"Marketing Is Dead": Good Headline, Wrong Conclusion

In a blog post at Harvard Business Review that so far has drawn 300+ comments, consultant and author Bill Lee argues that "traditional marketing is dead" based on the following:

  1. Empowered consumers ignore advertising and find products/services on their own
  2. CEOs think CMOs (chief marketing officers) don't understand how business works - e.g. that when you say marketing is a good investment you have to prove it. (Cites a study)
  3. Marketers are unlike customers and don't understand them.
He says instead that we should:
  1. Use social media more, specifically peer networks on social media
  2. Locate customers who influence other potential customers and give them a platform

I agree with Lee's premise but disagree with the conclusions:

  1. There is a difference between marketing and branding that he conveniently disregards. Branding is the holistic act of establishing a unique position that appeals to the customer, that adds value beyond a commodity. That will never, ever go away because "it happens whether we like it or not" as they used to say at The Brand Consultancy.
  2. Social media is inherently organic and any attempt to co-opt it will be viewed with great suspicion - there is huge potential for a backlash
  3. Customers don't need brands to give them a platform - they have one all on their own, and they've established it specifically to escape corporate influence. It's called social media!
The big point of course makes sense, that traditional marketing is out of touch. What we could do to remedy that is to:
  1. Go back to brand-building - and establish literacy as to what this is.
  2. Stop promising meaningful metrics where they're not deliverable.
  3. Focus on internal customers - e.g. employees - treat them well and show them the product is good and they will deliver the brand message.
  4. Listen to what people are saying out there on social media and respond.
Self-promotional posts like this one are not as helpful as objective analysis, but at least it's good for sparking a conversation.