Concept Testing

If there’s one thing guaranteed to raise people’s hackles about marketing, it’s the concept of a “target market”. Nobody likes to be told they’re predictable. Particularly as (in general) they’re not. But demographic targeting is one part of a larger concern – brand positioning, the creation (or discovery!) of a Unique Selling Point for a commodity. Marketing in this active sense – as opposed to passive attempts to sell an existing product without changing it – is not entirely dissimilar to conceptualism in art. One begins with an idea which one then moves to realise in the marketplace or aesthetic space.

But the creation of a brand positioning is still only half the story. It’s a promise made to the consumer and that promise needs to be delivered on by the reality of the product. People who dislike conceptual art will often say that once you’ve grasped or formulated the concept, what is the point of seeing – or making – the finished artwork? This is missing the point, though – conceptual art which offers nothing beyond its concept is bad conceptual art: the presence of the finished art, the interaction between concept and realisation and viewer, is where the impact and value appears. Delivery on the promise. And something more – an artwork which was precisely and only what a verbal description suggested would also be a failed artwork, I think.

This to me is the failure of marketing. Its ever-more-finessed definitions of brand positions and offers work in its disfavour. If you are being made continually aware of that a brand is meant to be then the chances of surprise or delight when you encounter it are dependent on its stepping outside those expectations*, but the zealous guardianship and territorial mentality of brand positionings make such delight almost impossible. As long as success is defined only by the precision of delivery people will continue to chafe against marketing and distrust it. The profession could learn a lot from art.

*(In business-speak you come across “exceeding expectations” a great deal. But it means “meeting expectations but more so” rather than “doing something surprising”)