The concept of an individual being a genius (versus the local spirit) is a 20th-century invention. One of the greatest BtoB marketers of all time, Thomas Edison, famously proclaimed, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Notice that the 19th-century Edison wasn't referring to himself as a genius; he was merely saying that the fruits of his labor were largely due to his own hard work and not the genius loci.
Another 19th-century marketing legend, P.T. Barnum, once said, "Without promotion, something terrible happens ... nothing!" Inspiration found Barnum when he was selling lottery tickets. He came to realize that he wasn't selling tickets at all; he was selling dreams. Among Barnum's most brilliant marketing tactics were his extraordinary posters and newspaper advertisements that didn't promote tickets or shows; they promoted stories, adventures, bragging rights and dreams.
But until this time, genius equated with luck. Some people seemed to have more of it than others but it was seen as something that was visited upon them, not something inherent in their abilities. It wasn't until the 20th century that psychologists developed tests for creativity and IQ.
I believe that marketing genius, like IQ, can be measured on a bell curve. Most marketers are average, and for every marketing genius there's a marketing moron (Don't give me that look; you know I'm right!). The mass in the center of the curve has a certain gravitational pull that keeps the curve in shape. The only thing that keeps terrible marketers from falling completely off the chart is their ability to employ turn-key marketing tactics, or simply to do what they did last year, for better or worse. Their plans are chock-full of "once and done" tactics, with no thought given to the overall strategy. Meanwhile, the marketing geniuses are dragged back to the center of the curve by inflexible systems and processes, or unimaginative stakeholders petrified to take the risk of exploring something new.
$137.8B U.S. ad spend for top 200 advertisers
So whether our genius erupts from within us, or we are infused with the spirit of our workplace, great marketing will only happen when we gather the strength to resist the pull to the middle of the curve. Inspiration is only 1%; it takes 99% perspiration to stay well above average.
What do you say? As we ring in 2014, let's all make a resolution to nurture our marketing genius at least once. Let's be passionate. Let's remember why we got into this profession. Let's carve out a small part of our budget and eschew the "tried and true." We'll be thoughtful. We'll be creative. We'll take risks, yes, but they'll be calculated risks.
It' will be … genius.