Marketing is top of mind for everyone lately…and it’s not a love fest.
This love/hate maelstrom started in February with Fred Wilson’s posts on Marketing. The three-part series generated over a thousand comments and a treasure trove of great ideas, voiced anxieties, articulate but defensive posturing and really honest queries by a host of entrepreneurs striving for just one thing…success.
Nothing could make me happier than to see this discussion raised. Like all discussions that become viral, the need was there long before the event triggered it.
Large company or start-up, the need for businesses to connect with their market is the only quotient of success. And while the methods change as the tools change as the business world evolves, the goals remain the same regardless of the tech or behavioral trends of the day.
And marketing is the architect of that connection, that capability that creates the value chain between company value and customer belief. And that’s why this discussion is so surprising…and so important.
The 1000+ comments responding to Fred’s posts, speak to a core misunderstanding and mistrust—yes, a dislike for what marketing does. I responded to scores of comments on his blog, redefining, clarifying, taking it to heart that what I do–what I truly love doing, was on trial.
But it pays to listen when the marketplace speaks, especially one as broad, as diverse, as successful as the one at avc.com. Such profound misalignment over something so basic and critical to company growth begs further thought.
This debate surfaced again this week with a post on “Why does Fred Wilson hate marketing?” by Brian Morrissey, Editor in Chief of Digiday, a marketing blog I follow. Brian states that there is a discrepancy between the world of VCs and the “…staid marketing world of selling more stuff for clients” that the rest of world worries about. These are Brian’s words about what marketing does today.
This is getting to the rub of the whole matter.
If marketers aren’t clear, the market is bound to be confused. How Brian defines marketing is out of whack with the times.
Marketing is what it has always been…the connector between product and market, between brand and belief, between the vision of an early visionary product and its first enthusiasts, and a core element of a product’s potential of finding support, distribution and a following.
The discrepancy between old-school methods and new tools is more profound now. The real-time web and huge social nets have changed everything dramatically. How we build products, find communities, discover pricing and build an ecosystem of support are completely new and changing daily. How companies connect with their customers is equally done with a brand new, not yet written playbook.
This is indisputable.
But it appears that with all the noise from market pundits on the uses of social tools, the core value of marketing has not translated to the realities of today’s business. That appears to be what the market, our customers, the commenters in Fred’s blog are telling us.
The fact that someone as savvy as Brian Morrissey is defining marketing as a loud shouting discipline from a time long gone is a true indication of the breadth of the chasm between what companies need and their perception of what marketing can offer.
Fred’s words, which he knows I disagree with, are not talking about what marketing does but how it is positioned and presented in the face of today’s socially driven world. I talk to companies every day and he is not the only one that is tired of seeing advertising positioned as the answer, budget depleting PR proposals presented to bootstrapped startups and paying for special teams to come in and save the day.
We as marketing pros are complicit here. If the thousands of smart entrepreneurs who read Fred’s blog don’t get that marketing isn’t just advertising nor big budget agencies and a crutial key to a company’s early success…hey, this our problem to be fixed and an opportunity for all sides.
Pushing old school definitions of big brand campaigns only fuels the misunderstanding. And telling those with influence like Fred and the readers of the blog they just don’t get it is like yelling at your customers if they don’t like your campaign or understand your messaging. A bit ridiculous. Certainly counterproductive.
The right path–as always– is to listen to the market.
One of the most basic rules of marketing is to make the very people whose support you most need, integral and part of the process. This could be the sales force for a lead gen program. The product group when you need to build viral hooks into the product itself. Or even the most basic, embracing your early enthusiasts on a dynamic platform to get feedback and spread the word.
Or, in this case, the world of entrepreneurs and their funders who have somehow lost touch with the value that market building thinking brings to the table.
The truth as I see it, is that while big-spend shouting and noisy campaigns have never been more purposeless, true marketing has never been more key.
Marketing in the hands of the best and there are great marketers out there today is in concert with the iterative and dynamic process of how we build product today. In fact, many of the name brand serial entrepreneurs are just that, great marketers who can manage to a P & L.
Marketing is deep in craft. The science of traffic is essential to employ (SEO and SEM). The craft of connecting a story to influencers (PR) certainly has its place. The logistical brilliance to get the impossible done or that just really smart promo at SXSW or during the marathon are all tools on the marketing belt. But…these categories of skill sets by necessity evolve to suit the times and the market, not bolted on nor grandfathered in. Or worse, presented as a must have at prices that only big brands can afford.
Every startup and every product and every community is discovered through a marketing sensibility. With literally millions of solutions and everyone globally connected online, the possibilities for massive success are dampened only by the challenges of being discovered and connecting with your market.
This wildly viral debate about marketing is a loud wake up call. And a huge opportunity.
It’s a wake up call to marketing thinkers and professionals and brilliant tacticians to pay attention. Because the market is telling them they are not buying an old school approach to a new world order of business.
It’s also a wakeup call that there is huge opportunity for marketers and entrepreneurs, as well as larger companies to figure all of this out. To demystify some of the social media mumbo jumbo, to imbue strategic market thinking with dynamic tactical excellence.
And mostly for marketing and business and product people to partner at a core level to figure out how connect value with its market.
There is no winning the argument of what marketing is or does. There is only changing the discussion to fix the problem.