A New Marketing Metaphor?


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The marketplace has always been a complex and subtle combination of needs, wants, financial constraints, and economic imperatives. In the last decade or so, that complexity has been amplified by an accelerating rate of technological change, radically new social mechanisms, and, in the last few years, a dismal economy.

In marketing, as a company’s spearhead into the potential buying world, new methods of automation and myriad new means of reaching customers and prospects have added an overlay of demands and requirements for doing what was never a simple job.

It is understandable, then, that marketing people are spending an increasing amount of time trying to master what seems to be a never-ending stream of new specialties: “digital” marketing, CRM, mobile marketing, “content” marketing, nurturing/inbound marketing, marketing technology, etc.

Understandable, perhaps. But is it wise?

As we create more specialties and specialists, who stands back and looks at the marketplace as a whole? At the customer as more than an aggregation of “personas”?

There is an old story about three blind men who run into an elephant on the road. One man touches the elephant’s trunk. The second, its leg. And the third, its tail. Then each describes the animal on the basis of his experience. Needless to say, the descriptions and determinations of how to deal with it don’t match each other – or the reality that is the elephant.

I fear that this old story is becoming the metaphor for marketing.

If all you touch is the elephant’s trunk, you really have no concept of the animal.

If you specialize in mobile marketing, for example, mastering the difficulties of security, customer privacy, and customer experience on a variety of devices, you are, in fact, concentrating on the delivery of your message to a specific audience segment. But are you concentrating on what that message should be – and where it fits into what that audience is hearing (and, perhaps, focusing on) in the rest of their lives?

Yes, yes, I know. Mobile marketing, social media marketing, etc., etc. promise untold billions in revenues.

But many of these pundit promises will never be delivered. Businesses are leaving Facebook at an ever-accelerating rate. Groupon is floundering. And more and more people are rebelling against the social media platforms’ accumulation of personal data – which will certainly put a dent into the promise of “personalized” marketing.

The point here, of course, is not that we ignore the specialties and sub-specialties that are developing.

The point is that someone needs to understand the whole elephant – the marketplace, not just sub-sets of the marketplace, and the wider context in which the specialties operate.

Logically, this is the job of the Vice President of Marketing or the CMO, the Chief Marketing Officer. It is the CMO who is ultimately responsible for crafting the strategy, the branding, the product positioning, the messaging that will increase the organization’s market share and revenues. Everything else is simply grist for the mill.

So let’s ask ourselves a couple of questions:

– If marketing keeps drilling down in each area in search of an elusive mastery of specialization, and as areas of specialization increase, how can any CMO manage these multiple and multiplying areas as a cohesive whole?

– And as marketers continue to drill down further and further into these specializations, will the next generation of CMOs be equipped to get past their areas of specialization? Will they be equipped to see the whole marketplace in which the company operates – without over-emphasizing the importance of the areas on which they built their careers?

If we can agree that marketing’s function is to present the organization to the world in a way that garners revenues, and to present the world to the organization in a way that facilitates new product development, then the micro-miniaturization of marketing specialties is self-defeating.

We need to stand back and look around.

The future of your company is on the horizon. You won’t find it concentrating on the elephant’s trunk.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


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