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Last night before bed, because I am a nerd, I was reading the Code of Hammurabi. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the Babylonian king Hammurabi wrote a series of laws onto giant blocks of stone. These blocks of stone were placed in public venues so that everyone could see the laws and no one could claim ignorance of the law.

The code of hammurabiPhoto credit: Rama

Codes and laws work well because they are heuristics; instead of having to reason out and judge every problem individually, they offer mental shortcuts as to what to do in a particular situation. Here are a few examples from Hammurabi’s code:

Law 6: If any one steal the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death, and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death.

Law 48: If any one owe a debt for a loan, and a storm prostrates the grain, or the harvest fail, or the grain does not grow for lack of water; in that year he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tablet in water and pays no rent for this year.

Law 112: If any one be on a journey and entrust silver, gold, precious stones, or any movable property to another, and wish to recover it from him; if the latter do not bring all of the property to the appointed place, but appropriate it to his own use, then shall this man, who did not bring the property to hand it over, be convicted, and he shall pay fivefold for all that had been entrusted to him.

The problem with codes and laws in general is that the more laws you have, the less freedom you have to make your own decisions. An overabundance of rules, guides, codes, laws, etc. Boxes you in and blocks your creativity to solve problems. This is a doubly true in marketing.

Think about all of the marketing “rules” you have read about. People have published rules about how long a press release should be, how long the blog post should be, the optimum number of words in the title, the optimal number of words in a tweet, the best time to tweet, the best time to post on Facebook, the best time to send an e-mail, how long an e-mail should be… the list is nearly endless. If you obey all of these rules, you reduce marketing to nothing more than the manual labor. If you obey all these rules, you deny yourself any level of flexibility to deal with unexpected changes. If it’s not in the rules, then it doesn’t get done, or worse, if it’s not in the rules, you’re paralyzed into inaction and the opportunity goes away or the crisis overtakes you.

Some level of rules, laws, and guidelines is appropriate. Hammurabi had the minimum number of laws carved into large blocks of stone. When you’re manually chiseling the law into diorite (a stone harder than granite), you only put in writing what is most necessary, and in the most concise way possible. Likewise, when you’re setting up guides, rules, and policy for your marketing program, consider what the bare minimum is you’d want to set down.

If you wanted to go to an extreme, buy a Dremel and a slab of granite from your local home improvement store and consider what you’d be willing to literally carve into stone out of your existing marketing manual or strategy guide. Every time you read about a new set of marketing rules on your marketing news site of choice, ask yourself if you believe in what’s being said enough that you’d willingly carve it into stone.

You’ll figure out what is absolutely essential and what is not very quickly.

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