Marketing – Dead or Alive And Stronger Than Ever?

Gun Toting Gurus Claim Marketing Is Dead

Marketing - Wanted Dead or Alive

I find this over-exaggerated claim that Marketing is dead rather disingenuous as these same gun slinging gurus make their living doing what?  Marketing.

Which gurus am I referring to? Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide is one, who at The IoD’s Annual Convention in London this month claimed marketing as dead as a door nail with his comments that in today’s crazy world strategy is dead, the big idea is dead, management is dead and marketing, as we know, is also dead.

The other is Bill Lee of Lee Consulting Group focusing on Customer Engagement in the Harvard Business Review blog.

Are these gun toting gurus telling the truth or are they just using some public relations melodrama to attract some “marketing” attention?

I think it is the latter and here’s why I think they’re full of PR hooey.

Definition of Marketing

I want you to hold on to your chaps and spurs when I say this…but many don’t know or simply forgot the definition of marketing.  I first noticed this with our move from Chicago to the West Coast 20 years ago.  In the West, “Marketing” is the term often used to gussy up a sales job.

It is treated like a “soft” skill by hard nosed engineers in the high tech industries…right up there with basket weaving.

Out where the doggies roam, if one says they are a “marketer” it seems to imply that they know how to do graphics, work Photoshop, rope a website, sell, speak in several languages and can do telemarketing.

All of these skills are related to marketing, BUT this is NOT MARKETING!

Not where I come from.

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but where I come from we really believed in Drucker’s words…

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

In my words, marketing is the combination of actions that connects a customer to a company’s products. 

Yes, this can involve a website or a brochure, but way before that flashy website and glossy brochure are created, someone has to sit down and THINK!

Someone has to define their business in a way that sets them apart from all other businesses selling to the same customers = USP, Unique Selling Proposition, Differentiation, Branding, Positioning

Someone has to create and deliver a product or a service that fills a want or need for a defined set of customers  = Research, Product development, Targeting

Someone has to communicate with customers and give them a reason to want or need that product = Communications, Media (which today includes website and social media) and Sales

Someone has to figure out how to deliver it in a way that makes the customer walk away satisfied = customer service, post sales communications

Someone has to repeat this process over and over.

Marketing is not static.  The need for marketing doesn’t rise and fall with the size of an audience for a particular media channel.

Marketing is always present and it is very, very dynamic.  Smart marketing evolves just like science evolves with more discoveries, or as technology evolves through increased capacity.  And just like the customers being served because good marketing is based on the premise of meeting the customers’ needs.

Bill Lee’s Says This Is All DEAD

If you listen to Lee, he flatly claims that “traditional marketing” is dead.  He supports this claim by identifying three facts.

1.  Customers aren’t listening to traditional media

Lee says this as he points to a McKinsey research study (a.k.a. part of the marketing process) that outlines how consumers are evolving and identifies the impacts this has on the way companies communicate and market their products.  You’ll find this interesting video below this post.

He claims that the Internet and word-of-mouth have greater influence.

HELLO?  Is this really a news flash?  Word-of-mouth or WOM has been the holy grail for companies since the beginning of time. Referrals from friends and associates, testimonials, etc. have ALWAYS had far more influence on the customer than advertising or public relations.

Does the Internet change how people capture their information and their referrals?  Absolutely.  That’s been obvious for the last 10 years, which is about the amount of time it took to make the Internet a mainstream communications channel and far less novel than Lee infers.

2.  CEO’s are losing Patience with CMOs

Lee goes on to point to a study of 600 CEOs complaining that “CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric“.

Really?  And we’re to start shaking in our boots because a bunch of overpaid, city slicker CEOs are griping about what marketing is costing today?  I don’t think so,

Show me one of these 600 CEOs who has ever gotten in a gully with a customer or been actively involved in the development of their products and services and I’ll listen.  Otherwise, I don’t really care about their opinion.

Most are not concerned about the customer, which should be held in god-like esteem by true marketers.  Most CEOs only focus on the stock price because their bonuses are tied to the vagaries of Wall Street and the size of their golden parachutes when they mess up.  They run their businesses on the quarter-to-quarter mind set.  This is hardly a group of cowboys I want to ride with into marketing territory.

3.  Extending traditional marketing logic into the world of social media doesn’t work

Lee claims that instead of “traditional marketing”, companies should be applying peer-to-peer marketing efforts and he goes on to cite several examples where such efforts have helped to make inroads into new sales, curb smoking, etc.

Let’s get something straight.  I really don’t know of anyone in marketing worth their salt who isn’t well aware of the need for more active involvement online or of the value of peer-to-peer marketing strategies.

This “new” community approach Mr. Lee is espousing is not new.  It is the same elixir that has always moved marketing.

Marketing has always been a big gulp of common sense and in answering the following questions

  • Who do I want to reach?
  • What do I have to offer them?
  • Why should they believe me?
  • Where will I find them?
  • How can I best reach them?

There Are Changes – But It Isn’t the Death of Marketing

In my mind, there are two things that have and will continue to change.

1.  Marketing is stronger than ever.

The smart companies are discovering, perhaps for the first time, that marketing really is very important to the growth of the bottom line.  It isn’t some sissy sport like riding a horse backwards or slapping a snazzy brochure together.  It is more, much more.

Marketing is serious business.

It involves a number of different disciplines (sociology, mathematics, art and design, business, futuristic thinking, etc.) rarely found in one individual.

When done right, it makes all the difference in the world.  Ala Apple.

When ignored or done poorly, it makes all the difference in the world.  Ala Netflix, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Verizon, Best Buy and the list of corporate bloopers goes on.

2.  Customers are empowered, finally.

What is dead, truly dead, are the days when companies could say one thing and deliver something inferior and not pay a price.

What is dead are the days when corporations could arbitrarily raise rates to make their bottom lines prettier at the customer’s expense and the customers would quietly accept it.

What is dead are the days of when corporations could ignore the customer and deliver shoddy service or inferior products.

With the Internet and social media, customers are realizing their real worth.  They have ceased acting like herded cattle and are demanding that companies deliver on their promises.  They are taking to the Internet when service stinks and when companies try to take advantage of them.

They are become true customers, who are demanding respect from corporations – long over due.

To that, I take off my hat.  ’bout time.

The McKinsey video is below and I do suggest you view it.  It is sharing some interesting research findings about how customers’ purchasing process is shifting.

How do you feel about the death of marketing?  Truth or fiction?  Share your thoughts in the comments section.


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Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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  1. Sheila… I just hate those that sling crap out there even if they know it’s not true, but use it to gain clicks, to get headlines.. Yes, I guess that is all part of marketing, but maybe falls under “misleading marketing.”

    Marketing will never go away, especially since the definition has grown to a larger use and to a larger audience. Sure, many call themselves marketers as way as a flashy web site or brochures, as you mentioned above. But it’s deeper than that and you explained it well. Nice job on breaking it down…

  2. Sheila, I don’t think Roberts is saying “Marketing is dead”, he is saying ” ‘Marketing’ is dead.”. He is also declaring that no longer is “innovation” simply of products, it is now woven into “marketing” and company culture/decision making.

    In thinking about Marketing definitions perhaps a simpler one helps: That which has to do with the Market”. Social Media works best when we stop thinking primarily of our audience as consumers that are in a Market. The market analogy – think back to the crowded agora of Greece – is perhaps not the most productive one in Social Media. We are not trying to voice our wares over and above others voicing their wares, per se. We are using digital relationships in innovative ways to foster new kinds of bonds that previously never existed before. “Marketing” is Dead because so much more is possible and the Market picture only tells part of the story.

    • Kevin, thanks for adding to the conversation.

      There is some of what Roberts cited that I would agree with…corporate ladder climbs making people stupid; our world is speeding up, etc. But the concept that ‘marketing; as we know it is dead, I continue to disagree. My premise is that ‘marketing’ has always been about creating relationships with or without social media. This is not new with social media.

      Further, I find Robert’s point that “Marketing’s jobs is to create movement and inspire people to join you.”
      to be about as old as the Agora of Greece. This has always been the job oif good marketing. The fact that many corporations and large advertising agencies didn’t address that issue very well prior to social media’s eruption, doesn’t make it not so.

      The idea that “we’re using digital relationships…to foster new kinds of bonds that previously never existed before“, I feel is a over-exaggeration. Bonds between consumers and products have always existed. The generations of loyal Chevy buyers, the “I only use Shell” purchaser, the person who still buys Campbell soup in spite of the high sodium content because it reminds them of their childhood.

      Is there really anything new about “reaching out to an individual consumer”? I don’t think so. What about the sales person…a profession as old as time? What about customer service? Can these vehicles be more innovative. Absolutely…but, again, that has ALWAYS been the case.

      Social media has power, just as any media does when properly used. Just because many corporations and some of the large agencies are just getting with the program, doesn’t make social media the panacea of all things marketing.

      But then that is this cow girl’s point of view. Again, thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  3. I do believe that traditional marketing is dying but still holds significant value in an overall strategy. However, there is nothing like communicating directly with your target audience through Social Media and having that audience share with their friends.

    • Kellie, thanks for your comments.

      I think many confuse “marketing” with “media”. Marketing involves a lot more than just the media vehicles being used. Marketing is the thinking that goes behind the product development, the understanding of consumers’ wants and needs.

      While it is a great tool for communicating directly with your target, marketing is not defined by social media.

  4. Super good topic and very interesting perspective Sheila! You got me thinking up all kinds of ideas on this big time! You’ve even helped me drum up a great idea for the slogan to my new blog, thank you :) I’ll let you know if I end up using it.

    I do think that effective marketing is evolving towards a deeper level of communication.

    I feel like in the past and most of the present, marketing was/is about studying psychology/consumer behavior and then taking advantage of people’s human nature. Television commercials with hidden messages, radio and print ads that use fear to influence people. This is probably why many people in present day society don’t hold a high level of trust businesses. In other words, we logically buy things because they’ve been trained to think that we need it, however we have a deeper feeling of mistrust toward the company.

    The problem that I see with this is that it works very well for short-term influence and making money immediately. This is why it’s so popular in business and present day society.

    Fortunately, social media has created an incredibly transparent ‘looking glass’ so to speak that has allowed people to expose business activities that take advantage of people.

    In short, because communication (social media) is becoming so much more advanced or ‘intimate’ between human beings and businesses, marketing is going to have to evolve. By evolve I mean that society is no longer going to put up with shallow and manipulative marketing tactics that are based in and take advantage of traditional psychology and consumer behavior.

    Businesses are going to have to evolve to be better leaders. ‘Leadership is the new Marketing’, holy crap that’s my new blog tagline, thank you Sheila! By leaders, I don’t mean the people/businesses with greatest market share, the loudest, most opinionated, strongest personalities or brand recognition.

    By leaders, I mean the people/businesses that have the most solid character and operate their business and marketing campaigns based on basic leadership principles like integrity, respect, humility, fairness, courage, honesty, and responsibility.

    Those are the people/businesses that will gain trust, strengthen loyalty, and grow long-term positive influence going forward. This may not be the quickest way to profit, however it’s certainly a much more sustainable model then constant manipulation and trickery that’s so common in present day marketing.

    What I’m saying is that although traditional manipulative marketing tactics have been highly profitable in the short-term, social media and technology are creating an environment in which transparency, integrity, respect, humility, fairness, courage, honesty, and responsibility are absolutely necessary in order for a business to succeed.

    I’m in awe that I just wrote all that! Thank you Sheila for jumpstarting this idea, I really appreciate you!

    • Paul:

      First, thanks for such a thoughtful response. I really appreciate it.

      I could not agree more with your premise that companies focusing on manipulation of the consumer are cruising for a bruisin’.

      I also can say that in my four decades in marketing working with many, many companies in many different industries, I only came across one who suggested some unethical manipulation and that was a large utility in Chicago. I believe most companies – public and private – do believe in being ethical in all aspects of their business. It is unfortunate that the few muddy the water for the many.

      Check out Jim Collins’ book Good To Great. He demonstrates that there have long been companies with great and insightful leaders.

      I don’t believe that social media will make CEOs of companies like Monsanto, GE or BofA stay up at night or turn them into better leaders. I think they will sleep just fine as long as their stock price continues to stay healthy, because these CEOs genuinely believe their obligation is to the stockholder and not to the consumer.

      What I believe social media has done is to shift the focus to the consumer and truly empower the consumer to express their dislike, dismay, anger as well as their pleasure and satisfaction with companies and to do so in a way that registers with the company’s top brass. That is a good thing. Holding a company’s feet to the fire is easier than it has ever been before. For that, we should all be very pleased.

      Again, many thanks for your thoughts, Paul. You are always welcomed.

      I definitely agree that any company in the past or in the present that operates from the premise that they could manipulate the consumer,

  5. Oh Sheila where have you been – so loving your style, your savvy and your gumption ( as we say in Texas).

    When CEO’s are not just about covering their ASS, then I will care about their wanting a high return percentage. When a CEO cares about creating a strong culture inside that flows outward – that will mean everyone who is touched by that company will feel it and it will show up in all their roles…which is what will improve their bottom line. That is team effort.

    So so so so so ( did I say so) weary of public twisting comments that are meant to get attention and appear smart, when those same comments are just great at rewording the obvious.

    Did I say I love your thinking? Well, it was worth repeating.

    • Michele: “Gumption” is a term of endearment my Grandmother used to use. She had it in spades.

      You are so right. CEOs have a choice and it boils down to whether they want to focus on the customer or on the stockholders. What they need to realize is that the customers ARE the stockholders. Without customers, without happy customers there is little reason for companies to exist.

      Many thanks for the compliments and hope to see you back here.

  6. Pingback: Why Leadership is the New Marketing | Leadership Development

    • Thank you, Paul. Your comments are much appreciated and I wish you the very best in your new direction. If I can be of any help or assistance, just let me know.


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