The Three Big Things That Most Marketers Are Missing

by Holland-Mark | February 29, 2012

I’m usually the guy defending the importance of Marketing. But the truth is, most marketing is worthless, and the same is true for an awful lot of the people who practice it.

It doesn’t need to be that way. The way forward starts with a sober look at where we are, examines how we got here, and focuses on three very big ideas that together represent a powerful vision for the future.

Tough Love

In most big companies, marketing has become what HR used to be… a place for folks who couldn’t cut it in a real job. It’s the place where arty intellectuals can travel, interact with like-minded pretty faces over cocktails, and hide from the accountability that has transformed every other corner of the 21st century corporation. Most marketing people are mediocre. Most marketing is the sexy part of sales without the pesky accountability, and it is worthless. Harsh, perhaps, but too often true.

How did it come to this?

Modern marketing came about in an industrial age, when economic value was realized in economies of scale. If you could make a nickel on a cupie doll, you could make $100,000 on a million identical cupie dolls, as manufacturing technology drove your unit cost of production and distribution downward. The key to realizing this compelling alchemy was to get a million people to want the same thing, and modern advertising was born.

Needing first to grasp what had happened (and later to legitimize themselves) enterprising ad and media execs created the language and metrics of mass marketing. They distanced themselves from the responsibility for garish “sales” to refocus on things that “really mattered” – reach, frequency, cost per thousand – which also happened to be the things they could control. Budgets swelled, tipples tipped, and life was good for the marketing man (and he was a man back then.)

Fifty years on, the world has changed. Economic value is no longer locked in the factors of production, which have been commoditized by globalization and the relentless progress of industrial age technology. The reputation and clout of marketing people has waned. In bad times they are among the first to go; in good times their precious perks have been pruned. Our newspapers lament the dearth of US-born engineering majors at American universities, implying without subtlety that to raise a nation of “marketing people” is to cede our economic, cultural and military dominance to the teeming and industrious East.

A New Hope

In its darkest hour the marketing function has an opportunity for redemption, brought about by an odd trinity: the dawn of social media, the recognition of marketing’s role in driving product innovation, and an increasingly appreciated loyalty metric called Net Promoter Score.

Social media enables us to connect with the outside world – authentically, and personally (unless we do something utterly boneheaded like outsource the Twitter “problem” to some PR firm.) That connection invariably helps us understand what the market wants, and to the extent we share what we learn it empowers us as the Voice of the Customer within our own organizations. It enables an “outside-in” approach to product innovation, led by marketing rather than followed by it. NPS completes the picture, giving us a way to measure the advocacy that builds brands today, just like we used to measure the “impressions” that did the same way back when.

Books have been written about each of these ideas, and the ones linked above are among those worth reading. But taken together I believe they represent a path for the next great generation of Marketing people back to respectability. It is the path back to responsibility for actual Sales; to being the people within a company who truly understand the who, what, where and why of current and prospective customers. It’s an opportunity to become the people inside who are most directly responsible for the people outside – the ones who now control our brands, our fortunes, and our fate.

Through that lens, there’s never been a better time to be a Marketing Person. So long as you’re willing to do the work to be a one that gets results.


This post originally appeared on on February 28th, 2012.