Aversion to Process in Marketing Field

The marketing field is probably less process-oriented than any other among the professional services. Why do you think that is? Working in the field for many years and advising the same field for many more, I’ve come to that realization after noting several reasons why.

Why We Shun Process

First, you crave a freedom to explore, free of the “restrictions” you perceive in process. Second, there’s a need to identify personally with the work—it must stem from inside you rather than emerge from a more external process. You want to create the solution and own it. Third, your role is replaceable enough that you perceive an added value in keeping part of it mysterious. You want to be a magician or shaman or rain dancer. Fourth, there’s a thrill in diving into an empty pool and inventing water on the way down. It’s a drug high to face a blank sheet of paper with each project and, with as little help as possible, make something out of nothing, once again emerging as the hero. Fifth, it’s clear to me that the typical generalist, “full service” positioning that so many of you employ prevents and even promotes lack of process, since each new situation really is new. In other words, the solutions you arrive at are not benefiting from experience like they could, but are instead plagued by the experimental where those who pay your bills could be more victims than clients.

What Happens When We Shun Process

So what happens in an environment like this? How does work get done, and how is that different from a more process-oriented approach? The first thing you notice is that you can’t do extraordinary work with ordinary people. That’s a shame, too, because ordinary people are easier to find, and they create a much more valuable business and often fit easier into the culture. Instead, you have to feed the monster by finding one extraordinary person after another instead of putting processes in place that allow ordinary people to do extraordinary work. The second thing you notice is that the quality of the work is defined as how unique it is, rather than how effective it is (look at the award shows to see just one example of this perversion). The third thing you notice is that during the development process, this work is judged against a secret sense held by another extraordinary person rather than a process. Superstars and idols are more valued than teachers and mentors. The fourth thing you notice is that you have to keep selling the spark and sizzle to clients to mask the lack of process in your work. They must be inspired and they must trust your secret sauce or the checks stop. Problem solving based on inspiration instead of application is difficult to sustain over a lifetime, which is usually why it doesn’t last that long.

What is Process?

So what do I mean by process? Most firms (maybe 55%) are using no process at all. They just throw their “best” (i.e., the most inventive) people at the problem, cross their fingers, close their eyes, and pray for results, usually getting something that inspires the client and doesn’t engender too many questions. The next step, common these days (maybe 40%), is a more descriptive process. It’s not unique and it’s not detailed, but it does pay token tribute to the need for it. These are the processes you see on web sites: each has four or five steps, involves pithy alliteration, and is more about the graphic to illustrate it than the real process that underlies it. Ask any of these firms to produce a written explanation of the steps, and you’ll get nothing...or maybe two pages. Moving beyond descriptive process would be prescriptive process, used by very few (perhaps 4%). Rather than simply describing how they work or want to work, this provides an actual map for discovery, with each step fleshed out in greater detail to bring some discipline to the process. The final step would be a defined, proprietary process based on actual science as you notice patterns and draw connections from the repeated application of your expertise.

Benefits of Process

So again, why is this important? With good problem solving processes, you can do thoughtful, effective work more consistently. You can craft a more sustainable role for yourself as superintendent of the process instead of the chief magician. You can find employees easier and you can make them effective quicker. And you can support higher prices because of the demonstrable repeatability of your work.

Incorporating More Process in Your Work

If you buy my arguments so far, how would you go about incorporating more process in your work for clients? Let’s take a look at that.

Start by taking your current “process” off the web site, particularly if it’s more descriptive than prescriptive. The lying about process by marketing firms has created a deep cynicism in the industry, and it needs to stop.

Narrow your area of influence, next, like the rest of the professional services to give you a better shot at being an expert instead of starting over each time.

Then begin looking for patterns, finding correlations, and making connections between cause and result. Nobody has done anything inventive by skipping this step: the learning that comes from repeated application of skills to similar environments.

Continue by articulating what you observe into a system that can be applied and then criticized for greater refinement.

This will allow you to package the process and start charging more for it than an hourly rate alone would justify. (Any other method of “value pricing” is simply foolhardy.)

Develop training materials for internal use so that ordinary people can do extraordinary work that is repeatable.

In essence what you’re doing is substituting all this scurrying around for a more intentional approach. Life will get worse before it gets better, as it does whenever any real progress is made, but if you can find some time to put your feet up and get out of the details to focus on the process, you’ll quit solving the same problems every day.


May I leave you with one last thought? What passes for fixation on quality by most principals is really just a fixation on control. If they really cared about quality, they’d pay a lot more attention to process. Best wishes as your work life gets worse on the way to getting much better!

Eventually the marketplace acceptance of your work will boost your confidence and you will spiral upwards, on the right foundation.

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