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August 10, 2017

Marketing: A Walking Shadow?

By early 2003 I had lost count of the growing number of my fellow marketers—people whom I’d known, in many cases, for years—who had arisen from their blankets one morning as newly-spawned experts in social media.
I was mystified. Social media was in its infancy, and I was still grappling with the basics, the most elusive among them being: how do I use this tactic in the world of marketing and selling a complex B2B offering to drive demand? Or can I?

Evidently, my peer group had already figured this out as I, ever the plodding one, continued to stumble over mundane concerns about how to make this work within the panoply of the campaign mix, or how to budget for it, or what to expect from it.

Over a dozen years later, I’ve witnessed the same phenomenon many times, whether it’s the translocation of “direct marketing” into “demand generation,” or the advent of “integrated marketing communications” or “content marketing.”

Truly, each of these has introduced insights and innovation. Today, account-based marketing is accompanied by some very cool automation platforms that didn’t exist 25 years ago when I practiced the discipline as a marketer for Arthur Andersen LLP. So yes, human understanding does advance, new tools impact our abilities, and it’s appropriate for our language, budget and campaigns to reflect them—even when the fundamentals endure unchanged.

Marketing is too often considered as a cascade of crazes or (dare I say it?) paradigm shifts, when perhaps it is better understood as an enduring fabric with order and principle and theory. And this bears thinking about, lest we and others trivialize the mastery of a challenging profession.

In Shakespeare's "MacBeth" he wrote of life as "a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more." Grim words. But was he correctly stating the nature of life or was he being driven by his circumstances (which were at the time rather bleak)?

Do we see Marketing circumstantially? There are plenty of forces to egg on such a view, not the least of which is the short-sighted trajectory forced upon us by each quarter's pursuit of its closing revenue figures, and its attendant clamping and unclamping of planned spending.

I also think, to some extent, that business books are complicit parties. My shelves once sagged beneath books I’d been arm-twisted into reading. (I won’t mention any titles as the twisters are still out there—and heaven forbid that, in this flat world of moving cheese and highly effective people, I offend anyone’s purple cows.) But most of them have found their way into that big, blue plastic receptacle in my garage.

If some of you have found value or wisdom in the business tome of the year, that's wonderful. If you’ve found purpose or—better still—employment in the next big marketing thing, that's worthy of celebration. But the fundamental discipline of Marketing I view, not as something that continually transforms, but as a body that is infinitely discoverable.

And this is why I've learned more from William Faulkner than from (insert faddish book writer here). Just my $.02.

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