Is Marketing Dead?

“Business has only two basic functions-marketing and innovation.”

Peter Drucker, management consultant and author


A recent controversial article by Bill Lee in the Harvard Business Review proposes that traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead. Yes dead as a doornail.

Lee states that many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm.

His evidence:

  • Buyers are no longer paying much attention. Several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer’s decision journey,” traditional marketing communications just aren’t relevant. Buyers are checking out product and service information in their own way, often through the Internet, and often from sources outside the firm such as word-of-mouth or customer reviews.
  • In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers 73% of them said that Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.
  • In today’s increasingly social media-infused environment, traditional marketing and sales not only doesn’t work so well, but doesn’t make sense. An organization hires people — employees, agencies, consultants, partners — who don’t come from the buyer’s world and whose interests aren’t necessarily aligned with his, and expects them to persuade the buyer to spend his hard-earned money on something. When you try to extend traditional marketing logic into the world of social media, it simply doesn’t work according to Lee.  Source

There’s a lot of speculation about what will replace the “marketing” model. Here is Lee’s take:

1. Restore community marketing. Used properly, social media is accelerating a trend in which buyers can increasingly approximate the experience of buying in their local, physical communities. For instance, when you contemplate a major purchase, such as a flat screen TV, or a good surgeon, you’re not likely to go looking for a salesperson to talk to, or to read through a bunch of corporate website content. Instead, you’ll probably ask neighbors or friends — your peer networks — what or whom they’re using.

2. Companies should position their social media efforts to replicate as much as possible this community-oriented buying experience. For example, a new firm, Zuberance, makes it easy and enjoyable for a firm’s loyal customers to advocate for the firm on their social media platform of choice. At the moment one of these customers identifies himself as a “promoter” on a survey, they immediately see a form inviting them to write a review or recommendation on any of several social media sites. Once they do, the Zuberance platform populates it to the designated sites, and the promoter’s network instantly knows about his experience with the firm.

3. Find your customer influencers. Many firms spend lots of resources pursuing outside influencers who’ve gained a following on the Web and through social media. A better approach is to find and cultivate customer influencers and give them something great to talk about. This requires a new concept of customer value that goes way beyond customer lifetime value, which is based only on purchases.

4. Help them build social capital. Practitioners of this new, community-oriented marketing are also rethinking their customer value proposition for such MVP (“Customer Champion”) customer advocates and influencers. Traditional marketing often tries to encourage customer advocacy with cash rewards, discounts or other untoward inducements. The new marketing helps its advocates and influencers create social capital: it helps them build their affiliation networks, increase their reputation and gives them access to new knowledge.

5. Get your customer advocates involved in the solution you provide. Perhaps the most spectacular example of this comes from the non-profit world (i.e. social marketing). Some years ago, with the number of teen smokers nation-wide rising to alarming levels, the State of Florida thought anew about its decades-long effort to reduce the problem. Using the techniques for building a community of peer influence, Florida solved it. They sought influential teen “customers” such as student leaders, athletes, and “cool kids,” who weren’t smoking or who wanted to quit — and instead of pushing a message at them, they asked for the students’ help and input.

Approached in this new way, some 600 teens attended a summit on teen smoking, where they told officials why anti-smoking efforts in the past hadn’t worked — dire warnings about the health consequences of smoking, or describing the habit as “being gross,” left them unimpressed. On the spot, the teens brainstormed a new approach: they were outraged by documents showing that tobacco company executives were specifically targeting teens to replace older customers who’d died (often from lung cancer).

And so the teens formed a group called SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) who organized train tours and workshops, sold T-shirts and other appealing activities to take their message into local communities. The result: despite a vicious counterattack by Big Tobacco lobbying firms, teen smoking in Florida dropped by nearly half between 1998 and 2007 — by far the biggest success in anti-teen-smoking in history. Put another way, Florida won half of the “non-buyers” of its anti-teen-smoking “product” away from its much bigger, much better funded competitor. They did so by tapping the best source of buyer motivation: peer influence. Source

For more information on the Florida Truth campaign go to link.

Lee concludes that traditional marketing may be dead, but the new possibilities of peer influence-based, community-oriented marketing, hold much greater promise for creating sustained growth through authentic customer relationships.

Mitch Joel, President of Twist Image.  responded to the article by arguing; that marketing isn’t dead. Marketing (which encompasses everything from product, price, place and promotion) is not only alive and well… its core to a business’ success. In short marketing isn’t dead. Marketing is everything.

Joel states “In fact, I would tell Mr. Lee, the Harvard Business Review, and anyone else who asks that advertising (as we have known it to date) is not dying. In fact, it’s not on life-support, it’s not sick, and it probably doesn’t even have the sniffles. Does that mean that social media and digital media has not disrupted the model or added new layers and opportunities? Of course it has. Does it mean that newer components like community management, engaging influencers, building social capital with customers, and engaging with consumers in more collaborative ways (the four core pillars that Lee argues have put the death knell on traditional marketing) hasn’t changed the game? Of course it has.” Source

Maggie Fox points out in her blog that Marketing isn’t dead – the big disruption is simply that it’s now everywhere, and everything, that a company does.

Here are some of the other comments on Lee`s article. Note there were close to hundred comments but here are a few I think are relevant from my perspective.

“Traditional” marketing may not have the stand alone effectiveness, and some forms of media may not have the pull or glamour they once did, but many of the “traditional” methods still work as essential elements to creating effective campaigns/brands/plans. Social media is only one part of the puzzle and social media needs good marketing behind it to be at all successful. “

“Marketing as it has been practiced is evolving owing to the changes we witness around us. Some of the tenets of marketing will get questioned, some of them will come to the forefront and assume greater importance, some will become short term fads and dissipate in a few years as the societal evolution will confine them in a dustbin and some of them will pass the test of time with flying colors. Let’s not start writing premature obituaries”.

“Social media and peer-to-peer marketing have a vital place; at the same time, there’s much data to show increased sales, revenue, market share etc. from the use of traditional marketing.

“Technology is a game changer and today a greater percentage of investigation is done online before a prospect ever talks to a sales person. However, saying marketing is dead is just foolish. Marketing and sales both are evolving and the Internet and technology growth on the Internet is having a substantial effect. Marketing will evolve to incorporate new technology and the way buyer research purchases before they move to a purchase mode. “

“Marketing is not dead; it’s just changed to be in the hands of the consumer and businesses, brands, whatever need to get on board with that. The dinosaurs of ‘traditional’ marketing are struggling to grasp that and hence this type of article rears its ugly head. It’s a shame, as this article has some great insight and advice mixed in, especially around advocates.”


Here is my take:

Marketing is clearly not dead, like many disciplines it’s constantly evolving. Is there a lot of money wasted on marketing? Yes there is. Are there people in marketing resistant to change? Of course there is and that is true of every field.

Lee is not telling us anything we don`t know.  Of course you need to use a variety of integrated marketing approaches to reach audience these days. Yes the idea by some marketing practitioners thinking that using one approach to market is “dead” but frankly since the introduction of integrated marketing communications (see my blog ) I would argue it has been dead for at least three decades.  As I have pointed out in over 150 blogs there is good marketing and bad marketing. I have been very critical of the bad marketing observed in my career as a practitioner, academic and consultant.  The secret to successful marketing is to be open to new ideas,  be strategic i.e. develop a marketing strategy before going headlong into tactics and most important  listen to the people you are trying to reach and influence .

Is marketing dead? Hardly!

Let me know what you think.



3 Replies to “Is Marketing Dead?”

  1. Hi Jim, I agree, marketing is not dead, it’s just being re-positioned so that it’s a combination of traditional marketing combined with inbound marketing and social media.

    As we become more mobile and mobile devices become more common in the hands of consumers some traditional marketing may give way to search and inbound marketing approaches. However you still need to have brand awareness, so as you clearly have stated before, branding is marketing.

    For example, you will still need to hear about Subway in order to consider purchasing one of their sandwiches and we all know that based on the their traditional advertising that they are the
    “Healthy alternative’.

    Also you may use your phone or device to locate a store, or better still, find an online coupon or order a platter and have it sent to you, however you still need to have traditional advertising create the need. So marketing is not dead it’s just evolving like it always has as technology changes.

  2. Very interesting post. I think the point about peer-to-peer marketing is most important. We’ve reached a point where the boundaries have all been broken and as a result people are cynical. They don’t believe anything any more unless it comes from someone they know and trust. This is why social media is so important!

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