Kardashian Index in Marketing: Digital Media and the Spread of Marketing

the kardashian index
the kardashian index
Image courtesy of Koen Pauwels

Thanks to my esteemed colleague, Koen Pauwels, for this analysis called the Kardashian Index in marketing — an index of marketers who contribute to pop marketing and those who make a difference in the marketing academy.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, you know the Kardashians. They’re a family of celebrities from the reality TV show “Keeping up with the Kardashians”. Possessing little talent except for making the headlines with their antics (including decathlon champion Bruce Jenner’s recent transition to a woman named Caitlin Jenner – a truly masculine woman and Kim Kardashian’s weekend marriage – ok it lasted a little more than that).

Despite their objective lack of talent, all the Kardashians are power brokers on social media who change mores and fashion trends at will as sethe kardashian indexen in this post on Twitter from Kim:

Celebrity scientists

Recently, scientists like Krauss and Hall explored the phenomenon of scientists who become bigger than life — folks like Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan. Krauss questions whether celebrity scientists are good for science and how they gained celebrity status.

Some celebrity scientists gain notoriety due to their scientific accomplishments while others through their ability to share scientific truths with non-scientists.

Kraus says this about celebrity scientists:

public acclaim is often uncorrelated to scientific accomplishment and depends more on communication skills and personality traits

He argues that regardless of what provided celebrity status, celebrity scientists are good for science because they disseminate information that counters folklore, encourages future scientists, and brings credible scientific information to a wider audience.

This celebrity process backfires when researchers are so motivated to become a celebrity they manufacture research findings they know will propel them into the media. Such was the case of  Dr. Andrew Wakefield who caused an immunization scare by citing them as causing autism. While his research was retracted, many children get ill or die because their parents believed his research.

While celebrity status relies on individual scientists and their ability to attract and retain public attention, those most valuable to society balance their research prowess with an ability to spread finding beyond other academics. Those too far from the lab workbench fall prey to the antics of celebrity seekers like Wakefield while those buried in their labs, fail to make a strong contribution to society because their research lives in obscurity.

Marketing celebrities

In marketing, we have a similar situation — especially in the area of digital marketing. First, we have far too many non-scientists holding themselves out as gurus of digital marketing and leading followers astray with findings that are context-specific (and thus won’t work when followers implement them) or rediscovering concepts well-known in marketing already. Second, too many marketing scientists (yes, marketing is a social science) spend their research efforts on trivialities that matter little to marketing practitioners. Finally, research from forward-thinking social scientists languishes in the review and publication process so long the findings are obsolete before they’re even seen by anyone outside the journal.

Marketing researchers need to think beyond traditional publication outlets and spread the word through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to guide practitioners toward success. Yet, academics have little incentive for such endeavors. No tenure committee considers influence on Twitter or other social networks in judging the contribution of a candidate for tenure. No marketing chair will award research money or travel expenses to a faculty member interested in sharing their findings with a practitioner audience.

There’s a disjoint between marketing academics and practitioners that hold back economic growth.[Tweet “marketing academics and practice don’t talk – holding back growth”]

Kardashian index for marketing

Dr. Pauwels sought to bridge the distance between academics and practice by highlighting researchers who achieve a balance between the two, as well as academics who gather a vibrant digital marketing community interested in learning and applying marketing concepts to practice.

Koen developed the Kardashian index for marketing — an analysis that ranks marketing academics based on influence in the Twittersphere as well as academic credibility through citations of their journal articles. If you’re interested, you can read his post here.

I won’t bore you with the scientific and mathematical manipulations he used to develop the graphic or argue over the relevance of the data used, let’s just assume there’s merit behind creating a Kardashian index for digital marketers. I believe there’s also an argument for encouraging marketers to assess their own standing on the Kardashian index and trying to improve their performance not only in academic terms (citations), but social media references (followers, RT, likes, etc).

I’m happy to be one of the marketing top marketers in the Kardashian index in terms of my balanced contribution to both marketing academics (with over 1700 citations from fellow researchers) and Twitter followers (with over 30K — please join me. I’m at MarketingLetter). Of course, I left formal academics 1 1/2 years ago to assume my current position as CMO and now act as a fractional CMO for several startups.

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