Spock and Kirk and Marketing

Rutherford and Knowles (2008) highlight the tensions between finance and marketing. Their book goes by the title of “Vulcans, Earthlings and Marketing ROI”. The central thesis being that finance people are steady and logical, Vulcan in Star Trek, while marketers exciting and emotional, Earthlings. I admire the organization and the writing — the book is punchy, it makes its points and moves on.

Though I cringed when they credited Teddy Roosevelt with FDR’s fear itself quote (page 35) I’m largely positive. I especially loved Tim Ambler’s quote for the cover. “Stupid Title. Intelligent book.” The authors explain that Ambler has a problem with the focus on ROI. They don’t mention whether Ambler hated the “Vulcans and Earthlings” part of the title but my guess is that he did as it is pretty silly. That said it is memorable so I’m not saying they were wrong to use it.

Ambler’s complaint about ROI not being a perfect metric is an important discussion that I’ll return to in later posts. Rutherford and Knowles are also loose in their definition of return on investment. As a discipline marketers need to be much clearer about what we mean by ROI. (Though, to be fair that isn’t the aim of their book.)

Here I’ll dispute their notion that marketers are emotional and finance people logical. I think it is important that we get away from the perception that marketing is all about flashes of genius. In Star Trek whenever the writers ascribed brilliance to Kirk’s human instincts it was only because they were too lazy to think of a real reason for Kirk’s triumphs. They had to explain why Kirk was in charge when Spock was obviously better at everything. As marketers we really should try to be a little more Vulcan.

I’d also argue that marketers should stop describing finance people as logical. A lot of the assumptions in finance can be pretty incoherent. We need to recognize that finance people are also earthlings, they depart from logic more than they might like to admit.

Business success for all of us, marketers and finance people, involves using logic while not abandoning creativity. We all need to be from both Vulcan and Earth, we must all be half Vulcan and half human. This best of both worlds personality actually describes the half-Vulcan Spock. What can I say he really should have been made captain over Kirk.

Finally, my apologies if you don’t like Star Trek, this post probably doesn’t make any sense to you.

Read: Vulcans, Earthlings and Marketing ROI: Getting Finance, Marketing and Advertising onto the Same Planet, 2008, Wilfred Laurier Press.