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We all need the NURTURANCE of our gurus

There’s a strange move at the moment towards dismissing the value of an expert. Not in every field of life, luckily. We’re not seeing a growth in the NHS of self-taught neurosurgeons.

But marketing ‘experts’ have come in for a particular battering. It’s got to the point that, when two marketing people disagree on an issue, one tries to clinch the argument by sneeringly labelling the other a ‘guru’.

This is all extremely dangerous. No one learns just from academic study or personal experience. Everybody learns from other people, even if you disagree with them or the debate moves on over time.

Of course, experts are driven by their own needs. For them, it’s often about wanting to be right, about being the new authority. In short, Superiority.

But for the rest of us, it’s a chance to feed off their knowledge and wisdom, to hear their view of the world and to be inspired.

So all this prompted me to think about my gurus, the people that have influenced me. If I were to put them into some kind of order, the list might look something like this:

The pioneers…

Ted Levitt, with his papers like ‘Marketing Myopia’ and ideas like “They don’t want quarter-inch bits, they want quarter-inch holes”.

Even further back, Elias St. Elmo Lewis, who came up with the AIDA model of behaviour way back in 1898 - Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

The ad men…

Bill Bernbach, with those VW ads and quotes you still hear today, like “simple, timeless human truths” and “if your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic”.

The UK’s advertising superheroes that I used to read or was lucky enough to hear talk – David Abbott, David Bernstein, Stanley Pollitt, Dave Trott, John Hegarty, Chris Wilkins, Tim Bell…

The one I got to work with, once, John Webster (I briefed him, he called me up two hours later with the script, it was fantastic).

The researchers…

Stephen Wells, Roy Langmaid and Wendy Gordon in qualitative research (it’s all about listening).

More recently, Nigel Hollis with his ‘Straight Talk’ blog.

The writers of books…

Philip Kotler, with ‘Marketing Management’, first published in 1967 and now in its 15th edition.

Al Ries and Jack Trout with ‘Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind’ in 1981.

David Aaker and his trilogy of ‘Managing Brand Equity’, ‘Brand Leadership’ and ‘Building Stronger Brands’ (1992, 1995, 2000).

The advertising rethinkers…

Les Binet and Peter Field, with ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ (2007)

Robert Heath and Paul Feldwick, with ‘Fifty years using the wrong model of advertising’ (2007)

(Something was in the air in 2007.)

The psychologists…

Jean Paul Heylen and his implicit model of consumer behaviour that provides a structure for thinking about and working with the subconscious needs people have in any world of interest.

Carol Pearson and 'The Hero Within' (1986), which introduced me to the idea of archetypes (so I better mention Carl Jung too, but he knows I’m thinking of him).

Daniel Kahneman with ‘Thinking, Fast (System 1) and Slow (System 2)’ (2011) and his previous work with Amos Tversky on heuristics and biases.

Writers and bloggers over recent years...

Rory Sutherland, who doesn’t just explain all those ideas like Nudging, Framing, Norms, Defaults, Satisficing and Priming, he makes it all very funny.

Seth Godin, my current favourite. Here’s a recent quote which partly prompted this post: “people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them…often act as if they're fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction”.

Tom Goodwin’s very good on technology, too.

The stirrers…

Mark Ritson, who on the one hand talks about “thousands of brands, badly advised by an army of shit consultants,” but on the other stands up for segmentation, targeting and positioning (without which, how exactly do you create advertising that gets the right emotional response?).

Bob Hoffman, the wonderfully contrary Ad Contrarian.

Dave Trott, making a unique double-entry on the list.

The scientists…

Led into battle by Professor Byron Sharp with his evidence, laws and mental availability.

Plus his army of loyal followers (polygamous loyalists, I’m sure he’d say).

So what have I learnt from drawing up this list?

1. There is no one God of Marketing, so best to take the best bits from everyone.

2. However much you think you know, you’re going to need to learn something new pretty soon, so don’t get cocky.

3. The need for Nurturance doesn’t somehow stop the moment you start work, so make sure you seek out some good gurus to guide you along the way.

Thanks, all of mine, for all the help.

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