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"It's time that marketers broke free from the restrictions that are imposed by business language and devised a vocabulary that actually reflects human behaviour..."

Communication: Accountability is not enough

Unlike in marketing, words like 'accountability'. ... this notion imposes on brands a demand for numerical quantification which may simply be neither possible nor desirable - and may risk underestimating significantly a brand's true value.

How do you 'account' for the effect a brand may have on the quality of the people you hire, or on your ability to launch new products?

As with weather forecasting, it seems likely that reliably predicting a brand's future effects may be mathematically impossible.

But to be obsessed with quantifying the results of every area of marketing expenditure is to misunderstand the nature of the marketer's problem.

The finance function in business is uncomfortable with marketing not so much because they think it is ineffective but because it is not congruent with their reductionist, neo-classical economic view of the world.

Our task is not to adopt the bean-counting view of the world, but to point out to bean-counters that their mechanistic models of the world are inadequate

We need a new vocabulary. To adopt the vocabulary of accountancy is too defensive - it is an example of the 'Stockholm Syndrome' where you adopt the phraseology and mindset of your abusers.

As marketers, who should above all believe in the primacy of human psychology over economic models, our task is not to adopt the bean-counting view of the world, but to point out to bean-counters that their mechanistic models of the world are inadequate. We cannot do this if we think and talk like bean-counters ourselves.


Our current marketing vocabulary does us few favours, either.
  To people trained to respect hard science, the language is indistinguishable from that of flower arranging or astrology. Talking to a finance director about brand iconography is like going to the head surgeon at and suggesting that he 'trust to the healing power of the crystal'.

We need to find inspiration - and a phrasebook - somewhere else. We now have a chance to re-establish intelligent links. With these words and concepts, a few of which are hereunder, we can once again speak truth to power.

› Signalling:
Signalling is a vastly more useful phrase than 'messaging' or 'proposition' or suchlike as it carries with it the understanding that businesses communicate a great deal about themselves even when they are not intentionally communicating.

It encompasses the idea that actions and behaviours may often convey more information than words.

Brand expenditure is a form of signalling. The fact that you are prepared to put money into your product up front suggests you have faith in it. Moreover, by investing in a reputation, you have something valuable to lose by not dealing squarely with your customers.

Creativity is a way of signalling intelligence and ability. The vital component of meaningful signalling is that it is expensive and/or difficult to do. It is the time or money invested in the message that makes it a mark of commitment, not just an empty claim.

› Information asymmetry:
Information asymmetry makes signalling necessary. It is so ludicrous when economists object to brands because they are 'barriers to entry'.

They are indeed barriers to entry, which is precisely why consumers value them so highly.

A brand reputation is difficult and expensive to acquire... if it was cheap and easy, they would be meaningless.

› Loss aversion:
There is a huge element of trust and a leap of faith in virtually every purchase we make - which is why we are so desperate to find, and willing to pay a premium for - any signals of reassurance. Research by behavioural economists indicates that, when we hand over the cash, fear is roughly twice as powerful an emotion as hope.