Are You Smart Enough For Marketing?

Marketing intelligenceMaybe you’re overly proud of your towering intellect.

Maybe you’re a little insecure about it.

Don’t be either, if you want to succeed in marketing.

My completely unscientific analysis, after 30 years on the job, shows that people who act like the smartest one in the room usually aren’t quite as bright as they think. 

On the other hand, the guy or gal with no pretentions may have deep understanding the others can’t touch.


The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner proposed a model of multiple intelligences in 1983 that says, and I paraphrase, that you can be smart in one area and not so smart in another.

This theory isn’t universally accepted. But it rings true, doesn’t it?

Some people have book smarts. Some have street smarts. Some are brilliant designers. Some know how to tell a great story or joke. Some are genius with numbers or puzzles. Some know how to make other people feel good about themselves.

Maybe you’ve worked with a brilliant scientist or engineer who can’t handle a simple conversation. They’re bright in one area, not so bright in another.


How smart does a marketer need to be?

Perhaps you’ve been in marketing meetings with obviously smart or accomplished people who quickly prove they have no clue how to articulate a benefit, make a sale or even evaluate a brochure or web page.  Yet they impose their opinion on the project.

Video: Who is the smartest guy in this room? 

Then there are the business owners who don’t knock you over with conspicuous intellectualism. Yet they’ve built companies, employed dozens or thousands, and made a huge mark on the world.

This is not to say that people with obvious intelligence don’t or can’t make great marketers. But it’s clear that some aspects of intelligence aren’t always so obvious.


It takes all kinds of intelligence

In marketing, our job is to create and execute plans that build a connection between brands, customers and communities. This requires us to understand our company or client, its products and services; our customers or prospects, their practical needs and feelings; and what our competition is up to.

Maybe your role in all this is to manage a process. Or to challenge assumptions. Or to come up with ideas.  Or execute particular tasks. Or ask questions about things you don’t understand.  (Marketing without inquisitiveness isn’t very bright.)

All these things require particular types of smarts. If you have curiosity, or a love of teaching, solving problems or storytelling, chances are you can play a role, and play it well. 

I no longer get caught off guard by unexpected intelligence, or frustrated by unexpected hard-headedness – even if it’s my own.

What about you? 

18 thoughts on “Are You Smart Enough For Marketing?

  1. Excellent post Barrett! I am a big fan of Gardner. Just as important to me is the idea that along with different intelligences come different learning styles. A teaching mentor of mine had this hanging on her classroom door- We can all learn, but not in the same way, and not on the same day. I believe we can find so much richness through celebrating these differences rather then trying to force an unnatural uniformity. Most people in either discipline don’t want to hear this, but my education degree has been extremely handy to me in my sales career.

    • Rebecca, I’m learning that Gardner has some fans in the ‘sphere. Great point about education and sales – I’m a big fan of “marketing by education.” If we can be better educators, we can be better marketers. What I’m not a fan of is when people who have a certain kind of intelligence, or training, discount people with different kinds of intelligence and training, and the contribution they can make.
      barrett recently posted..Why Marketing Fails In Small and Midsize Businesses

  2. Heh, that commercial reminds me of too many meetings I’ve had to endure. 😉 The tragedy I’m seeing – have been seeing – is as belts have tightened over the last 10+ years, we’ve gotten smarter and dumber. We’re smart in wanting more bang for our bucks, better for running leaner businesses. We’re dumber in that we think it all means sales, that we presume that income in – even at a discount, even at a loss (see also Groupon) – is how to run a biz.

    It’s all deteriorated to turf wars, fighting from budget scraps. From where I sit, the most important thing a biz can have – smart, effective communications – has been shoved out for the flash-of-the-moment marketing/sales. Newsflash: R&D make you money; your HR dept. can make you money, make you more efficient and more capable; your CRM and PR and communications teams can not only make you money, not only can they save you money via efficiencies and innovations – they can do what it takes to build an established, respected brand that makes your business more valuable. FWIW.
    Davina K. Brewer recently posted..Real Time, Words with Friends and the Death of Patience

    • That’s my brother’s favorite commercial of all time. He can barely contain himself when he talks about it.

      It sounds like you’ve been in a lot of meetings with the Smartest Guy In The Room. Or maybe even dealing with the HIPPO — the highest paid person’s opinion. The funny thing you’re describing Davina is just what I was talking about yesterday with a potential business partner: There’s more politics in companies than there is in political campaigns!
      barrett recently posted..Dave Martin, Founder Of The Martin Agency

  3. Talent is overrated, right? You only have to be smart enough.

    Could I sit in your chair and do what you do as well as you do it? Nope, and wouldn’t even pretend I could. However, if I wanted or needed that done I would certainly know how to pull that team together. And, I could ask enough of the ‘right’ questions on the front-end to formulate my strategy.

    You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room to get things done; just be smart enough….
    Bill Dorman recently posted..I am very disappointed in you

  4. I think hard work is underrated. When the answers are obvious, you really need to double check to make sure you asked the right question. And that’s the problem I run into. People leap to conclusions without making sure they understand the source of their problems, or their opportunities.

    You’re right, good leaders can get more done than “experts,” because they’re not concerned that their idea carries the day. They’re more concerned with finding the best ideas, not taking credit for themselves. Which is one of the differences between great agencies and OK agencies.

    Thanks for stopping by Bill! I thought you were disappointed in me, for some reason. 🙂
    barrett recently posted..Taking Social Media By The Horns, Where You Live

  5. Hi Barrett,

    I like to say the best thing about being in my forties is not feeling like I have to prove myself anymore, but I don’t know if people get it sometimes.

    What I mean is I figured out I don’t need to be the smartest guy and that sometimes the best thing I can do is be quiet and listen.

    The situations and scenarios you described here were more familiar to me than I like to think about.

    I wonder how many companies have killed themselves because people couldn’t set aside ego and insecurity long enough to let people really work.
    Josh recently posted..How Do You Measure Power/Influence In Social Media?

    • I love smart people. I just don’t like it when people think they’re smarter than they really are. Or they don’t value what their teammates can contribute.

      They can be a pain when they’re your colleague, and even worse if you have to report to them.

      I was in advertising for a long time. Creative work has to be collaborative. The agencies where the owners took the most pride in letting the people really work, as you say, were the ones that went on to incredible and sustained success.

      Of course, the agency owners provided gentle mentorship and set high standards. The creative process can be brutal. But bosses who are truly interested in your best ideas and your best work are the ones who somehow get your best work.

      It’s great to see you here Josh!
      barrett recently posted..I Need Some WordPress Advice

  6. Hey Barrett

    I don’t have a background in marketing or sales but I like story-telling, solving problems and have a love of teaching.

    Some things getting discussed on the blogs I visit make my head hurt but I’ll always try to get in on the conversation as that’s the way I’m going to learn.

    I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not a smart marketer or whether it’s just inexperience. Only time will tell!
    Tim Bonner recently posted..Do You Have A Disaster Recovery Plan?

    • Tim, it’s always amazed me how people can step into marketing, with no particular training, and hit the ground running. While others, who may be accomplished in other ways, have trouble. Since you have a love of teaching, I think you have a leg up.

      A few years ago the term “marketing by education” was getting some traction. I think it’s been replaced by “content marketing.” Either way, people are seeking information before they buy anything — from candy bars to cars to massive computer systems. If you like to teach, there’s a place for you in marketing. (My humble opinion!)
      barrett recently posted..Dave Martin, Founder Of The Martin Agency

  7. Another great example of this is the documentary-ish (?) “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” http://youtu.be/oHJBdDSTbLw

    Watching it made me sad and giddy at the same time. *While slapping my forehead and saying WTF?*

    Just be whatever you want to be and label yourself whatever you want to call it. Boom!

  8. Sorry hit enter too early on my previous comment. I had more to say.

    One of my teachers was an assistant to Harry Gardner when she was getting her degree. She introduced his theory to students during my first year as an undergrad. It makes a lot of sense. I learn best when I can read the material. Audio and visual presentations do very little for my brain.

    The lesson for marketers is not of intelligence, but accommodating those learning styles. Adopting to video or visual bookmarking like Pinterest to their activities. Even audio podcasts can be helpful for some.

  9. Pingback: Marketing Messages Need to be Stronger - Clarity for the Boss

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