Perhaps about 20-25 years ago, we entered the age of the marketing guru. Before that, there were a few marketing experts that everyone in the field looked up to, such as David Ogilvy, Al Reis and Jack Trout, and Bob Stone.

But then there was an explosion of so-called marketing gurus, such that I, a marketing specialist in the field for 34 years, could not possibly name them all, or even a dozen.

Many of these gurus have made a lot of hay by telling us that such and such new marketing miracle was “changing everything,” and that if we didn’t pay attention to them and get with the program, we would be left in the dust.

I read an excellent book recently recommended to me by my friend Stan Dubin, called “Marketers are from Mars, Consumers are from New Jersey,” by Bob Hoffman. This book brought home to me, the fact that a) Many of these so-called gurus have been wrong, and b) the basics of marketing have not really changed significantly since I started in the field, despite what all the “sky is falling” gurus have said.

Here are just a few of the “marketing miracle” concepts that have been put forth by gurus:

  1. The introduction of Inbound marketing, meaning where people search for you and find you on search engines, rather than you putting out ad messages that “interrupt” them (called “outbound marketing” or “interruption marketing”), has been so ground breaking that “outbound marketing” is dead.
  2. The whole field of marketing is dead, because people don’t like ads and don’t pay attention to them anymore. Instead, you have to abandon the idea of mass marketing and sending your messages out to thousands or millions of people. Instead, you should communicate to prospects on a one-to-one basis on social media, where you can “facilitate conversions.” Because, you know, consumers are just dying to have conversations with brands.
  3. Content marketing, where you create articles and infographics and videos (usually helpful info and not sales oriented) is all you need to do anymore. People respond better to companies that help them so you just need to create amazing content, no more annoying ads or anything.
  4. Branding is just so important and you have to work really hard to brand yourself, and that applies to any business of any size or type, anywhere.
  5. And the grand-daddy of them all: the concept that you have to get “permission” from a prospect before you can communicate to them at all. This came from author Seth Godin and has probably single-handedly destroyed email marketing, making it seem as though it is somehow immoral to send people promotional emails.

All of these concepts have some truth to them. But the problem is, as Bob Hoffman has pointed out in the above mentioned book, that the gurus who have advanced these ideas have tried to get their “big idea” to encompass all aspects of marketing. And many have used the alarming type of message of “this changes everything and you have to know this or you will be out in the cold” to sell their books, courses, or consulting.

I will now comment on each of the above new “miracle” marketing concepts.

Inbound Marketing: Pay per click advertising through search engines has truly revolutionized the marketing field, because you can now reach someone right at the moment they are actually looking for you. But that doesn’t mean by any means that outbound marketing is dead.

Marketing is Dead: As Hoffman points out in his book, consumers are not really dying to have conversations with their brands. I rejected this idea that mass marketing is dead when it first came out, because the mass communications aspect of marketing is one of the things that appealed to me about the field in the first place. Plus I didn’t see how you could have nearly the same amount of reach and power by trying to communicate to people individually. Hoffman also points out that you still see mass advertising flourishing and prospering, on Facebook, and on nearly every free information type site.

Content Marketing is King: The problem with the idea that all you have to do is create wonderful content, is that there is such an overload and saturation of content on the web right now (which will only get worse in the coming years), that if all you do is create content and put it up, no one will see it or care. If you create great content, you still have to promote that content as Mark Schaefer points out in “The Content Code.”

Plus, one of the ideas behind creating informational content is that you are making your company or your brand known as a trusted information source. But people who push the idea that “all you have to do is create great content,” including Google, miss the idea that this is not the best strategy for every type of business. Just as a simple example, take a plumber. What is he going to write about, and who is going to care?

Oh My God Branding is Everything: Hoffman points out that brands are not nearly as important to consumers as marketers seem to think. He says that most brands could disappear tomorrow and consumers would just go to the next brand and be perfectly happy. And he quotes stats to prove this point.

I started thinking about this and realized that there were only a small handful of brands that are truly important to me. I own a Nissan Altima and I love that car, and I like Nissans a lot better than Toyotas and Mitsubishis, both of which I have owned. Also I am a musician and own a set of Yamaha Recording Series drums, which I think are the best drums in the world.

But I don’t have any emotional attachment to brands of shoes, clothes, grocery stores, toilet paper or toothpaste. I asked my wife and she had a hard time listing any brands that she had a strong emotional attachment to.

So that tells you that branding is important in certain cases but not everything. And I have always felt that you can brand a product or company at the same time you are promoting for people to buy it now. So I don’t ever favor the type of advertising that is JUST aimed at branding.

Permission Marketing: I have had unkind words for Seth Godin in the past. Actually it is not true that Godin single-handedly destroyed email marketing. He had a lot of help from guys promoting Viagra and toner cartridges, who basically over-saturated the medium to the point where people tuned out. But Godin did introduce the idea that it was somehow immoral to send promo email.

The truth of Godin’s message was in the fact that if you want to build an email list of clients and prospects for an email newsletter and similar uses, getting someone to opt in is much better, and they will tend to accept your email much better. But he tried to take that concept to the point of infinity where all marketing had to be done with “permission,” a ridiculous concept that would keep you on a small scale forever.

The Real Stuff

  1. A mix of inbound and outbound marketing is necessary for any company.
  2. Marketing is not dead. Promote your product on as many channels as you can. Interrupt people. It’s OK. You do not need permission.
  3. Find out what your prospects need and want and promote that. This may require surveys.
  4. Content marketing is not necessarily the right way to go for any business.
  5. I would say that none of these miracle concepts fit every single situation. Every business and every type of business needs to be handled differently, and the right strategy has to be worked out on a case by case basis.
  6. Advertising aimed only at branding is a waste of money. Do you know any businesses that can afford to waste money today? If so send them to me, but I will not waste their money.
  7. Be suspicious of anyone who says that some miracle has “changed everything” in marketing and you have to do XYZ or you will die.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.