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The Dumbing Down of Marketing

Blog post by on July 15, 2013 4 Comments

Here’s the dirty little secret that’s not being talked about in public: Marketing is dumbing itself down.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed. LinkedIn is becoming overwhelmed with “discussions” about issues that were either settled decades ago (e.g, “Can Women Manage as Well as Men?” Really? This is what we need to spend our time discussing?). Or discussions that should embarrass a freshman marketing student (e.g., “How Can I Get Ideas for My Blog?”). Blogs and articles abound on the minutiae of techniques and mechanisms or ponder the very profound questions of whether this element or that of marketing should be elevated to C Suite status. (Do we need a Chief Social Media Officer? Do we need a Chief Marketing Technology Officer?)

There is a mania for grasping each new mechanism, tool, or customer outreach approach as if it represents the answers to all revenue prayers. And with each new, unthinking, rush to embrace each new area, to make it a marketing specialty, marketing actually gets further away from understanding the whole marketplace, the real world context in which customers make choices.

This is a disaster for business.

The marketplace has become more complex, more diverse, no longer geographically circumscribed, with customers able to access and exchange information in real-time. Yet, simultaneously, we are entering an age in which increasing numbers of marketers know more and more about less and less.

The developing sub-specialties are supposed to be the means of understanding and reaching people in this new era. But the “specialists” – and the pundits and the press – are so focused on their new toys, key elements in the equation all, that they forget that you can’t solve an equation by concentrating only on parts of it.

Okay, fine. So we have minions studying minutiae. This is all brought together at the VP-Marketing or CMO level. Right?

Well, not really.

As CEOs allow – in many cases, encourage – the ultra-specialization and increasingly narrow drill-down approach to marketing hiring, they also encourage a “cost-saving” approach to higher level hiring. We’ve all seen it. More and more, job descriptions for what would seem to be important functions, with significant responsibilities, include the phrase “3-5 years experience required.”

Yup. 3-5 years in a specialized area, without any additional, general marketing experience. That certainly is the way to recruit seasoned, senior level staff who can understand what is important and what isn’t, who can manage the ever-growing piece-parts of how businesses try to understand and interact with their marketplace.

And what is the result? The dumbing down of marketing. The reduction of what purports to be a profession and a critical participant in an organization’s success to an army of limited vision, spasmodically chasing the latest trends and fashions in methodology and communications modes.

For good or for ill, the marketplace is getting more complex and the customers more well-informed, and smarter. Is this the time to dumb down marketing?

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4 Responses to The Dumbing Down of Marketing

  1. Andrew Rudin July 15, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    Emily: I share your frustration with some questions I see on LinkedIn, and similarly, I find a few amazingly shallow. For example, “what’s the most important step in [fill in the blank]?” Sometimes, the person posting the question requests a single word response. Other questions make the mistake of presenting “false choices:” “Is it more important for a salesperson to be a good prospector, or a good closer? It’s easy to think that marketing is being dumbed down.

    But most often, I read questions more to learn what’s on people’s minds than to read the responses, and my challenge is not to be judgmental. It might be as old as the hills to worry about how to leave a voice message, but if that’s on somebody’s mind, that’s worth knowing–at least for me.

    There are some groups and online forums that present excellent questions, and they are well moderated to screen those who are simply hawking an e-book or their latest YouTube post. If you want some ideas on which groups to follow, please let me know.

  2. Emily R. Coleman July 16, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Hi Andrew. My worry is not so much about the silly questions. My concern is that people are increasingly seeing the piece parts of marketing as the whole. And that simply doesn’t work in the real-world market place.

  3. Andrew Rudin July 17, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    My newsfeed and email are full of titles and subject lines that are emblematic of the problem you describe. This is a human foible, and I will admit that railing about it feels a bit like swimming upstream.

    Every time I see ads for diet pills, I think the same thing: significant weight loss requires a lifestyle change, you idiot! Yet, whether it’s with business development, weight loss, career growth, or sales success, many people are out there, looking for a quick, low-cost, low-commitment, fix. And there are others who are only too happy, and too eager to take their money . . .

  4. Emily R. Coleman July 17, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    You are right, of course, that the problem is endemic throughout society. I just find it discouraging that so many so-called marketers are buying into it.

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