A Few Reasons Why Your Marketing Sucks

If you ask 10 CEOs to tell you what marketing is, you’ll probably get 10 completely different answers. And get this. If you ask their marketing veeps the same question, you very well may get the same result.

Marketing defies definition. It confuses everyone, even those who do it for a living. I know that because I've talked at length with industry peers, from veterans to newbies, and because the industry landscape is constantly changing, the smart ones don't consider themselves experts, and the ones that do are slowly committing career suicide. Besides, my brethren could never agree on what their job titles meant. They were all over the map.

Marketing has always had a perception problem, and it's truly ironic that the field responsible for branding has a brand identity that's as unambiguous as can be. People nowadays just don't know what marketing truly is and what marketing agencies do. Have a computer and a design program? Some think those are the proper credentials. The internet is littered with "How To's" and "You Can Easily Double Your Growth By Buying This Guide" solutions. And we also live in a commercial world where consumers and businesses make purchasing decisions based to a large extent on a field that nobody seems to understand very well, including many who make big bucks doing it. Don’t you find that just a little bit unsettling?

Many colleagues that I've spoken with are tired of explaining to CEO, board, and management teams what marketing is and why it’s so important to the success of the company. Some feel like Sisyphus, the sinner condemned to roll a boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down, again and again, for eternity.

If you find marketing to be somewhat elusive, don’t feel too badly; you’re in good company. And while I intend for this to be instructive, not critical, there’s a very good chance that your company’s marketing sucks. Here’s why:

You have no idea what it is.

In his seminal book, Marketing High Technology, legendary VC and former Intel executive Bill Davidow said, “Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments.” I couldn’t agree more. And anyone who finds that confusing should not be running marketing.

It’s so easy to fake.

As VC David Hornik of August Capital says, “VCs like to think that they are marketing geniuses. We really do.” He goes on to say that they meddle in the marketing of their portfolio companies because “we can fake it far more convincingly than in other areas …”   As I always say, advertising is an art form that takes years to understand and master. If you were in need of medical attention you wouldn't run to the corner drug store, buy a stethoscope, some band aids and aspirin and perform surgery on yourself? You would seek out medical attention from a professional who has trained, worked and perfected their talents.

You’re a follower of _____ (fill in the blank).

Marketing may be as much art as science, but it’s still a complex and nuanced discipline that takes a great deal of experience to develop some level of understanding or expertise. I don’t care if you’re into Purple Cows or The Brand Called You, popular fad-like notions won’t get you there. And (please) stop copying the "Got Milk?" campaign because you're executing it all wrong.

You’ve lost sight of the big picture.

In some ways,  growth hacking is no different from traditional marketing, and I mean that in a good way. That said, I see a lot of businesses chasing lots of small opportunities or incremental growth improvements with no overarching vision, strategy, or customer value proposition. That, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster.   

It’s built on flawed assumptions.

Most product strategies and marketing campaigns are built on assumptions that many never attempt to verify because their inventors think they have all the answers. The problem is they don’t know what they don’t know. Never mind what customers say and do. What do they know? Actually the marketing tide has changed and now the customer controls everything. EVERYTHING. They decide if and when to view an ad, how, where, why, and to what extent. 

You have an MBA.

MBAs may be good for something, but marketing is not it. I’m not saying marketing can’t be taught, it’s just that, in my experience, it’s better learned on the job in the real world. Davidow, Theodore Levitt, Regis McKenna – none of these innovators who literally wrote the book on marketing had MBAs. Maybe there’s a good reason for that.  

You’re not measuring the results and your strategy/execution stinks.

Show me a marketing program and I’ll show you beaucoup bucks spent on a mostly “shoot from the hip” approach that lacks sufficient metrics to determine if it’s effective or not. If you don’t measure it, how do you know if it’s delivering a return on investment? It's been proven time and time again that the "let's try this...well that didn't work let's try this...and maybe then try this" approach doesn't work. It's a waste of your valuable marketing dollars.

You’re a marketer.

One of the reasons for marketing’s perception problem is that senior-level talent is hard to find and not all execs have the ability to articulate the importance of the function. And since some CEOs tend to be a pretty cynical bunch, marketing has, to a great extent, been marginalized in the business world. Sad but true. You need to spend money to make money, yet so many look at the bottom line cost first, not focusing on the proposed solution and the larger financial benefits it can bring. Don't get me wrong. I understand that not everyone has a Nike marketing budget, but too many companies overspend on time and resources focused on trying to save that buck, watering down the solution, the results, and in the end spending much more than the original idea their agency presented.

Marketing is an enigma. It’s both art and science, creative and analytical, intuitive and logical, amorphous and tangible. It’s two sides of the same coin. That’s probably why it mystifies most. And yet, marketing is, without a doubt, among the most critical functions in every company.

That may be a perplexing paradox, but companies that somehow manage to unravel the mysteries of marketing and learn to trust their agency partners have a far better chance of making it than those that don’t. If you're not feeling good about your marketing, don't run to the drug store. Go see an expert. That's why we're here - to help make your marketing not suck.

Doug Merta/S. Tobak