Different horses for different courses: How the big 4 marketing metaphors work together
This is part of a series of articles looking at the way deep metaphor patterns our thought in marketing. You will be able to find more articles in the coming weeks
Key take away: the metaphors we use to thinking about describe different aspects of the same situation – and reveal different truths
Different perspectives, different metaphors
It should be noted that while all the metaphors we market by (the <Journey>, the <War>, the <Relationship> and the <Exchange>) relate to the same general <field>, they don’t quite overlap. They describe the challenge of marketing from quite different perspectives, which can itself be illuminating. And understanding the perspective from which the metaphor operates also helps us understand the logical limits of the metaphor itself.
If we start with the <war> metaphor, we can ask: who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? And what we can see is that there may not be any bad guys at all. The <war> is usually described from one point of view: we are the general, the strategeos, the man (or woman) with the plan. We have many <weapons> at our disposal; <marshalling> the <tactics> to deliver the <plan of attack>; but we never actually <defeat> our <enemies>. And we see that what the <war> metaphor is really all about preparing for battle, rather than fighting it. Deep down, it about describing any complicated task. Images of choosing and combining options could be taken from other fields with the same effect. The brand planner could easily be thought of as a chef combining flavours or cooking techniques; or a doctor considering their armamentarium of different interventions; or even a teacher putting together learning objectives.
But what she could not be thought of doing is being a private (or a patient, or a pupil or a punter). The <war> metaphor doesn’t really work like this: what it is describing is the complexity of having to make choices under pressure. It is useful in helping us understand what it is like to be a marketing manager; it breaks down when it has to describe the process of marketing itself.
Journey as process
The <journey> is much better at helping us understand the vagaries of the marketing process. By switching language of time (which is hard to understand) for the language of distance (which is much easier to understand), we can map out a series of events in time as if they were events in space. First people <start> to become aware of the brand, then they get to being interested, then they go through the decision stage before arriving at action. The point of view here is far more removed: we’re not emotionally engaged, <in the trenches> as we are with the <war> metaphor. Instead, our perspective is detached, and we observe a process that is happening to someone else.
What makes the <journey> metaphor so useful is that we know that we might not get there. We are observing customers on a journey, and while we fondly hope that they can be <driven> or <led> to our chosen destination (usually, the cash register), we know full well that they can <fall by the wayside> pretty easily. When we hear people adapt the journey metaphor to that of the <factory> or <assembly line>, with customers traveling without deviation to the checkout till, we know that something has gone wrong because it’s never that simple.
Risky relationships (and exchanges)
The perspective of the <relationship> or the <exchange> is different again. Here, the metaphor helps us make sense of an interaction with an independent entity. Instead of seeing things from the perspective of someone having to do something complicated, or a process playing out over time, what these metaphors help us understand is the uncertainty and risk of failure when dealing with other people. These people have their own intentions and objectives, which may or may not align with our objectives. Describing this potential lies at the heart of these metaphors.
Where they go wrong is when we overfit the logic of one field to the other. Sure, purchasing toilet paper requires some sort of relationship between and brand and buyer: but is it love? What sort of deal are we entering into when we spend time watching an ad, really? Our relationships with brands are a bit like our relationships with people, but only a bit. We butt up against the logical limits of the metaphor pretty quickly – or at least we should.
What? The metaphors we use actually describe different aspects of the experience of marketing
So what? Though the different metaphors use different logics, they are not necessarily incommensurate
Now what? Understand the perspective from which the metaphor is coming from and you will be able to understand where it will lead