It’s Time to Tackle the Unlearning Challenge

by Holland-Mark | June 18, 2010

Had a nice chat with my pal Edward Boches earlier today, talking about MITX’s FutureM, and why its timing couldn’t be better.

These are challenging times among marketing folk. I’m convinced most are still hoping this social stuff is going to just blow over at some point, but even those who “get it” often seem not quite sure what to do with it.

There are a set of ideas accepted as metaphysical certainties among the social branding blogerati, almost all of which are anathema to people who’ve successfully built brands through broadcast media. Among them:

  • The user is in control now
  • Great marketing is distributed, not centralized
  • Target engagement trumps message control
  • The future belongs to free content
  • Advertising is dead.

There’s truth in each of these ideas, and nonsense as well.

The struggle to get beyond the black-and-white view, highlight the nuances, and act on them in ways that make sense for a particular brand at a particular point in time are daunting, to say the least. In doing so progressive brand managers need to overcome both the inertia of entrenched old-media diehards, and the relentless castigation of social marketing jihadis. It’s a real challenge, to say the least, and a recurring theme in the day-to-day lives of camp-straddlers like Edward and myself.

Perhaps the first step toward a productive middle way is the try-and-frame-the-problem-in-a-more-nuanced-way. Reflecting on our conversation, I’ve come up with this:

Social/Content/Inbound/New Marketing is hard because adopting it requires cognitive change on 3 levels.

First we must learn what we don’t know. We have gurus for this, fortunately… Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott, Louis Gray, and others. These people are the front line of the revolution, and although the risks are great out there, it’s a lot of fun on the days you don’t get shot.

But learning what is new is not enough. The second level is a bunch of stuff we need to re-learn… the fundamental truths of branding, communications, and media, which evolve within the speed limits of behavioral rather than digital change. There are a handful of real bloggers with the depth of experience required to advance this position. For me Tom Cunniff is in this camp, along with people like Joe Jaffe and Steve Rubell.

But even that is not enough. There’s a third leg of the New Marketing adoption stool: that which must be un-learned in order to succeed. The unlearning domain includes a whole bunch of established, structural stuff that needs to be turned on its head: organizational structures, business processes, financial incentives, competitive dynamics, and operational metrics. These may be among the most challenging things to change, and they are almost certainly among the last to be tackled by the subset of people who are serious about business results.

I hope to spend some time tackling these issues in one of the FutureM sessions, and hope you’ll join us for it. In the meantime… does this framework shed any light on things for you?

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