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Marketing is Like Sex: Everybody Thinks They're Good at It

Have you ever noticed that half the people in your company think they're marketing experts? Everyone's got an opinion that is somehow more relevant than what customers think. It's especially true of dysfunctional CEOs, aka disruptive, micromanaging control freaks.

I've run a number of different disciplines for companies big and small, and in my experience, marketing gets way more scrutiny than any other function. I'm not just talking about CEOs with an irrational fear of the color red, founders who want the company logo to include a sermon, or CFOs and General Counsels who endlessly wordsmith every sentence of copy or press release.

I'm also talking about spending months on everything from corporate strategy and business planning to branding strategy and product positioning. Sure, that's important stuff, and it's nice to know everyone cares so much. But there is a point of diminishing returns, when the feedback loop turns into analysis paralysis.

I do believe that VPs of marketing spend more time selling up and sideways - to the CEO, board of directors, and fellow executive staff members - than they do selling to customers. And that's not a good thing.

David Hornik, a VC with August Capital in Silicon Valley, provides a plausible explanation for this phenomenon:

VCs like to think that they are marketing geniuses. We really do. We meddle more in the marketing of our portfolio companies than any other area. If you have a chance to sit in on a startup board meeting, you can see this in action. The CFO gives a finance update and a few cursory questions are asked. The VP of Engineering talks about development and board members sit around the table nodding appreciatively. Then the VP of Marketing gets up and suddenly everyone around the table has a point of view. Poor VPs of Marketing.

Frankly, the reason investors have so many opinions about marketing is that we can fake it far more convincingly than in other areas of the operations --

I think David's onto something here.

Then there's the blogosphere, or as I sometimes call it, the blowhardosphere. Now that I'm on the downward slope of my career, sharing a few hard-learned lessons and insights from decades of experience, I get to be critiqued by professional writers who've somehow managed to convince unsuspecting readers that they have a clue. Now you all know the truth. They're just faking it.

But seriously, I know there's a lot of bad marketing out there. I've had a relatively successful career fixing problems other marketers created. But as with any profession, there's a bell curve of competence. Not everyone can be a Steve Jobs.

To close this rant, I'd like to shed some light on a common misconception. Some critics say marketing's lack of metrics is by design, a boondoggle. What they would know, if they ever worked in the real business world, is that, while CEOs and CFOs talk a good game, when you show them the price tag, they somehow decide that metrics aren't so important.

Try to fake your way out of that.

I want to hear from all you overanalyzed, over-scrutinized marketers out there. And of course, the fakers -- I mean naysayers. Stand up and be heard.

Headline attribution to Lance Weatherby

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