25 October 2016 by Richard Parsons

Marketers Should Be Architects

“No person who is not a great sculptor or painter can be an architect. If he is not a sculptor or painter, he can only be a builder.

So said John Ruskin, Victorian critic and patron of the arts. What I think he was getting at is that architects have to be multi-faceted – to encompass both the creative and the practical.

We marketers have to be able to do the same.

The architect has an idea following close consultation with the client. The task is not simply to make real what the client imagines, but to show them something better that they couldn’t imagine – to surpass expectations. That takes creativity and empathy.

Buildings that are well designed have a consistent idea flowing through them, a coherent philosophy, from the door-handles to the roofline. They are not disjointed and piecemeal. Buildings that have no design, but are simply thrown up by a builder willy-nilly, tend to be less aesthetically pleasing, less functional and simply not as good.

That initial creativity – the spark of the big idea – can start out life as an inauspicious squiggle on the back of an envelope, as the design for BBC TV Centre in Shepherd’s Bush famously did. Some of Le Corbusier’s early designs began as two or three brush strokes only. There were no plans at all for Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic house ‘Falling Water’ – dramatically cantilevered over a waterfall - three hours before the clients were due to arrive to inspect them. Frank bashed them out in time because the entire design was perfectly formed in his head. That’s where creativity begins and ends. In our heads, not in focus groups or data sets.

But I can’t help but notice, the real problem here is that B2B agencies have seriously divested in the idea stage and now, too often, go straight to execution. Some even confuse their studio (the execution stage), with a creative department (the idea generation stage). It has all become a bit cart and no horse.

If we are not creative in our thinking, we can only carry out the ideas of others. Builders follow plans and often go awry without them. As marketers we have to be the designers and the builders, coming up with the big idea – the grand design – but also making it a reality using all the specialist trades at our disposal.