Marketing Is Dead - Long Live "Real Marketing"

Last Updated May 26, 2010 1:47 PM EDT

If you Google "marketing is dead," you get a zillion or so results announcing the death of all kinds of marketing, including email marketing, social media marketing, affiliate marketing, viral marketing, internet marketing, mass marketing, brand marketing, direct marketing, network marketing, relationship marketing, even the four "P"s of marketing.

What's that all about? I mean, you never see blog posts called "finance is dead." If you Google "sales is dead" you get a few dozen Soupy Sales obituaries and that's it. What does everyone have against marketing?

Well, I'll tell you, but you're probably not going to like it. The problem originates from marketers themselves. No, not serious marketers who work on products and positioning at corporations. I'm talking about folks who call themselves marketers but, in fact, are enterprising opportunists hawking the latest fad or hyping their own brand of sensationalist BS.
And by definition, fads are born, they're hyped, and then they die. Thus, all the "marketing xyz is dead" headlines. Not clear yet? Okay, let me explain how this works:

REAL MARKETINGThink of the world of marketing as concentric circles, like the diagram to the right. The innermost circle, the bulls-eye, is where all the "real marketing" in the world occurs. I call it product and positioning; you can call it the four "Ps" or use any definition you like. I sort of like this one, from Principles of Marketing by Philip Kotler:
Marketing is the process by which companies determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development.
So that's the bulls-eye. Now, the outermost circle is made up of dozens of trendy, overhyped fads and amorphous BS. Just to ballpark this, I'd say about a third of the marketing folks reading this right now are involved in the bulls-eye while another third are involved in the outer circle.

See, I told you you wouldn't like the answer. But wait, before you start flaming me with angry comments, you might want to read the rest of the post. It gets worse.

Before we get to the gray area, we should dispense with products and companies that don't need any real marketing at all. Rebar and cement come to mind. Also hydrogen peroxide and cotton balls. Good, that simplifies things.

And now for the gray area. This is where things might get ugly. I'm referring, of course, to business-to-business or B2B marketing. B2B refers to the trillions of transactions that occur between manufacturers and resellers. B2B isn't real marketing. No, I'm not talking about enterprise companies that actually make products. I'm talking about the other 50 percent or so of B2B marketing.

You know, the stuff that manages to fill up the inbox of every small business owner every day with worthless spam. I'm talking about lead generation. You call that marketing? That's not marketing. That's running a program or proliferating a list. If that's your job and you love it, that's great. Just don't tell me it's real marketing.

Real marketing is how Apple, Cisco, and Texas Instruments make great products and position them to be leaders in ridiculously crowded and hypercompetitive global markets. Real marketing is what Bill Davidow calls the Strategic Principle in his seminal book Marketing High Technology: "Marketing must invent complete products and drive them to commanding positions in defensible market segments."

And real marketing isn't just about technology. Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, and McDonald's do the same thing.

Let's recap. Product and positioning is real marketing. Lead generation isn't. Real marketing never dies. Everything else is amorphous BS or trendy, overhyped fads that will eventually die. Just wanted to clear that up.

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