Has Marketing Jumped the Shark?

Marketing has been hijacked by tech people and the results aren't pretty. The only thing more confusing to business owners and leaders than marketing is particle string theory. What matters and what works to fuel growth has been lost in a sea of acronyms, algorhythms, doublespeak, blathering nonsense and grift.

Marketing has been hijacked by tech people and the results aren’t pretty. The only thing more confusing to business owners and leaders than marketing is particle string theory. What matters and what works to fuel growth has been lost in a sea of acronyms, algorhythms, doublespeak, blathering nonsense and grift.


In this article I will show you what went wrong and how to fix it. 


First, let me be clear. I have deep knowledge and experience in tech marketing and the technology of marketing. I’m an early adopter (although there is probably some new term for that) with marketing technology and have actively rode the waves of the Internet from its inception.  We understand SEM. We know all about “The Buyers Journey” and “Account based sales” and CAC, LTV, ROAS, MQL, blah blah blah. I could list acronyms for hours.


There is no machiavellian plot behind this, marketing has simply taken the path least restrictive and has become obsessed with the mechanics of marketing. Many people involved in this new marketing (called Digital Marketing or Bespoke Marketing or Account Based Marketing or any number of variants) are young. From the day they were born, technology is life and life is tech. These tech babies grew up to be marketing technicians.


Before we can understand what happened, we need to understand what happened. Hang with me for a short history of how we got to here. 


“Marketing” as a business discipline really started in the late nineteenth century. Marketing became an academic field in the early twentieth century. Marketing has also tracked with technological innovation with the advent of the printing press, radio, television and the Internet.


Like an out of control monster, the discipline has grown to a height of complexity (partially natural and partially intentionally by the marketing industry) that is almost impossible to fully comprehend. But it always wasn’t this way.


In the days of radio and television, customers got information from a very limited number of channels. When TV adoption was growing in the 50’s and 60’s there were three channels: ABC, NBC and CBS. (there was a fourth – DMN however it only lasted about twelve years).


If you wanted to get your message out, all you had to do was focus on those three channels. Because there were so few channels, TV shows garnered massive audiences. The Ed Sullivan Show was viewed by 50m – a record 73m people when they introduced the Beatles. In the 80’s, shows like The Cosby Show racked up 30m viewers per show. Every week. That’s 210m viewers every week for a decade.


Attention was concentrated between a few channels. Then came cable. Viewership was split among hundreds of channels and any given program or channel delivered sharply fewer eyeballs.

The advent of the Internet exponentially increased the number of channels. If a video goes “viral” and racks up a few million views, that is considered an incredible feat.


However the Internet changed marketing fundamentally because suddenly certain things could be measured far more accurately. Just as the Internet created a deluge of content and channels for customers, it created a tsunami of data for marketers. At first, agencies like ours were stoked.


“We can finally personalize marketing!” we proclaimed with visions of sugar plums in our eyes we could see an era where we no longer had to generalize across groups of people (segments) – we could tailor each touch and message to each individual! Oh baby!


Then a curious thing happened.


Corporate teams and agencies latched on to certain measurements that were easy to measure. Not necessarily meaningful measurements. (path of least resistance, again.) For example, it was easy to measure page views and click rates but these were pretty far from the path of revenue. These vanity metrics persist to this day.


However, it gets worse. Next the software engineers and accountants got involved. Now the number of metrics that could be measured exploded. Enter big data and the age of the algorithm was born.


It’s bad enough that today’s marketing gurus simply take well established terms and concepts and invent new terms for the same thing (“tracking” is now “attribution”, “Stack” just means “technology mix”, “Growth Hacking” is just high tech “guerilla marketing”, “a marketing funnel” is just a specialized landing page)  Combined with a flurry of acronyms, unlimited options for measurement, changing nomenclature definitions and the result is a confusing mess of jargon, rehashed ideas, pseudo gurus and confused clients.


Nobody knows what anybody is talking about because everyone has different definitions of the same words. For the average CEO, marketing has become a black box. 


Of course I’m just giving some highlights here. The overall picture is much more complex as buyer habits have changed. The Internet has literally changed everything in both sales and marketing.


As all of this complexity has dominated the mind space of marketers and salespeople, fundamentals have become a lost science. Very few companies invest in customer research or competitive research. SMB’s and even some global companies focus on tactics (social media, advertising, email marketing, etc.) with the expectation that customer buying behavior can be attributed accurately to each and any individual tactics.


This thinking dates from the engineer’s black and white understanding of the world. “If we invest $X in a machine that increases our capacity by 50%, we can expect $X.5 in return.” Unfortunately human buying behavior doesn’t work like that.


Because marketing is all about human behavior marketing doesn’t work like that either. 


Marketing is inherently human. It is folly to attempt to measure a specific tactic when the average buyer has a dozen touches with your message before they take action. Let’s look at a fictional buyer journey for B2B services.


  1. John refers Sheila to Company X as a potential customer
  2. Sheila then gets online and visits the company’s website and likely other platforms to decide if Company X is worth further consideration. If the company seems credible and has the right skills, they pass.
  3. Sheila has heard of Company X before through seeing LinkedIn posts. She has read about Company X in the Business Journal and has seen the company’s name hosting business events. This familiarity is translated by Sheila’s brain as “I’ve heard of Company X, they must be good.”
  4. Sheila decides to clicks on the first Google result for the company which happens to be a paid ad.


So which interaction with which touchpoint should be counted?


Today’s marketer would say “The website doesn’t generate leads, organic social doesn’t work and I’m not sure of events but our Pay Per Click campaign is killing it! Let’s stop the social, cut the website budget and stop doing events.” And then wonder why their “marketing” doesn’t work.


The problem is that there were a number of tactics that worked together in symbiotic fashion to inspire Sheila to click the ad simply because that was easy to find. She may just as easily used a form on the website or emailed a specific contact that John gave her.


This is why “attribution” is so difficult in practice. Software can only track inputs. Humans make decisions outside of software. What is now called a “marketing stack” is a well known theory that is actually called Integrated Marketing. All the parts of the strategy work together to inspire people to act, shape their perception and communicate the value proposition clearly.


So what is the answer?


Have a plan and execute that plan.

You can’t build a mansion without a blueprint. Marketing is too complex and multi-faceted to wing it. Create a simple plan and put it in writing so the team can collaborate.


Get to know your customer inside and out.

Know what the customer is thinking before they think it. Understand the intricacies and nuances of their pain. Do the research or fail.


Measure only what counts.

Select a manageable number of metrics (now called “KPI’s”) that are directly linked to moving a prospect through your funnel and to the close. Here are the ones we recommend as a baseline:


  • Revenue metrics (gross, COGS, profits, etc.)
  • Program metrics (metrics for campaigns – email marketing, social, website, etc.)
  • Cost of Customer Acquisition (CAC)
  • Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)
  • Customer Annual Value (CAV)
  • Cost per Lead (CPL)
  • Overall conversion rate
  • Inquiries
  • Marketing Qualified Leads
  • Sales Accepted Leads
  • Sales Qualified Leads
  • Deal Velocity
  • Database growth
  • Lead to close rates
  • Overall engagement (email and social)
  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (if applicable)
  • Overall Return on Marketing Investment (MROI)


Simplify your “Stack”

Integrate your technology dedicated to marketing, prospecting and sales. Don’t be distracted with the latest tools and wingdings. Use established systems that integrate and stick with them.


Ignore the fundamentals of marketing at your own risk

If you are not sure what the fundamentals of marketing is, get some help from a qualified marketing expert like Pete Monfre. Let’s simplify this so we can execute an effective program that is predictable and focuses on profitability and growth instead of vanity metrics and bullshit.