Why marketing doesn’t suck


Over the past few weeks I have seen a strange series of blog posts expressing that the marketing profession is slimy or one step above a snake oil salesperson.

Maybe I am out of touch or naive, but this characterization of my profession has never even entered my mind.  I honestly don’t think I could be in a more interesting, helpful, or meaningful field.

Let me tell you why I am so lucky to be in marketing.

A Marketing Inspiration

I had started to fall in love with this discipline during college but after I entered the business world, I became increasingly fascinated by how marketers drive their products, businesses, and our economy.

I became friends with a senior marketing executive who, through customer insight, guts and vision, had proposed an entirely new product opportunity for my company.

To serve this emerging market, he had to sell the company on the idea of constructing a new, state-of-the-art $50 million manufacturing facility. As you might imagine, with a financial commitment like that, he really put his career on the line to create something amazing for his customers.  But this was no whim. He had the data and solid financials to back up his vision and the company decided to invest in his idea.

As the new manufacturing plant took shape, I just watched with awe. There were hundreds of shiny steel girders put in place because of this man’s drive and vision. The new facility involved the development of a technology that promised to create a new advantage over competitors.  The plant was going to drive economic growth in the community and add 150 new high-paying jobs. More than 20 years later, the plant is still a profitable economic engine.

Marketing did THIS?  I wanted to be part of it!  I wanted to drive growth and put people to work. I wanted to create helpful new products, build new buildings, and create new economic value. I wanted to be a marketer.

Marketing has been trivialized

Today, our profession has been somewhat trivialized because the barriers to entry have dropped so low. Anybody who can open a Twitter account or create a lovely Facebook page is calling themselves a “social media marketer.”  They’re not.  Marketing is still about doing the hard work and having the experience and skill to distill meaningful insight from a pile of research. It’s about building products, services and companies … and doing it with integrity. It’s about creating a legacy of sustainable growth to be proud of.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have spent my career in marketing, Many of the projects I have worked on are still creating value even decades later.  There is nothing more rewarding and thrilling than finding that one insight — that spark — that can turn a company around.

My teacher and business hero Peter Drucker once famously said that a company is all about “marketing and innovation. Everything else is overhead.”

His point is that without customers, without profitable new products and services, we have no companies. Isn’t that an awesome responsibility?  Isn’t marketing a fantastic career choice?

I help people and their companies grow. I drive new value that puts people to work and satisfies customer wants and needs. I help the economy thrive by helping to create useful new products and services. Today, with the digital tools and analytics at our disposal, the profession has never been more interesting or more important.

I am a marketer and I’m proud of it. How about you?

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  • Thank you, for writing this Mark.

  • vinaeco

    Can you point me to a good definition of a marketer? … the role you described above sounds like Product Management .. isnt marketing focused on the the dialogue with the customer (traditionally 1 way, but much more 2 way these days) .. marketing I think has fairly earned its bad rap as parts of the marketing equation are focused on how to get people to want the product being created,… but I would suggest that it’s not marketing that says “we’re going to build something useful that people need that solves a real problem that they’re having” …. that comes down to the culture of the company / people driving it

  • There are plenty of definitions of marketing out there and I don’t want to spur a naval-gazing debate over definitions. However i will say that to me, “product management” is certainly under the umbrella of marketing, What other department would lead and nurture useful new products? We’ll have to agree to disagree. I think your definition is far too narrow. If all I did was create a dialogue with consumers I would quit. : ) Marketing existed long before Facebook!

  • Thanks for the support Frank.

  • marketers lean forward to see if they can see what will or can be. Critics lean backwards and lament what wasn’t or won’t be. I am a small business marketer who helps customer find the buyers who want what they sell. So… it’s brothers in arms Mark. Let the 5Cent prentenders dance. It never lasts long for them.

  • Mark great post.

    I like the almost last paragraph: “His point is that without customers, without profitable new products and services, we have no companies. Isn’t that an awesome responsibility? Isn’t marketing a fantastic career choice?”

    I’m a 23 years old social media marketer. And I always say the same thing about marketing. A thing that people forget is that without customers they don’t have a business. And so it’s important to know your customer and know what will make them happy. Because, when they are happy they will share it with their friends and family.

  • Really nice characterization Billy. Thanks for sharing your wisdom today!

  • Welcome to a wonderful career adventure Wouter! Thanks for sharing today!

  • I disagree with Drucker: I’d add in “quality product/service” – that’s not the same as innovation.

  • LOL, this is sooo classic. My guess is those who place marketing just above “snake oil salespeople” have an extremely misguided understanding of what marketing (or sales for that matter) really is. Glad you called them out! The problem is, every business disipline (sales, marketing, accounting, engineering, political etc) has it’s “snake oil” pros. So, rather than attack the disipline, attack the “spin-masters” who create the BS that drove these opinions in the first place.

  • Yes, I agree that marketing includes product management. It seems to me that part of the confusion stems from the fact that the marketing function varies widely across organisations. In small businesses, it may be mostly (solely?) done by the owner, in big ones there will be entire departments dedicated to one aspect of marketing, only, such as customer insight, or product management, or branding.

    It is important to distinguish between marketing as an orientation and marketing as a function. As someone said, marketing is too important in the organisation to be left to the marketers, only.

  • Thanks Mark. Your more then welcome.

  • Great post – and a great way to start my Monday morning. In a world full of so much noise, how else can an organization make their voice heard? Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Thank you – you made my day! I am going to share this.

    When I was in college (studying Economics) I intensely disliked marketing. I wanted exact answers, and marketing does not provide that. And, true to form, I started my career in financial analysis. But, over time, I realised that marketing was the nexus of everything we did in the organisation. For instance, if I am forecasting profits I need to understand customer behaviour, market trends, competitive dynamics, etc… So, gradually, I gravitated towards marketing and, now, I am a marketing academic! Talk about a change of minds.

    There is, of course, some bad behaviour among marketers – just like there is among other professions. The problem is not marketing, it’s the humans doing it.

    I think that there are 2 reasons for marketing’s bad reputation. One reason is the confusion between marketing as a business orientation / activity and marketing as a function (as discussed in reply to a prevous comment below). The other reason is that marketing is about us, as consumers, too. It’s easier to criticise advertising, for instance, than to accept that I am not rational and that I am easily ‘fooled’ into making irrational purchases.

  • I haven’t read the negative articles you speak of regarding marketing. I have seen a lot of negativity regarding advertising and many people confuse advertising with marketing. The one thing that I do see happens quite often with marketers is that we try to figure out how to work the system. For example, I believe the reason Google and Facebook keep changing algorithims is because marketers figure out the system and how to work it to their benefit. We leave them no choice but to change calculations. I agree with you that in today’s world anyone can claim to be a marketer simply by opening a Facebook or Twitter account. This is a huge problem and one that significant amounts of people pay good money to have a job done by a social media specialist only to find it is mediocre at best. I am a social media marketing specialist and a business coach. Many of my business clients have told me the frustrations they face in trying to hire social media, advertising and marketing specialists. These frustrations are why I created my company “Musial Marketing” and why I am creating a total marketing and social media solution that companies can find answers to their marketing issues on their own time.

  • Mame Patton

    As Ana Isabel Canhoto so well stated, there is bad behavior among some marketers, as in in every profession. It’s a wonderful profession, with the power to do good, harm, or simply, trivialize. But for me, few things are more rewarding than seeing clients grow from their marketing efforts. Thank you Mark for taking a stand.

  • you are welcome…

  • Well said Ana! : )

  • You could add a long list in addition to quality — obeying the law, not killing your employees, creating a good work environment, for example. If you lose focus on any of those you’re done. But I think Drcuker’s strength is distilling the issue down to its essence: You must have acquire customers — everything else goes toward supporting that. My take on it any way! Thanks for adding your perspective Craig!

  • Thanks for taking the time to add your comment today Steve!

  • Keep at it Timothy!

  • Very true. I think you’re pegged it. As a matter of fact, when I was reading those articles, I think they really were talking about advertising practices. Great to hear from you Ana!

  • Well that just opens up a whole can of worms for me — the SEO gamesters that claim that to be marketing. There is a place for that, but I have seen so much horrible activity in the SEO field — flat-out unethical — that it is hard for me to even put them in the same category as marketing, Yes, there is a place but ethical marketers need to be driving the strategy or you will end up in a lot of trouble, as JC Penney found out a few months ago! Thanks Julie.

  • Honored you took the time to comment today Mame.

  • patrickstrother

    Mark, I feel the same way about marketing. I’ve never felt defensive about it, even when I ran an ad agency 😉 When it’s done with integrity it can be downright virtuous. When we do our job well it provides a useful service or product to customers which can solve a problem or even deeply enrich their lives and it also creates productive livelihoods to many people based on increased demand.

    A number of years ago I saw an analysis which showed that if you consider marketing and all “related” activities such as supply chain management, shipping and related services and so on, marketing related activities comprise 50% of US GDP.

    But the thing I actually like best about marketing is that there is still art to the science. Which makes every day an interesting new challenge.

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  • Beautifully said professor. I had not heard that stat but that is certainly a marketing warm and fuzzy. An honor to have you comment today!

  • Mark – I started my career in finance and switched to marketing about 4 years in. A naive motivation was my misunderstanding of “power” – which as I grew wiser – was really about the way vision, imagination, creation and expression are aired out. Marketing “sucks” when companies oxidize, and it rocks when they oxygenate. Didn’t Neil Young have it right “It’s better to burn out, than it is to rust..”

  • I’m a marketer and true believer, Mark. If anything, Marketing has grown dramatically in importance since I got a degree in Marketing (from Notre Dame) in the early 1980s. Well said. Marketing is very, very important today.

    Thanks for being a guest on Marketing Made Simple TV too, Mark. All the best,

  • Mark –

    This is a great post, and such an important message. I, too, get a little edgy when I read such articles or see posts, tweets and other updates putting down what we do. I will not disagree that there are dishonest marketers – but I’d like to be clear that there are dishonest people in all professions, across all borders!

    My original plan was med school – and then I met a wonderful professor who, in my sports business class (because I was working through the physiotherapy stream), introduced me to the world of marketing. He and I had a very important chat informing me that, at the time (and I’m dating myself), there were not a lot of women involved in sports marketing despite the fact that women were increasingly becoming an important market for sports teams. As we talked, I discovered that, as a marketer, I would have an opportunity to be the voice of the consumer inside the organization, and represent the organization to the market. The opportunity to help shape how an organization presents itself, how it operates, how it communicates, how it bridges the gap between business and audience was riveting.

    Since then, I’ve learned so much more… as a marketer, as a brand strategist, as a communicator – I take pride in understanding the market, providing insight and guidance, and working with brands/businesses and organizations to be the best they can be within their market. This isn’t slimy. This isn’t spin doctor stuff.

    This is about connections. And that matters!

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  • Adam

    I look at it this way. The three toughest C-Suite jobs: CEO, because the bucks stops there. CIO, because dealing with thousands of people’s computer problems is not that fun. And CMO, because everyone and their uncle thinks they are a marketing expert (and also it’s sometimes tough to prove your successes).

    Marketing doesn’t suck, and great marketers will always be sought after. Great post Mark!

  • A brilliant analogy which I fully intend to steal and claim as my own. : ) Thanks Bill!

  • Thanks for the support Jeff.

  • A superb comment and insight Judi. Nothing I can add to that at all. Thank you!

  • Well said my friend. Thanks for taking your time to share with the community.

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  • While anything done with integrity can be done well, the opportunities to make marketing a meaningful profession are as limitless as our ideas. (And you can count on a marketer to have more ideas than time for implementation.) We have the wonderful opportunity to inform customers about the way good products and services will transform their lives. It’s humbling and energizing. Thanks for an inspirational post.

  • Very kind of you to take your time to comment Marianne. Much appreciated!

  • Mark I agree with you as i have been a marketer for over 25 years and was lucky to start learning with J&J. I am glad you brought up about developing products and services and research as today the emphasis on tactics only is so misleading. I agree with you about the thrill of finding an insight and have been fortunate to have experienced this which grew brands and businesses. Thanks for this post.

  • One of my favorites lines, and I can never remember where I heard it first, is “every business is in the business of marketing.”

    McDonald’s is in the business of marketing burgers. Without the marketing, you don’t have a customer to eat the burger.

    Sure, the burger has to be good to keep people coming back (I’m not saying McDonald’s burgers are good, the value is in the price and familiarity at this point). But people have to get there to begin with.

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  • It’s easy to assess the importance of marketing. In dire economic times, those who actively market, thrive. Those who see it only as a cost, shrivel. The ultimate goal of every business is to make a profit, and how do you do that if nobody knows about you or what you have to offer? There’s a lot of misunderstanding and misplaced ethics around the concept of “marketing”.

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