Marketing in a post-genius industry.
Why the answers to the toughest marketing problems will emerge from intelligent scenes, not intelligent geniuses.
What does Leicester City Football Club have in common with The National Theatre, 1990s Brit Pop, The Manhattan Project and The Government Digital Service?
The answer: their success was the result of a whole scene of talented individuals, not the brilliance of a solo genius.
The ‘genius argument’ would frame Leicester City’s success as the genius of Claudio Ranieri or Riyad Mahrez. The ‘scene argument’ would move beyond individuals and frame Leicester’s success as the alchemy between eclectic players, a shared underdog spirit, an unlikely leader, supportive staff and energised fans.
Like Leicester’s, marketing success is no longer a solo act. The challenges we now face require the contribution of many individuals with a variety of talents. All of the one-brain marketing problems have been solved. Marketing is a post-genius industry.
In this post-genius industry, we need to rebuild companies to harness the intelligence of the collective. In our post-genius future, great marketing ideas will be articulated by individuals, but will be generated by talented marketing ‘scenes’. This begs the question: how do you create a scene in your company?
There are three things to consider.
1) “We’re not them”
The scene rejects the status quo
A scene offers a shared purpose that bonds its member together. Often it is framed as a common enemy. This might be a rival company, the government, the industry or just the “status quo”. The purpose of the scene is to push away from it.
The common purpose of the scene could manifest itself in the creative process, the style of the work, the product, the service, or the need for rebellion… it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the shared purpose becomes a strong signal to staff about what they can expect and what is expected of them.
Many of the most fertile scenes find this common purpose by capturing the spirit of the times. They produce work that could not have happened in any other era, such as 1990s Brit Pop, the gastronomic scene at San Sebastian and the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.
2. Guvnors and Blockers
The scene is protected from meddlers
Every scene needs a Guvnor and a Blocker.Guvnors bring knowledge and expertise into the company from elsewhere, they facilitate the creation of ideas and they make a big impact to the development of a scene.
The Guvnor commands unusual respect and keeps their team focused. They have a profound understanding of the work and cannot only create the environment needed to create it, but ensure its keeps its meaning. Examples of Guvnors include: Pep Guardiola (Barcelona), Mike Bracken (GDS), Robert Oppenheimer (The Manhattan Project), Larry Page (Google).
The role of the Blocker is to protect the scene from the attention of bureaucrats and conventional thinkers. Blockers typically lack the vision of the Guvnor but they are as important, because a scene can rarely achieve its purpose without broader consent. Blockers are able to translate what’s going on to a wider audience; they are the unofficial spokespeople for the scene’s purpose. Examples of Blockers include: Joan Laporta (Barcelona), Frances Maude (GDS), General Groves (The Manhattan Project), Eric Schmidt (Google).
3. The Abbey Road of Marketing
The scene does its work in special studios
The marketing industry tends to obsess about how to have good ideas but we spend much less time thinking about where good ideas emerge. The most creative and productive scenes take place in legendary venues or locations, such as Los Alamos for the Manhattan Project, La Masia for Barcelona FC, Cupertino for Apple.
Members of the scene need to meet and form bonds. They need to see and hear each other’s work, spread ideas, share knowledge and celebrate successes. Marketing companies might reframe their offices as ‘studios’, or at least create studio spaces within the office. Studios help to remove rational, linear logic from creative development, and instead allow work to be created erratically and unpredictably.
In this post-genius era our ability to solve complex problems will be compromised if we cannot harness the intelligence of the collective. Scenes do not underplay the importance of gifted individuals. Instead they draw attention to the alchemic quality that can be cultivated in the shared bonds, relationships and physical spaces that gifted individuals share.
To solve the toughest problems, marketing leaders don’t need to hire geniuses, they need to nurture fertile scenes.
Originally written for Admap