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The Fix for Marketing is Everything You Fear It To Be

May 3, 2016 | Justin Gray | 8 Comments |

For two weeks, I’ve been hearing about an article published in TechCrunch that I “need” to respond to.

Normally when I’m approached for an opinion it’s because those approaching believe my opinion will echo their own based on what they know about me. Often times, they’re right.

I’m a huge proponent for up-leveling marketing as a profession and likely the only consultant who’s telling customers that fundamentally consulting should not be their most likely path to success. Therefore, a headline like Everything the Tech World Says About Marketing is Wrong appears at face value to be right up my proverbial alley.

I wish that were the case. I wish the answer was that easy.

Let’s start with the author. If you aren’t familiar with the nomenclature of “TechCrunch Contributor” it basically means that you have enough experience within a given space and the articles you have submitted to TechCrunch are interesting enough and deal with popular enough topics (read: pertinent) to feature in the TechCrunch pub. I’m a TechCrunch contributor as well.

I provide this info simply to provide some background on why Mr. Scott and contributors like him write these articles. We write them for self and business promotion using another term the author would lump in as “made up” which is thought leadership.

Using content (shit, I’m not supposed to call this content) such as this article, we expand our awareness networks, provide links back to our social (whoops!) profiles and even our business or personal web assets (that’s probably a no-no as well).

See, I can’t even get through this paragraph without using buzzwords. The same buzzwords the author attacks in his article that demonstrates the exact strategies he is attacking.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here.

To start, I agree. I agree that buzzwords are dominating our industry as well as a shiny object mentality that has the vast majority of marketers and execs grasping at straws.

Hubspot is a juggernaut and they got there by doing what every behemoth has done since the dawn of product/market fit (which incorporates at least 3 of the 4 Ps BTW). They helped create the market. And beyond the conveyance of message as the author defines marketing to be, creating markets is even more fundamental. I’ve helped do it twice now in my 37 years and I, along with anyone else who has, will testify that you use words to create consensus and then momentum around perceived pain.

So, lets agree that buzzwords do dominate the industry, created by those that want to sell you something. But let’s put a bow around this in saying: that’s marketing, Jack. Let’s move on.

Rather than respond line-by-line, there are a few other areas to address, starting with the insistence that marketing basics have been abandoned in favor of immediate gratification. Yes. That is sometimes true.

It’s also true that many marketers are also stuck in traditional marketing mindsets and that pain is just as great. I went to school for marketing, I learned the 4 Ps. It’s good stuff. I like it. It’s valuable from a context perspective. Marketers should know these tenets of marketing and advertising.

Oh, and in relation to not separating teams, offline and online, yep that sounds good too. I’m not sure who exactly would argue with it. Sure, it exists, but the vast majority of times it’s just because a strong leader in the organization hasn’t emerged to change it. All change needs a catalyst.

Finally, in relation to getting away from direct response (that’s most commonly email for all you modern folks), sure. I’m down. The problem being that most marketers are really big spammers. And I mean REALLY big.

It’s like proclaiming that everyone should eat healthy. Sounds good, but the alternative just feels a lot better.

It’s a long road, and when you look at the history of marketing these “cycles of result” are just getting shorter and shorter. It happened with print and mail, it happened with telemarketing, it even happened with fax.

Don’t blame the ants for rushing to the candy bar that someone dropped.

When things work, everyone scurries to them. And then it stops working and we curse those still looking for crumbs. The question is: now what?

Seriously, this is where my response starts. I can’t read another transcript of a baseless rant with no proposed resolution. Most of what Mr. Scott says is correct, and at the same time really painted out of context or with no real proposal for change. Again, change needs a catalyst.

The need for education.

I’m not talking about a skills training video, or a class, or even a boot camp. I’m talking about what begins in high school. The kind of education that continues through college and perhaps even graduate school. The actionable education that teaches the kinds of fundamental basics like the 4 Ps but then admits that SEO, PPC, content marketing, automated workflow building, attribution, design and about 120 other skillsets are what truly make up a modern day marketer. An education that pays homage to the methodologies and principals that have guided successful marketers (under any name) for centuries but also understands that tactics are what gives strategy legs. Outcomes are important. Measurement is important. That’s not going to change, no one is going to disrupt the need for results – and tactics are the bridge between strategy and results.

The problem is simple – many of today’s marketers fell into their position.

They had the soft skills which drove them to cobble together the systems and processes they needed to do what their bosses demanded. When it worked, they were praised – and they moved up. The “new money” of marketing, if you will. They immediately went out and looked for the next generation of themselves, and they found it all too easily. The next couple years were spent indoctrinating the next wave, with their propaganda of course – who doesn’t want to build their own army?

But when they were done the facsimile was a bit blurred, a copy-of-a-copy, and soon the results were less important than talking about results. The buzzwords that once provided consistency or singularity of focus now muddied the waters and the superficial marketer was born. Tactics were their only weapon for they knew not why. And that’s where we are today, so far removed from what was for a time really exciting.

The solution is exactly what you fear it is: a lot of hard work.

There’s no easy fix. To start, we have to put a focus back on quality. If you focus on quality, you alleviate more damage. Quality allows the space to fix what’s wrong, for this generation and many to come.

We MUST re-tool the education system. We. Marketers this is your battle cry, this is your time to unpack your knowledge and build the marketers we all want. The chasm is so great the only way to span it is together. A crowd, all with pieces of the whole, must come together and agree upon a curriculum to once and for all agree on the DNA of modern day marketing.

We, together, must define the syllabus to pave the road for marketing as a profession (MAP – there’s a buzzword for you) so we can all stop writing about the problem and finally put pen to paper outlining the solution. And that’s just the beginning. We then have to teach. Partner with universities, create online tutorials, become an adjunct professor in cooperation with a nearby college. It’s on us.

The greatest buzzword still today is best practices. The sad truth is that marketing has very few. Together we must fix this.


  1. Matt Heinz on May 3, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Great piece Justin. Is it me or is that whole TechCrunch post just much ado about nothing? It’s written in an echo chamber for either marketers who will get defensive and not understand how to change, or it’ll be read by marketers who are doing good, revenue-responsible work and could care less what other people think.

    Stay heads-down, do the work – the HARD work that doesn’t always work by the way – and keep your eye on objectives you can buy a beer with.

  2. Greg Head on May 3, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Love it. Thanks Justin. It’s easy to blame new digital marketers or traditional marketers for being one-sided. There’s chasm between these two groups and the answer isn’t one-sided. Sorry, traditional old-school marketers need to get technical and understand the tools and tactics of the modern era. And digital direct marketers need to pick iup the fundamentals of storytelling and strategy under their tactics. I do think it’s easier for new digital marketers to pick up fundamentals than it is for old-school marketers to get digital.

  3. Chuck Kent on May 4, 2016 at 6:35 am

    Great post, good thoughts… and pardon the digression, but I’ve got a question about a “buzzword” you employ. Shit. It’s quite common in business now, but, frankly, I always take it to be lazy shorthand for “I’m cool, not traditional, out-of-the box…” pick your cliche. To me it is by now (as one of my long-ago professors would used to comment on my use of such), “a weak intensifier.” As it is unnecessary from a simple communication of the central thought standpoint, what do you find to be the business value of interrupting an inherently provocative and useful article with a casual expletive (or perhaps it’s now a former expletive). I don’t mind swearing; just curious about your take on it as a linguistic business tool.

    • jgray@leadmd.com jgray@leadmd.com on May 4, 2016 at 6:54 am

      Chuck, I get it – and I understand the position. I wish their was a
      better justification for it but frankly, I write how I talk. I have to
      dial it back when I’m in a pub but leadmd.com is my home and I feel
      comfortable in my home. Dialing it back often seems it’s like wearing a
      suit to a business meeting when you normally show up in a t-shirt to the
      office. Still, when I do use it I try to do so for a reason and not
      simply be a teenager smoking because someone said it was cool. I used it
      here to demonstrate the irreverence of my internal monologue. I very
      much appreciate the perspective.

      • Chuck Kent on May 4, 2016 at 8:25 am

        Got it. I’m new to LeadMD so unfamiliar with the context relative to you in particular… it’s that darn Matt Heinz who directed me here. But listening to you in your home or elsewhere, what I’m talking about is not a position but a a reaction… which is always what language provokes.

        • Matt Heinz on May 4, 2016 at 8:54 am

          Wait how did I just get thrown under the bus in this thread?! =)

          • jgray@leadmd.com jgray@leadmd.com on May 4, 2016 at 10:40 am


          • Chuck Kent on May 7, 2016 at 2:47 pm

            You’re hardly under the bus, Matt… this is just another bus that you help many of us get on to take conversations in new directions

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