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The Death Of Marketing (Madness)

A Snarketing post by Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors

I’m not sure why, but it really ticks me off when smart people make stupid comments. Maybe I expect better of them, I don’t know.

But when a bunch of smart people make the same stupid comment, I’m ready to throw a chair through the window. That’s probably why my home office is in the basement.

There is a comment that seems to increasingly rear its ugly head, in which the otherwise smart people claim: Marketing Is Dead.

If not marketing, then it’s advertising, PR, direct mail, or fill-in-the-blank with your favorite whipping boy.

A recent claim comes from a self-described “TEDx/Keynote speaker, and inspiring Harvard Business Review columnist” who writes on her blog:

“My key thesis is that Marketing is Dead. In many ways, old news. And, the more helpful and less theatrical lesson: Marketing in the 21st century is always about the product and the purpose it service. You can no longer expect to have a so-so or weak product and then marketing your way to winning the market.”

(Note to HBR: You should really consider publishing columnists who passed their third-grade grammar class)

But the blog post does go on to say:

So, what replaces marketing is shared purpose.

As our HBR columnist (oh, and TEDx Keynote speaker) explains, “To make this real, let’s talk about five ways to do that: 1) Have a bigger goal; 2) Participate in conventions already in play; 3) Focus on pleasure; 4) Go to the tribe; and 5) Manifest the purpose fully.”

My take: We don’t let just anyone dispense medical or legal advice, so why do we let anyone with access to the Internet dispense marketing advice?

Can you imagine a CMO walking into the CEO’s office to explain this?

CMO: “Look, let me get right down to it — the way we do marketing around here isn’t working out. I propose we replace it with shared purpose.”

CEO: WTF does that mean?

CMO: Well, to make it real for you, it means focusing on pleasure, going to the tribe, and manifesting our shared purpose fully.

CEO: WTF does that mean?

CMO: It means…

CEO: Never mind. STFU, pack up your stuff, and get the hell out of here. And I suggest you go straight to a drug rehab clinic which we will pay for as part of your severance package.

The Death of Marketing Madness

There is so much wrong with the “marketing is dead” claims that it’s hard to know where to start. I’ll start by addressing one of the HBR columnist’s statements that “Marketing in the 21st century is always about the product and the purpose it service.” (Assuming, of course, that she meant “the purpose it serves”).

The reason for starting here is that this statement reflects the misunderstanding that many of the marketing-is-dead prophets have: Reducing Marketing to some simplistic statement about what it is and isn’t is lunacy.

(You know those people who say “customer service is the new marketing“? They’re the folks twiddling their thumbs on the other side of the same loony bin)

Marketing is a complex business function that comprises a number of disciplines including advertising, market research, public relations, and more. Is it changing due to changes in technology and society? Of course.

Is it correct to think that everything about how we performed marketing in the past is “dead” because of these changes? Only if you’re an moron, or more concerned with selling a book you wrote or securing a keynote speaking slot at a conference.

In an excellent blog post titled Inter-Galactic Worldwide Experientiator Predicts End Of Advertising, The Ad Contrarian cites George Tannenbaum, who describes these morons, book hawkers, and faux speakers as:

“…the great un-accountables who produce nothing but hot air, nothing that lives and breathes, nothing that has an impact in the market. Nothing you can pin down.”

What we really need is the (figurative) death of these marketing un-accountables, and an end to this marketing madness.

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Get a copy of his best-selling book, Smarter Bank: Why Money Management is More Important Than Money Movement. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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  1. Industry experts get more exposure when they “kill” something. If you’re a shameless self-promoter, then all you need to do is pronounce “XYZ IS DEAD!” where X, Y an Z represent the old/current ways of doing things.

  2. Great post – although I’m not sure how much weight I can put on it as I just read that blogging is dead.

  3. I really enjoyed this one Ron. The only way the five ways to make it “real” could be better if is if the HBR columnist used “robust” in the five descriptions: “Have a bigger robust goal, participate in robust conversations already in play, focus on robust pleasure…etc”

  4. Good eeee-ven-ink…. Dees ees Count Dracula. Marketing is now of UN-dead… it bites!… though Ron’s post doesn’t…

  5. I’m really, really happy to find out that marketing in the future will be “about the product”.

    Since it’s never, ever been about the product before, you know?

  6. Ron, I am so disappointed. I was really hoping that Marketing was dead so that I could be a zombie marketer. Oh well.

    Thanks for the excellent post. The good thing about all those procrastinators talking about the death of this or that is it’s very easy to know who not to read so you don’t waste your time.

  7. Customer service has always been marketing… Avis “we try harder” (although it’s questionable if they really do based on my experience lately), Southwest Airlines, Lexus, Amazon, and Nordstrom’s have all built their business on the recognition of customer service as not only a means of retaining customers but also acquiring new ones.

    It’s easy to get wrapped up in all these things, as pundits often do, as a zero sum game. However, that simply doesn’t hold up to reality and just as you wouldn’t disconnect your phone because your business has email, you won’t full stop the basket of marketing activities that you undertake because you are focusing on marketing through customer experience.

    In the same breath, you also can’t expect that more advertising or tradeshows or the all-the-rage social listening initiatives will result in anything but a linear increase in customer acquisition so why would you not go right to the core of the complex interaction of customer acquisition and margin, which is to get more money from the customers you already have as well as use them to fill your funnel with effective customer advocacy driven new customer segments?

    I agree with your statement that technology is changing the complex interaction of activities that form the marketing function, as well as dismiss the simple prognosis that this-or-that is dead. Marketing is changing, just as it always has and always will, because how people engage companies and each other is always changing.

  8. Jeff: Thanks for your comment. As a product marketing guy, I’m surprised to hear you say this. I would never argue that the quality of customer service doesn’t impact a customer’s overall satisfaction with a product, brand, or firm. But that doesn’t make customer service “marketing”. If everything that impacted customer satisfaction, or customer experience, for that matter, was considered “marketing” then everything is marketing. It’s akin to the argument that a few too many HR people have that anything that has to do with the “people” in an organization is “HR.” Every business function has boundaries, and every business function is tightly linked with other functions.

  9. Ron,
    That is a fair point, but the notion that every interaction with a customer affects brand equity in a positive or negative way, as you point out, is not a new one, so in effect we have always recognized the marketing impact of customer service. The idea that marketing is dead now is nonsense, as you point out… if anything the marketing function(s) is more integrated in product, customer service, and sales as a result of having more channels to influence the market through.

    As in most things in business, there is a lot of nuance and qualification to consider, such as the recurring nature of the business (I run a SaaS P&L so yeah customer churn is a strategic lever for my financial performance) as well as B2B/B2C/B2B2C dynamics and customer acquisition costs.

    I hear you on the HR analog, it’s a good point to consider.

  10. Jeff: Thx for the comeback. I suspect my differences in opinion are far greater with the author of the “marketing is dead” post than they are with you.

  11. that makes 2 of us 🙂

  12. So marketing is dead, eh. Had this been 1952 instead of 2012 she would have been saying that radio was dead.

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