Editorial: Stop work, engage brain

As a younger man with the time to ponder on such things, one statement guaranteed to make me see red was 'It's a nice idea in theory, but doesn't work in practice'.

Not because it was invariably said as someone's crude attempt to escape from whatever incisive, two-hour political discourse I had been subjecting them to, but because of the realisation that I had been wasting time on some bumbling idiot with no grasp of the reasoning process. Patently, if it didn't work in practice then the theory was no good either, and if they thought that, why didn't they just say so? ... by which time their back could be seen rapidly disappearing through the door.

There is an even greater disrespect for theory these days than back then.

While I have met a handful of marketers who have to Boston Matrix their way through a lunch menu, and a few who know that PIMS isn't something that comes in a jug with mint and cucumber, on the whole the topic of marketing academia simply doesn't come up.

I blame Sir Alan Sugar for this. Well, not Sir Alan himself, perhaps, but certainly his type of 'I'm a straight-talking kind of guy' chief executive who calls a spade an overhead and who is often found at the head of corporations today. These leaders foster a business environment in which it is impossible for business theory, however pertinent, to find traction. What marketer hoping to make it to the boardroom, let alone survive there, would show the slightest admiration for academia?

It goes some way to explaining why those who earn their salary in the real, messy world of brands and competition are so dismissive of those who study its theory from the perspective of risk-free academic tenure - 'If you haven't been threatened with delisting by Tesco, you haven't lived, my son.'

Academics are an alien species, too. Who else, with the possible exception of a market research company, would call their output 'Implementing a pre-launch diffusion model: measurement and management challenges of the Telstra switching study', while a marketer would call their own, say, 'Doritos'? Such jargon is a significant barrier between academics and practitioners: long snaking sentences innocent of verbal vigour, weighed down by words such as 'hermeneutics', 'epistemology' and 'ontological'.

What good is a tool if you can't understand the instructions? It's like buying a high-tech drill with the instruction manual written in Ancient Greek.

And yet, could you be bothered to but turn the pages of the odd academic journal, you might happen across the type of breakthrough thinking that would at once free you from the traditional hindrances to growth in your sector and lead to a demonstrable improvement in return on your marketing investment. Do you think your finance director would turn up his nose at that particular theory?

Time is, of course, short and the demands on it are many. There are plenty of models, frameworks and methodologies that are neither simple in application nor profound in effect. On the other hand, there are some that are both - ideas that may well have bedazzled you already during the hundreds of your consultants' chargeable hours, and which you could have had for next to nothing. Now there's a thought.

- Ten ideas from academia, page 32.


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