Is Marketing Setting Itself Up for a Fall?


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We all agree that today’s prospects and customers – both on the consumer side and on the B2B side – are getting more sophisticated and demanding. Simultaneously, of course, the tools, techniques, and mechanisms for reaching them are growing exponentially.

The result is an explosion of marketing sub-specialties: Social media marketing (with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. additional subsets of that subset). Mobile marketing. Content marketing. Inbound marketing. Marketing technology. Engagement marketing. The list is seemingly endless, and growing.

It’s beginning to feel as though anything that even tangentially touches the marketplace has become, or is becoming, a new marketing specialty.

You would think, then, that marketing would be much in demand, well appreciated, and growing as a profession.

But here’s the dirty little secret, rarely discussed in public, but obvious to anyone who looks:

Marketing is developing an ever-diminishing stature.

Inside companies, CFOs increasingly demand proof of worth, and CEOs and CMOs increasingly feel that apparently significant functions can be filled with people with “3-5 years experience.” So-called “marketing consultants” chase ever-smaller niche specialties (“I can manage your Facebook page.” “I can get you 10,000 followers on Twitter.” “I can show you the secrets to Pinterest success.”) in a desperate attempt to be seen as “experts” and follow anything that looks like a potentially profitable trend. While too many business people remain confused and think if they are on social media, they are doing marketing.

So as the marketplace becomes more sophisticated, marketing is becoming hyper-specialized and, I would argue, less sophisticated.

Sophisticated marketing is the ability to see the complexity of the marketplace and develop campaigns of elegant simplicity that speak to that complexity.

And that is not the direction we are taking.

In the 18th century, Thomas Malthus posited that population growth would prevent progress from continuing indefinitely. His view was that population would grow geometrically while the means of subsistence would grow arithmetically. And this must inevitably result in periodic natural and man-made disasters (famine, pandemic disease, war) that would bring the two back into balance.

I suspect that marketing is heading for a Malthusian crisis: An exponentially growing series of specialties – contending with each other and competing for corporate attention and resources – weighing on the back of an arithmetically growing marketplace (and static – if not diminishing) corporate resources.

I’m sure I am a voice in the wilderness. But I think it is time for less specializing and more synthesizing. It’s the only way marketing will truly prosper. And, more importantly, it’s the only way companies which depend on marketing will prosper.

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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