Faulty Assumptions + Inertia = Group Think Gone Bad.
While I'm sure that this has always been a problem inherent to human nature, the relatively recent boon of social media has caused it to explode. Here's a quick synopsis of how it seems to work:
1 - someone of relatively high esteem to a certain subgroup of the marketing community addresses a topic, provides his/her perspective of the relevant facts, and makes a bold and attention grabbing conclusion (usually about how ridiculous the actions of other marketers in a certain situation have been).
2 - the subgroup of folks who hold the high regard for the source then jump on the bandwagon, praise the conclusions, and add their own unique spin so that they appear to add value.
3 - subgroups of marketers who then hold this broader subgroup in high regard repeat step 2.
4 - the cycle repeats, with the individual in step 1 broadening their reach to the outer subgroups and the entire story gaining more credibility and greater acceptance as fact.
OK, so it doesn't always spin that far out of control - but the steps listed above are very often not too far from the truth.
So, here's the problem... What if the 'facts' laid out in step 1 by the originator are not facts at all? What if the 'facts' are really assumptions - and faulty ones at that? What if these assumptions were made to conveniently fit a pre-conceived conclusion? (not maliciously, per se, but many times it just seems to work out that way...). The end result is that through the supposed enlightened debate that originates from the original thesis and conclusion, the originating underlying assumptions gain a de facto status as fact.
Often, the folks who jump on the conversation bandwagon never stop to question the 'facts' (assumptions). That, of course, is the boring part of the whole exercise. They are all too happy, though, to skip to the end and weigh in on the conclusions (most often, again, related to someone else's obvious mistakes and the smarter, more strategic, more creative ways they would have handled the situation.)
This, my friends, is dangerous and is indicative of a greater problem within the marketing community. As past BMC speaker Kevin Clancy eloquently points out in the title of his last book..."Your Gut Is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head."
Here's a recent example of how something like this plays out: I belong to a special interest group on branding within the American Marketing Association. A topic was created with the title: Another Brand Bites The Dust. It was a conversation-starter related to the recent news that a deal to sell SAAB had fallen through. The main question was 'What really killed the brand?"
The immediate chatter focused on how GM was to blame for taking this successful brand and killing it. Then the storm began of add-on comments which aimed to pinpoint exactly which stupid actions by GM resulted in taking this once wildly successful brand and running it into the ground. They marketed to the mean, they didn't innovate, they priced it too high, etc...
This conversation went on the majority of the day with not one single person questioning the original assumption that SAAB was once a successful brand. In order for GM to 'kill' it, the implication was that SAAB had been a success until it was taken over and run into the ground by the US auto giant.
The only problem is...that isn't true. The reality is that, prior to GM acquiring 50% of SAAB in 1989, SAAB was a perennial money-loser. In fact, prior to GM, SAAB had been experiencing heavy financial losses for nearly a decade and in 1989 was forced to shut one of its plants.
And so, a early offering of faulty assumptions, which quickly became accepted as fact, gained steam and generated a days worth of conversation and conclusions which stemmed from a flawed starting point.
My fear is that with all the 'experts' these days (many of whom, nay, most of whom bestow that title upon themselves!) the marketing community as a whole has become a bit lazy. Of course, it is easier to accept things as truths - but it is also far more dangerous. It happens in popular culture, in intellectual discourse, and, perhaps most dangerously, in the way businesses are run and decisions are made.
Question assumptions. Check facts. Conclude responsibly.