability to achieve something against the odds because we are willing to just go for it – to be brave. This is what all breakthrough marketing has in common. Imagine how many good reasons Red Bull could have come up with to not get involved with Felix Baumgartner’s jump. How many people may have told Refuge that creating an online cosmetics tutorial for covering bruises wasn’t appropriate? Yet Refuge achieved huge social- and traditional-media coverage – and, more importantly, it led to increased donations and 6000 people contacting the charity for help.

Ideas in marketing are fragile. As the saying goes, they are "born dying". They can be beset with negativity from many sides, and the easiest job in the world is to find reasons why an idea may not work. Stick to your guns. If you do, you should be supported and protected by your leadership – otherwise, perhaps you don’t have the right one.

I loved the engineer and author Daniel H Wilson’s take on it: "Luckily, unreasonable expectations go hand-in-hand with naïve young scientists. The more naïve the better – otherwise, we would never have the audacity to try to build a 22,000-mile-high space elevator or some sprawling underwater hotel."

I wonder how many brilliant marketing campaigns would have got off the ground without a bit of naïvety? It’s time to find and listen to the child inside each and every one of us.