Judge Not. (And make better marketing decisions.)

By John Furgurson

Marketing is a very judgmental business.

Marketing directors are constantly judging the results of their efforts. Sometimes objectively, sometimes not.

Ad agencies and design firms judge each other in a constant battle of “my work’s cooler than your work.” They also subject themselves to judging in award shows, where a few peers get to judge the work of hundreds of competitors on an entirely subjective basis.

When it comes to television advertising, everyone’s a critic. TV viewers sit around and judge the advertising they see, based on entertainment value alone. If it’s entertaining enough, they might talk about it over the water cooler. If not, they vote with the remote.

But playing armchair critic is less harmful than being judgmental.

Critical thinking is tremendously important in marketing. If we didn’t look at things critically, we’d never push ourselves to come up with fresh, new ideas. My team gets a lot of constructive criticism. But there’s no such thing as constructively judgmental.

You can be critical of someone’s ideas without judging the person. For example, “That’s the worst commercial he’s ever done,” is being critical. “That director’s an idiot for making that commercial” is being judgmental. Judgmental of who he is, versus critical of what he does.

Being judgmental has negative, disapproving connotations. It’s based on intolerance, stereotypes and prejudice. When people jump to conclusions about a political candidate, they’re usually being judgmental.

I’ve seen a lot of sensible, savvy business owners and high-level managers make hair-brained decisions because they were too judgmental.

One client I know believes that all advertising people are evil shysters, preying on well-meaning business owners. Once burned, he lets his past experience cloud his judgment to the point of being obstinately ineffective. His poor judgment in that one area puts his leadership in question and hurts the morale of his entire team.

Good judgment, on the other hand, is the ability to form sound opinions and make sensible decisions. Great leaders and effective managers continually demonstrate good judgment. They’re open minded, they listen well, and they make good decisions based on balanced insight, rather than conjecture or some ill-conceived notion of what’s worked in the past.

Many people who strive to be less judgemental in their personal lives still fall into the trap in their professional lives. It creeps into their hiring choices, their strategic planning, and their marketing plans.

Here’s a classic example that I’ve heard more than once: “Oh, I tried radio, and it doesn’t work.” That particular business owner condemned an entire medium based on one lame attempt… he had a crummy story to tell, a poorly-written script, and a schedule that was thinner than a supermodel on a new year’s resolution. Of course it didn’t work.

I’ve even run into CEOs who are completely biased when it comes to color. They won’t approve any work that involves IBM blue, blue-green, aqua, teal or any other form of that color. How rational is that?

Personal preferences and stereotypes creep into this business constantly. And stereotypes, based on judgmental conclusions at best, are not a helpful component of your marketing program. In fact, poor judgment based on stereotypes or close-mindedness can ruin a small business.

At my firm we go to great lengths to get beyond the usual stereotypical demographic profile of the target audience. One sentence cannot possibly sum up the feelings, attitudes and behaviors of a group! On the creative side, we always try to develop intriguing stories with quirky, unexpected characters. (In Hollywood writing circles it’s common knowledge that most memorable heroes and villains are those that defy traditional stereotypes.)

Here are three stereotypes from the advertising business that I’m familiar with… Copywriters aren’t analytical enough for strategy work. Art directors don’t know a thing about business. And advertising account planners can’t possibly contribute on the creative side.

Nonsense. Ad agencies perpetuate the stereotype by segregating their creative teams from the rest of the staff, but great ideas can come from anywhere. And creative teams pick up a lot of business acumen by listening carefully and working with clients in a wide variety of business categories.

Being judgmental is so common it’s listed as a personality type on Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator tests. It’s also ingrained in American culture. Here’s a recent example from the Olympic track and field competition in Bejing: After Jeremy Wariner won the silver medal in the 400, the first words out of his mouth were: “he’s the better person.”

No he isn’t. He just ran a little faster in one race.

Unfortunately, we judge the quality of the person according to his or her performance. Ironically, we even judge ourselves for being too judgmental.

Blogs are inherently judgmental. The whole idea of an on-line journal lends itself to judgmental rants on just about any subject imaginable. I addressed the soapbox syndrome in my very first post, and I’m working hard to make sure this blog doesn’t digress into a petty critique of the latest marketing blunder.

I urge you to do the same.

Don’t let preconceived notions and stereotypes cloud your judgment when it comes to marketing programs.

Don’t rush to judge someone based on their performance on one day, in one meeting, or on one project.

Make sure you’ve done your homework — your research — before you dive into something.

And most of all, be open minded to new ideas. Throw away the rear-view mirror!

About the Author

I’m a brand strategist, creative director, copywriter and published author living in the very livable town of Bend, Oregon. I’m also an ad agency veteran and owner of BNBranding. Read more about me »

Leave a Reply 2 comments

101DoFollowBlogs Reply

I’ve heard some good things about this blog. Remember to balance the pics with the text tho. cheers!

Lisa Nirell Reply

Hi John,
I enjoyed that roundtable chat with Scott last week as well!
He is the first consultant I’ve met who has a completely “under the radar” brand. He refused to be interviewed, fiilmed, or quoted on anything. He was proud that only one video of him even existed on the Web!
While some of us march quickly to increase our reach through the media, Scott is taking the road less traveled.

For him, it seems to be working!
See you again, and nice post.

Lisa Nirell
EnergizeGrowth LLC
“Helping growth companies shift from worn out to wealthy”

Author of the upcoming book, “EnergizeGrowth NOW: The Marketing
Guide to a Wealthy Company” (Wiley, 2009)

Read this Inc. Magazine Article to learn about how we helped Avanceon increase profits:

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