The Gilligan Effect in B2B Marketing

Image from Gilligan's Island (CBS Series 1964-1967) “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip
When marketing lost its way, and sales began to slip…”

Let’s face it.  Marketers are castaways.
Okay maybe not you per se.

But take a good look around you. Chances are, some of your b2b marketing colleagues suffer from what I call The Gilligan Effect.

an impairment in foresight, motivation, discernment or mental acuity that,
when applied to marketing problems, leads you nowhere

The Gilligan effect is aptly described by characteristics of colleagues you know, who resemble traits of the seven shipwrecked TV personae. Let’s examine which characters are foils for b2b marketers; you know – those who give you Cabin Fever.

Thurston Howell, III
Your ticket to ride. Your big media, three martini lunch. Old money. Doesn’t quite understand that on the island, as in The Circle of Trust, cash is not all that useful. Spends it anyway.

The Professor
One of the smartest people you’ll ever know. Academic wing-nut. Font of technical knowledge. Most of it, completely useless. Like many b2b marketers, lets a fascination with tools and technology overshadow common sense.

Ginger Grant
Face it. Everyone wants their marketing to look great. Especially marketing headed for a shipwreck. ‘Nuff said.

The Skipper
Part Commander-in-Chief, part Teddy Bear. Strong and noticeably reticent when it comes to originating new ideas. Ever at the ready to flog you with your own PowerPoint deck when you screw up. Seems to forget the buck stops with him.

Mary Ann
Ah, the age of innocence. The Gen-Y intern charged with running your Social Media initiatives. Not limited by imagination – but hampered by structure, thinking, mentors and culture. Will eventually leave you for deeper waters when she discovers her capacity for growth is anchored, like the SS Minnow, to a shallow inlet.

Mrs. Howell
Classically educated and pedigreed. Steeped in tradition she struggles to preserve the status quo. Probably gives Mary Ann really helpful guidance on Social Media, proper use of brand iconography, and of course – the dress code. Bristles at the idea that commoners can be more influential than she.  Refuses to give +K to make your day.

Gilligan
Affable and off-target, while he is the workhorse on the island – he seems to be doing the wrong things, wrong. In B2B marketing teams, he handles the chum, and grits through the grunt work. We laud him for his pace, and lampoon him on his impact.

You see Gilligan and the others represent a classic management paradox, allowing our marketing to appear more like a line segment than a Circle of Trust: the shortcut in buyer insights, the unremarkable idea, the confusing landing page, the social shiller, the “look how much data we’ve got” reports that are much ado about nothing.

I know these are problems with any function – but as B2B marketers – a profession in transition, we need to find ways to deal with the Gilligan effect.  Personal point of view, stewardship of a change agenda, commitment to education (including sharing ideas that matter), empowerment to stop the line, mentorship of individuals – these are just a few ways as leaders we can move from grinding it out like Gilligan, to Market Like a Wonka.


I would love to hear which character gives you the most difficulty in transforming your B2B marketing.

Too much Ginger? Trouble keeping the Professor focused? Tired of Mrs. Howell’s ‘help’? Weigh in.


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5 thoughts on “The Gilligan Effect in B2B Marketing

  1. Thanks so much for your comments and shares!

    Chris – I think organizations that figure out how to nurture the “Mary Ann” in their midst will win.

    Trish – Amen!! Constructive disruption is a part of evolution. We all work with great people like the Howell’s. Tricky part is how to navigate to common ground.

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