Marketing bullshit is a structural problem
by Doc Searls Friday, October 28, 2016

From The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge — 

Back in the early ‘90s, when I was making a good living as a marketing consultant, I asked my wife—a successful businesswoman and a retailing veteran—why it was that heads of corporate Sales & Marketing departments were always from Sales people and not from Marketing people. Her answer: “Simple: Sales is real. Marketing is bullshit.”
When I asked her to explain that, she said this wasn’t marketing’s fault. The problem was the role marketing was forced to play. “See, sales touches the customer; but marketing can’t, because that’s sales’ job. So marketing has to be ‘strategic.’” She put air-quotes around “strategic.” She acknowledged that this was an over-simplification, and not fair to all the good people in marketing (such as myself) who really were trying to do right by customers. But her remark spoke to the need to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not, and to dig deeper into why the latter has become such an enormous part of the way we do business.

On a #cce16 panel going on right now, @sunderks just talked about how marketing can be disconnected from the rest of a business, and from its business model. Others on the panel (@shellkillebrew & @tomwillner) nodded. All three have also been trying to put #digital marketing into a human context, which is good, and important. But the disconnect persists, because marketing is structurally isolated from the market, which is customers. Let me explain.

While the old disconnect between marketing and sales is still there, the disconnect between marketing and market is barely bridged, at best, by digital, which has been a marketing obsession for the last decade. In fact, the disconnect may be worse than ever, thanks to marketing's obsession with harvesting and metabolizing personal data, and using it to target personal messages directly to individuals. These are the digital equivalent of junk mail. And, like junk mail, digital messages mostly miss the mark and clutter people's lives. Meanwhile, the direction of marketing remains one-way and one-to-many, no matter how personalized the messages to any individual might be. 

To eliminate the disconnect between customers and companies (and de-bullshit marketing), customers need to be in charge of how they relate to companies in the digital world. They aren't yet. Not only do they still lack the tools required, but every company with a system for relating to customers does it differently, and inside its own silo. 

Which means they need scale across those companies. They have that with everything they actually drive, including their cars, phones, computers and cash. They don't, however, within the relationship systems provided separately by all the companies they deal with.They are driven, rather than driving, within each of those relationships. It's even worse than that outside of relationships, where customers are constant targets of marketing messages, way too many of which are aimed by rude and unwelcome surveillance and nearly all of which miss the mark.

Here is an example of scale you don't have:  changing your address or last name for every company you deal with, in one move, rather than going to a hundred websites and through as many web forms, like a bee going from flower to flower to flower. Or intentcasting a request for something you want, to a whole market, rather than separately to different companies. (Example: calling for a ride from any company, rather than only from Uber, Lyft or whomever, through each of their own separate apps.)

Personal scale is what bridges the disconnect between customers and marketing. Without it, the disconnect persists, marketers remain clueless, and bullshit thrives, no matter how much data marketing collects, not matter how digital they become, and how much AI they deploy. There is no substitute for genuine human contact, run by the humans we call customers.

Among the many conceits that maintain marketing's isolation from markets is the persistent assumption that CRM (customer relationship management) CX (customer experience), CE (customer engagement) and the "customer journey" (toward purchase) are all the responsibility of the company, rather than the customer.

The market is a dance floor, where many dances are possible. The problem, as Adele Menichella puts it (in The Intention Economy), "Companies need to dance with, not on, their customers." For all their good intentions, marketing can't help dancing on their customers, rather than with them, if customers can't take the lead.

Which they will, with VRM ways to engage companies' CRM, CE and CX systems.

But until that happens, the bullshit is still there, only now it's digital.

  • Congrats on VRM Day!  It's such a foundational concept, 10 years doesn't surprise me. Glaciers never show up suddenly.