It’s December, so everybody is making list. For kids, that means telling Santa what they want for Christmas. For adults, who, frankly, should know better, the lists take the form of everything that’s been HOT. BEST. AMAZING. during 2015.
The marketing world is no exception. During the past few weeks, the great and good in the worlds of marketing and media have been given a hearty slap on the back, in a couple of prestigious annual countdowns. These surveys (the MediaGuardian 100 and Marketing Magazine’s Power 100) are widely-read and reputable barometers of what’s hot or not.
However, is it just me or are they severely limited?
Both lists suffer the same fate as all lists of this kind. They reflect the biases of whoever is responding to the poll, which makes them cliquey, smug and self-congratulatory. They amplify the prejudices of a small echo chamber of influencers, with the result that anybody not on their radar is unlikely to get noticed, even if they were producing the best, most cost-effective, fit-for-purpose and results-led marketing campaigns in the world.
The trouble is, on some level, both of these lists are also incredibly useful, so it’s a question of parsing the results to identify the elements that might help, and which are just echo-chamber bunkum.
Let’s take The Guardian first. The Media 100 is historically somewhat tongue-in-cheek and is no exception this year. Taylor Swift makes the top 10 for her battles with Spotify, while Jeremy Corbyn sneaks in at #100 for changing the media landscape. Neither, you suspect, are entirely serious choices but are designed to generate debate, or possibly just more clicks.
However, there are undoubtedly interesting trends here. Take social media. Mark Zuckerberg holds the #1 position, a slot that in the past has gone to the likes of Rupert Murdoch or Google’s Larry Page. That shows the power Facebook currently holds in the media landscape and is reason enough to continue to think serious about harnessing its marketing power.
More interestingly, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey languishes at #27, belying its reputation as the nearest rival to Facebook. In fact, in addition to Zuckerberg, Dorsey has beaten by the heads of Snapchat, Instagram and Buzzfeed, with the bosses of YouTube and Pinterest hot on his heels. In terms of influence, a new hierarchy is being shaped in social media, as today’s youngsters and consumers gravitate to more informal, gossipy and image-led platforms.
In contrast, Twitter and LinkedIn (the latter of which wasn’t even represented in the Guardian list) are seen as somewhat starchy and uncool. However, the danger of a list like this, with its stampede to define what’s on-trend amongst London-centric marketers, is that it doesn’t reflect the wider experience of the marketplace.
Certainly, for many businesses, there’s a place for all of these social media platforms. By all means, share fun stuff via Facebook, Snapchat and their ilk, but for brand awareness and thought leadership, especially for B2B firms, Twitter and LinkedIn play an important part.
Similar flaws are observable in the Marketing Magazine Power 100, which is so heavily biased towards big consumer brands that it offers a ridiculously skewed portrait of the industry. Sure, big players, with the budgets and resources at their disposal are at the cutting edge of 21st century marketing, and there is certainly value in studying their innovative campaigns.
Yet for FCMG and B2C to dominate so totally is a misrepresentation when there is a significant amount of spend in B2B communications, with just as much creativity and proven performance.
In case you think this is sour grapes, these issues aren’t confined to marketing polls; they’re universal. As a case in point, the film magazine Sight And Sound has also just released its end-of-year round-up of what’s hot in cinema. This was based on the tastes of highbrow critics, with the result that, not counting film festivals, five of the top 10 best films of 2015 didn’t actually get a full cinema release in 2015. The poll is therefore almost comically out-of-sync with the experiences of most cinemagoers.
Sight and Sound would argue that this doesn’t matter, because the survey is a barometer of what is innovative, and fresh, and exciting. I’d agree to a point. (Full disclosure: those five unreleased films are now top of my ‘must watch’ list for 2016.) However, it underlines the inherent flaw of all such surveys. They reflect the bias of whoever is conducting them and the results should be taken with a pinch of salt.
So when it comes to marketing power lists – By all means, read the results, take note of the pollsters’ recommendations, start following the heavyweights on LinkedIn because they are sure to offer useful advice and wisdom. But bear in mind that these surveys reflect only a tiny fraction of the strategies and campaigns out there. Just because something isn’t creating buzz, doesn’t mean it isn’t generating heat.