Is marketing the only industry where we don’t standardise?

I met a great friend [and an even greater mentor] for coffee last week and, as we were sipping on our respective beverages, we both noted that, since we meet only about twice a year, we always bring the same “moan” to the table: marketing is not getting better, we are not learning anything.

Both him and I have been more involved in projects that include a big digital component and, as such, we have worked with and observed developers and UX designers a lot. What is striking about both of these communities is the speed at which they standardise processes that seem to work, optimise those standards and come out with clear methodologies for even the simplest projects.

Both coding and UX design are relatively new professions. I say that because I am comparing them to marketing, and advertising specifically. By all accounts ads were being created in the 1850s, while coding as a profession seems to have begun around the 1960s (I might be a couple of decades off, I am using very wide definitions of both and Wikipedia as my main source) and yet coding has many strong methodologies and standards while marketing and, worse yet, advertising seems to have few and even those are loosely based on…well, common sense.

“Creativity cannot be standardised” I hear you say and while there is some creativity in advertising, marketing and a lot of the functions that ladder up to it are more akin to science than purely creative work. I know it’s a big statement to be making and we are normally swept away by the big speeches on creativity, but let’s not forget that marketing involves market research, audience research, planning, media, monitoring, evaluations, all of which have some innate creativity but are not LED by creativity and benefit from a strong process.

There was a time when the major ad agencies worked to develop their own frameworks for producing advertising and they were all rooted in strong beliefs about how comms worked. Not sure what happened to love brands, disruption, etc but the truth is, today, we have more info about how comms work yet we are less able to explain that to our juniors or to our customers, let alone actually put some processes on the table.

Why is this happening?

Well, for one because we have de-standardised what we think we do. Everyone seems to be in a mad race to invent a new form of marketing that nobody’s thought of and sell it as the big, shiny new thing. In the end, it turns out that most of the new remains within the confines of what we traditionally knew. But our rush to relinquish the old means we forget all its standards.

Secondly, because there is not enough funding for people to stop and learn much from what they’re doing, let alone look at what others are doing and incorporate those learnings in a bigger picture story.

Thirdly, because we have limited resources for marketing bodies to supply that research and thinking.

Fourthly, because we keep talking about creativity as if it’s the only thing that drives marketing and there is literally nothing beyond it. I really don’t mean to put down creative work at all, but focusing on that as the only product of agencies means we are effectively defunding all the other departments which are so integral to delivering comms.

What can we do?

Not sure.

Standardise inside the agencies and then share those models with your peers through industry organisations like the IAA or the APG? Fund the IAA or the APG to create standards? Work with clients to standardise across industries? Simply standardise process for yourself and then iterate as you get more info? All of these might work and we need to try all because we cannot keep reinventing the wheel.