Paradox

We need to consider the challenge of paradox.

“The entire realm of strategy is pervaded by a paradoxical logic very different from the linear logic by which we live in all other spheres of life.” (Luttwak, 2001)

In his excellent book Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace, Edward N. Luttwak is talking about military strategy and the potentially beneficial behaviour of choosing the least ‘logical’ or inefficient approach to defeating one’s enemy. As I read the book, I realized that a similar paradoxical logic is also one of the factors contributing to the wicked problem we face in marketing.

Traditional marketing planning or strategy assumes a rational logic to the behaviour of individuals within a target group. That assumption is further supported by the use of research results to predict the response to a strategy or tactic. The conceit is that if we can figure out the right attributes of our target or figure out the behaviours of our target that are of highest value, then the plan to trigger the appropriate response is a nearly linear ‘if this then that’. But as we struggle with our challenge, it is becoming clear that the underlying logic of marketing is more and more paradoxical. In trying to control as much as we do, are we setting ourselves up for more failure because it is a Sisyphean goal?

Additionally, as we plan, we try to cover as many bases as possible. When there were limited options for reaching consumers, coordination would have been simpler and outcomes easier to manage. Now that there are so many variables at play, trying to keep a hand on every lever and a finger on every pulse may be impossible.

“…although each separate element in its conduct can be quite simple for a well trained force…the totality of those simple things can become enormously complicated when there is a live enemy opposite, who is reacting to undo everything being attempted, with his own mind and his own strength.” (Luttwak, 2001)

The current mind of the consumer actively works to unwind the efforts of marketers. The increasing level of skepticism, doubt, mistrust, self-knowledge, and sophistication works contrary to the marketer’s goal of finding a clear space to generate a consensual hallucination. While marketers try hard to simplify and fit the consumer into a persona or a segment model, the consumers become increasingly complex and difficult to classify.

We need to accept that the landscape is too complex and that we need to act differently than we currently do. We should consider that in the face of this complex monster we need to have a preference for the seemingly inefficient course of action. Taking the time to gold plate a brand or create an intricate ‘big idea’ may be the wrong approach. Perhaps there is a skeletal framework or a lattice structure that can be just enough for the consumers to build their world around. In paradoxical logic, the less articulated a program is may actually make it better.

Luttwak, E.N. (2001). Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

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