The truly great marketing ideas will never come from a best-practice report.

Running With the Bulls

Stock market analysts, those who dabble in an even blacker magic than us, often encourage newbie investors to look forward, not back. They say, looking at a company's past performance is no indication of their future returns.

Indeed, the market is full of those running to the trends that dominate yesterday's results. The trouble is, once the results have occurred, they're literally yesterday's news.

Guess what? It's the same story in strategy and marketing.

“The world is a republic of mediocrities, and always was.”
—Thomas Carlyle, May 13, 1853.

In the hope of revitalizing their product or service, it seems companies immediately look to the competition or history books to see what has worked before: case studies, success stories, winning examples of what other companies did well at some previous point in time. If it worked for them, the logic goes, it shall work for us.

Their are two problems with this approach:

  1. Different place, different time. Case studies, benchmarks and other best practice reports—all discuss products or services that were launched by different companies, at a different time, in a different geographic location, in a different industry, in different market conditions… and a stack of other hard-to-replicate variables.

  2. Best practice is average practice. There is nothing at all wrong with analyzing best practice. Your approach will almost always uncover the industry's better performing processes and ways of doing business. But that's the problem. It won't uncover the best.

“If you keep looking back to see where your competitors are,
you'll never be out in front.” —Anon.

That's left up to you. I fear that marketing departments that look only at best practice will never be truly great. They'll be efficient, sure, and they'll be above average, perhaps.

But to achieve truly remarkable results, to truly innovate, you have to look beyond merely equaling what the competition does, and strive to go way past it.

Don't Make Joe Average Your Marketing Manager Another thing that best practice often requires is adherence to some sort of industry standard.

There's a company in America known as Trane. It is part of a branch of companies owned by a larger group, known inspiringly as American Standard. A billboard for the company near my place of work proudly states that Trane is “an American Standard company.”

Now, droll jokes aside, if you switched the words around, Trane becomes just your average “standard American” company. Not something you'd be proclaiming so loudly!

Best-practice reports often are gleaming with figures that state what the “industry level” is. In engineering and scientific trades, that's all and well and good—but don't see this as the bare minimum, see it as the level that the high-jump bar was set at.

Being a standard company in your industry may be a good start, but it's nothing to be shouting from the rooftops.

And in these days of Total Quality Management and Six Sigma/QA programs becoming more boardroom fact than management hype, best practice is just the beginning.

Conformity Never Wins Awards

“If you try and do what everyone else is doing, you're
bound to get lost in the crowd.” —Anon.

Remember the pitiable, unpopular kid at school? Always being picked on for wearing different shoes or a different hairstyle. Odds are that kid would have attempted at some stage to try and “fit in” by observing what other kids did and trying to emulate it.

Now dressing the same as the in crowd might have meant this kid raised his level of conformity. But who wants conformity?

Notice the similarities between this and best practice analysis? Conforming to best practice is often just that, conformity. And conformity won't get your company to stand out, only fit in.

The truly great ideas will never come out of a best-practice report. Granted, the truly mediocre ones won't, either. Marketing best practice is the safe bet, the run of the mill, the tried and tested.

But that's all it is, and all it ever will be.

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Peter Majarich is an occasional contributor to