August 13, 2012

Marketing's New Fundamentalists

It is depressing being involved in marketing these days.

Marketing has always been a magnet for clowns and con men. But these days the clowns and con men aren't just lurking in the weeds. They are the grand marshals of the parade. They puff themselves up, put on their pretty uniforms, and march down Main Street with hordes of baton twirling followers in lock step.

It doesn't matter that everything they have hectored and lectured us about has been wrong. It doesn't matter that...
  • TV advertising is more pervasive than ever 
  • The DVR has not had a significantly negative effect on TV advertising or any effect at all on consumer buying behavior 
  • The TV and the PC have not converged
  • Last year was not the "year of mobile." Nor was the year before, nor was the year before that. Nor will next year be.
  • The Facebook disaster and concomitant melt down of most social media equities has given us a pretty good idea of what the real world thinks of our social media marketing delusions.
None of this matters.

These dimwit evangelists live in a world of their own creation where anecdotes substitute for facts, where all they do is read each others' blogs and attend each others' revival meetings... I mean, conferences.

They have created a world of hype and baloney in which they sell miracle cures to credulous goobers. In this infantile culture, everything that does not fit is "dead."

The latest slice of rancid baloney in this genre appeared last week on the Harvard Business Review website. It is called, of course, Marketing Is Dead. The author of this pathetic nonsense is some consultant who is no doubt selling this tired old snake oil to gullible CMOs everywhere.

His evidence for the death of marketing? Three things which have nothing to do with his hypothesis.

First, a study that shows about 75% of CEOs think CMOs are knuckleheads. Well, guess what? They're wrong -- 90% of CMOs are knuckleheads.

What I'd like to know is, how is this evidence that marketing is dead? If 75% of restaurant owners think chefs are knuckleheads, does this mean eating is dead?

Second he trots out all the dreary, dreadful assertions about "communities" and "social capital" which we have read 100 times before by equally deluded zealots. These cliches sound like they were lifted directly from the Pepsi Refresh Project powerpoint pitch.

Finally, he gives us some anecdotes about social media successes. 

In their arrogance and myopia, the digital theocrats cannot accept a successful social media marketing program without asserting that it is proof that everything else is dead.

These people are the marketing equivalent of religious fundamentalists. They cannot stand the idea that there is any truth other than their own. For their god to live all others must die.


Greg Satell said...


I don't think you've gone far enough on this one. The whole concept of "Influentials" is a complete sham. There is no evidence to prove that they exist and quite a bit that says they don't:

- Greg

Simon Billing said...

These people need to get a handle on the difference between change or progress and the Apocalypse. As it happens I posted on the self same sad sack article so I'll unashamedly bait with a link

Also agree with commenter Greg, the whole influencer thing is a sham. For one thing, by the time the data base dickheads find these people they'll likely have moved onto the next big thing.

Chris Seiger said...

This is the age old question answered: "If your best friend went and jumped off a bridge, would you do it?"

The answer that's expected is, "Of course not." The "influencer" argument is that not only does it happen, it happens repeatedly and in the absence of any other kinds of influence (all of which are apparently deceased - TV, ideas, Andy Griffith, etc).

I'll bet you that if you signed on to Twitter and suggested they jump off a bridge, they would not do it, ergo destroying their argument entirely. If they did follow through and prove themselves right, well, it's a win-win in that case.

craig coffman said...

I think that you are perhaps taking a semantic twist on what you are supporting with your respone. Your six point list support the idea more than not. I am not quite sure why you are being so hard on the original article.

You go on to say none of this matters. What do you think does matter in marketing? It is easy to throw stones but what is your solution? Or even take on the current state of marketing? You are seeming to say that it is dead, but it doesn't matter, so do not listen to people talking about it. If it is not dead, then how do you see it working?

Please note, I am not picking a fight here. I am wondering your stance.

Clearly marketing is not 'dead.' The approach working for so long is now withering on the vine and we are looking for a new plot of land to grow from. You say 75% does not mean it is dead. True, there is still 25% alive. People being kept alive by machines are not 'dead' either. I think that if you step away from weighing every word and look at the overall message, your stance is on the same page as the Harvard author.

I do not agree that social media is only proven successful by pointing out all other efforts are dead. Clearly some people are trying to make a buck, so they jump on that wagon. Just like we used to get 30K for a five page brochure ware site in late 1990s / early 2000s. Before the market is understood, the early adopters will capitalize.

I do think that many people in this new marketing arena are pushing a solid addition of social media with traditional efforts. In my experience, it is harder to tell people that social media is marketing and to account for it that way in their business plan. Trying to get someone to completely forgo traditional marketing for social media only...well, I would like to hear that pitch work.

Again, I suspect that if you get away from the (likely) poorly worded but attention grabbing headline, you are both singing the same song. Though I cannot be sure of that as I am not yet entirely clear on your lyrics.

Greg & Simon -

With respect to your view that 'influentials' are a sham, that simply cannot be. If they truly did not exist, then there would be no rumor mill for people to run to. No fixed place where people seem to learn the same mantra. In other words, so many people would not march to the same drum if there was not a Drum Major. The 'proof' of their existence is that people think Facebook is awesome, or Nike is the best, or that (pick a political party) are all idiots. 'Influentials' are out there, make no doubt of it.

Perhaps you are both completely immune to any outside sway or input on
your decisions. That could indeed be true as I do not know you. I can
say that is not the norm. Most people listen to 'influentials.'

However, the big 'influentials' as we move through our typical day is our peer network. What people are trying to figure out is how to tap the leader(s) of your group. There is one, make no doubt. There is always a friend you talk to about history or music or movies or vacations and what they say influences you. Not to say you blindly follow them, but their voice matters. Those are the 'influentials' trying to be targeted, and I believe it is a wise move if you are in the world of micromarketing.

The problem is they are too numerous and too hard to pin down.
Marketing, as we know it, cannot get that specific. There is no way to
do a massive campaign which attracts those 'influentials,' but they (the
'influentials') could launch their own campaigns. People can drive
business to businesses. The future, IMHO, is that people will approach
companies and that is how campaigns will be waged. 'Influentials' will
cash their social equity and the company will pay them directly.

Shameless plug: This 'Influentials' idea is going to be added to my own site as it falls in line with other topics I have been musing over.

BeyondReach said...

Honestly - I didn't read the entire Harvard Business Review article because I couldn't get past the first couple of paragraphs. I assumed the idiocy of the presumption continued to all the way through, so somebody please correct me if I am in error? I only have one question - as rhetorical as it may be - how is it that traditional marketing is dead, yet every major viral brand campaign was pushed by traditional marketing methods, specifically TV advertising? Without the traditional the digital would have flopped. Both are important and can supplement one another, assuming you first have a strong creative idea built off of a solid brand strategy. Digital gurus always seem to leave that part out.

BeyondReach said...

And to further erode the HBR author's point, Digiday just released this "TV Takes Gold at the Olympics" article

Greg Satell said...


No. I think the problem is that I actually bothered to research the subject and overwhelming empirical study shows that "influentials" do not exist. If you look at the post I linked in, you'll see that I've put several references, such as:

There is more, of course. In fact this is a very heavily researched area and the whole idea is a sham. If you expended even a modicum of effort to educate yourself before popping off you would know that.

- Greg

simon billing said...

Craig: I'm not suggesting that we as a society aren't subject to influences in our modes of thought, opinions and yes, buying decisions. What I do believe however is that not all components of the buying decision can be manipulated (much as marketers would like it to be so and social media consultants would like to convince them is so). Chasing the influencers has been the job of PR since the year dot. Get a story on TV news or in a newspaper and consumers, in the naive belief that there must be truth in a news story, will be influenced. This is not a new idea. Trying to a) find the more quotidian version of influencers (social media "friends"); and b) convince them to work with you is a mug's game. They are a) not as influential as you think; b) their purported "influence" will rapidly go the way of the press release in terms of credibility once you begin to have them hustle for you.

Ben de Castella said...

Good post - had a little sick myself when I read the original HBR article. The real answer is that marketing, like everything in life, is complicated. Social media offers us some interesting opportunities but there is no single answer.

One important point that I think 'marketing is dead' evangelists frequently forget however is that most people don't care enough about most of what they buy to seek out others' recommendations or chat to their friends about their favourite brand of toilet paper. And that's why advertising is still one of the most scalable ways of influencing purchase.

craig coffman said...

" a mugs game." Nice! Reminds me of the Soft Cell song.

I agree and that is what I was attempting to articulate. Not all decisions are made for you. We are of free will to a large extent. However, 'influentials' do have a factor in our decisions, if even only slight. Yes, mass media is an easy stick to shake and works well for most people. However, how many times have you been influenced by a friend with an opinion at odds with the mass media? Being told by a friend a film is slack despite glowing reviews, for example. I would wager it has happened. I would also wager you see it, if even only as a rental, on occasion. That is as much of an 'influential' as the mythical Golden Goose ready to lay the golden social media egg, or any egg for that matter.

Looking for that is a mug's game. I was stating that what marketers are looking for is someone closer to home. If not your immediate friend pool, then at least a local voice who has sway (for whatever reason). That is exceptionally tricky, which I note, but ideally what they are hoping to hone in on. It is not about finding the one 'influential' for all things, but the right ones for the right time. That will be far beyond cost effective and therefore doomed to fail.

Instead, as I touched on, I think the near goal will be 'influentials' approaching companies and advertising being worked out that way. Given the 'influential' nature of the person, there is a value to that. It might be small, but there could be a value. Look at Adwords for an example of pennies adding up. Only this time, companies have a better focus on where those endorsements are coming from and 'influentials' are only influencing for things they support. Otherwise, as you note and I agree, they will lose their status and simply be a hustler.

Given, the metrics and such are not in place, yet. However, I believe 'influentials' are out there, and it makes sense for companies / organizations / individuals to try either get to them, or more effectively, give them incentive to come on their own.

Thanks for your insights and thoughts to my comment.

Paul said...

Mr Coffman. You are a legend!! Craig, I'm going to shar this page with my mates and reccomend that they start by reading the original HBR article so they can put this all into context. I'm sure some of them will have a read and a chuckle as I did. Does that make me an influencer as I'm driving people to HBR's website?

rmpitts said...

Ugh, check out this link from Forbes by Strawberry Frog's Scott Goodson-

KevinMGreen said...

Now that's how you reply with detail, sound points, and class. Impressive indeed.

Rob Mortimer said...

The problem is really with the term influencer itself. A perhaps trite way of summing up a person who has sufficient relationship to be listened to when expressing an idea or preference.
That it has been built up into the idea of mass groups who go around inspiring everyone to do something is wrong.

Greg Satell said...


I do apologize for the "popping off" comment, but if everybody can be influential, then what is the value of "influentials?" Unless it describes an identifiable trait, the term is meaningless.

Someone like Duncan Watts is an "influential"in the field of social networks because he helped pioneer it and wrote many of its seminal papers. I don't see how your spending the same time on earth as he makes you as qualified.

But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to call him an "influential?" Why not just an prominent researcher in the field? There's no mystery in that. It's easily verifiable. You can look at paper citations, his employment history and so on.

The term is even more problematic when it is put into practice. Surely someone like Oprah Winfrey is influential. So are doctors. That's why we have terms like "celebrity endorsement" and "trade marketing." The term "influentials" is absolutely meaningless in any kind of structured way.

As to your comments about my post, you might have read it, but didn't seem to understand it. Particularly with respect to the three points at the end.

Passion: Someone who is more passionate about something is more likely to share it, but not necessarily more influential. You are much better off looking for people who is receptive to a message than trying to find some mysterious "influential factor."

In other words, fairly basic targeting is more than sufficient. Talking about "influentials" obscures more than it reveals.

Density: More people does not equal more density. There are more people in the state of Montana than there are at a football game, but it is certainly not more dense.

Empowerment: Facilitating people's ability to share has nothing to do with any concept of "influentials." You are not targeting anybody, merely providing a resource.

As for so called "influential" having more influence on outcomes, the difference is so marginal that even a moderate effort to identify would erase any benefit.

So, unless there is a definable trait that makes someone more influential in advance, the term is not only useless, but incredibly misleading.

In other words, a sham.

Greg Satell said...

btw. As to your comment about the "drum major," a core principle of network theory is that there doesn't need to be one. In fact, the whole thing got started by studying things that organize without a leader (i.e. pacemaker cells, certain types of fireflies, etc)

craig coffman said...

Greg -

Thank you very much for your response to some of my points, and support
of yours. I think it is simply that you believe 'influentials' do not
exist and I believe they do. It is just a difference of opinion /
perception. I say your statements further to prove their existence and
you counter saying that mine offer no support. No harm there, but there is
also no point in going around and around.

The only thing I will clarify is your 'time on earth' statement.
Certainly, time alive on its own does not make someone more or less able
to do things. Otherwise very old people could do almost anything simply
because they have been around. I cannot say after 41 years, I ought to
finally be able to tame a lion. Good luck with that, right?

But my comment was relating to 'empirical' as being defined: based on,
concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than
theory or pure logic. My stated experience in the work place and
university studies, beginning from the early 90s, are tied into the
ideas of influence, market segments and reach, psychology, etc. I
believe that is relevant here. Not simply my 'time on earth.'

Anyway, I do thank you for your time spent on your response and further
clarifications. If nothing else, I can say that you have given me more
to consider. That is never a bad thing.

Greg Satell said...

Yes, seems like a good place to leave it. Cheers!

- Greg

Luis Garcia said...

good points, reality is that marketing is alive and kicking, but becoming more and more diversified: more techniques and more channels than ever...