Succeeding in Business Through Marketing Fads

Max Barry

The key to creating a marketing fad is to state the blindingly obvious in an appealing way. That's really all there is to it.

Marketing fads, like Total Quality Management or Relationship Marketing, are those viruses that breed quietly in dark corners, then before you can say, "Shift the paradigm," spread through the industry like an explosive strain of the Beijing flu. The result is very similar: for a while it's all everyone can talk about, then you get nauseous and everything you do is crap.

Fads are developed by academics who have nothing to do all day but think of topics for research papers. This is what you'd do, too, if you were an academic and not allowed to sleep with students. There is, after all, the golden prize of the speaking circuit to aspire to. Some fad developers have become so famous that they need never work in marketing again, which is pretty handy seeing as fads don't work in practice.

So, to follow in their shoes, here's how to create your own marketing fad:

  1. Come up with a snappy name, like "metamarketing." Admit it, "metamarketing" sounds so slick you already want to go out and hire a whole bunch of consultants. According to the US Central Business Research Bureau, a good name is primarily responsible for just over half of all successful product launches. Actually, that's not true, but see how plausible it sounded coming out of something called the ‘US Central Business Research Bureau'? So much more persuasive than: "According to what I reckon."

    Some people think the theory should come before the name, but this is classic factory-centric thinking. These are the people who believe customers buy the technically best product and attractive packaging is a waste of money. The only way to deal with these idiots is to ignore everything they say while thinking about how much more money you make than them. That's what they assume you're doing anyway, so it's really a win-win. If one of these people ever makes CEO, it's time to change companies.

    My favourite example of the importance of a snappy name is the 4 Ps. Since these puppies came along, it's impossible for anyone to discover a crucial new facet of the marketing mix unless it starts with P. You could conclusively prove that Customer Support is an essential foundation to any marketing campaign, and marketers would screw up their faces and say, "But… it doesn't start with P." We're just lucky that someone had the foresight to rename "Distribution" to "Place" or the entire field of logistics would never have existed.

    There were plenty of mixes before the 4 Ps, but none was smart enough to be alliterative. Neil Borden came up with the term "marketing mix," and was pretty pleased with himself, saying: "I have always found it interesting to observe how an apt or colourful term may catch on." Clearly, Neil wasn't observing hard enough, because his marketing mix was the 6 Ps, 1 D, 1 F, 1 A, 1 C and 1 B.
  2. There is no step two. But bullet points make you look smarter.

Once you've got the snappy name, the theory underneath is largely irrelevant: just take something everyone knows to be true and paraphrase it; e.g.: "Metamarketing: gaining customer loyalty by satisfying key consumer needs." It's not like this is hard; I mean, Total Quality Management was basically: "Do stuff better." If you get stuck, just mess around with word definitions: "Metamarketing: replacing customers with clients."

If your fad name is snappy enough, before you know it your company will have a Metamarketing Taskforce, a VP of Metamarketing, and a special section in the annual report on the company's Metamarketing initiatives. Of course, by then, you'll be earning $2,500 an hour to speak to halls full of executives, have your name prefaced with "guru," and never have to do anything accountable ever again. Now that's marketing.

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