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Book Review - Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose

October 10, 2017 / By Bruce McDuffee

As I traveled to Content Marketing World 2017, I thought it was only fitting that I review Joe Pulizzi's killing marketing.jpegand Robert Rose’s new book called ‘Killing Marketing.' Granted, for a devout marketer like myself, the title strikes me as somewhere between provocative and infuriating. Fortunately, I was able to quickly dial down my emotions over to the provocative side of the scale.

By writing Killing Marketing, I believe Robert and Joe endeavor to get us to rethink the term, practice, and execution of ‘marketing.' This is a concept with which I both agree and disagree. It’s true that the execution side of marketing has changed and continues to change dramatically on a near-daily basis. However, the fundamentals of the marketing function have not changed and will never change as long as there is some person or some firm with a goal to sell their product or service to another party.

Consider the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia nearly 7,000 years ago. The culture included those people or organizations who crafted a product one way or another. They desired to trade that product for something they perceived as having value. The transaction could not occur without a marketing strategy. Execution of that strategy would entail:

  • the merchant understanding their product
  • understanding of the audience
  • understanding what value it has in the eyes of the target audience
  • understanding how much value they could get in exchange
  • understanding where they would make the exchange
  • understanding how they would make sure people knew about the product and its value
The fundamental aspect of marketing will and should never be killed.

The primary question the authors ask is, “What if everything we know to be true about marketing is actually what’s holding back our business?” This question is exceptionally perceptive in that it goes directly to a huge problem marketing and marketers have today which is the widely varied perception of the term ‘marketing.'

In Chapter 1, Robert writes, “Marketing is the activity that most companies wish they didn’t have to do. For many businesses, it is simply a “tax” on the system, and the focus is putting as little investment into it as possible.” Unfortunately, I also find this to be exactly how the function ‘marketing’ is perceived. Finding a CEO with a marketing background is rare. The default position of most Chief Executives is exactly as Robert states. It’s an expense item on the income statement they don’t understand, don’t want to understand, is more of a black art than a strategy, and they might as well be burning piles of cash in the parking lot as opposed to spending money on what they perceive as ‘marketing.'

It is this perception, my friends, that we should be killing.

The authors go on to describe an idea that a marketing function can become a profit center in and of itself. The common examples of Red Bull and Legos are used, again. (ad nauseam in my opinion, sorry guys). I don’t agree that a model where marketing becomes a profit center can or should apply to most B2B companies. Yes, a few big companies like Red Bull and Legos have achieved it, but many, if not most, B2B companies are still struggling with the concept of marketing as a strategic component of the business, let alone a business in and of itself. It’s like Delta Airlines trying to compete with Southwest Air. Delta can’t do it because the culture and infrastructure will not support a different business model. The business foundation and culture are too entrenched to change. A firm and its people have to know what business they’re in and can usually only focus on one business at a time. If a business makes widgets, they’re in the widget business, and they don’t have the infrastructure or culture to become a media company.

ROI is B.S.

That was my takeaway from Chapter 2. I’m not talking about the concept of return on investment; I’m talking about the perception that marketers can attribute revenue to one or more specific marketing activities. I’ll go out on a limb here and say it can’t be done. Robert shares an example of how ROI improves when a marketer spends less money which hits the nail on the head. ROI for marketing should be related to a net contribution, nothing else makes sense.

Joe and Robert are correct in that it’s time to kill some common misperceptions about marketing so the profession can flourish as a new and different function that generates revenue as an integral, strategic component of the business. Here’s what we do need to kill off in marketing:

  • The idea that the marketing function is a service center (a vending machine if you will) for the other more important business functions such as Sales, Product, or Operations
  • The perception that marketing is simply comprised of channels and activities such as emails, social media, trade shows, or the website
  • The CEO's perception that marketing can prove true ROI for each marketing activity or channel

A big ‘Thank you’ to Robert and Joe for picking up these ideas and starting the conversation. It’s time for the marketing function to be reborn throughout civilization as a revenue-generating operation, of critical strategic importance to every business. Technology and tactics are the delivery vehicle. The fundamentals of marketing are more important today than at any time in history because of the huge array of tactics and technology available to the modern marketer.

Action steps:

  1. Review your marketing fundamentals, create a proper marketing plan if you don’t already have one
  2. Hire a CEO with a marketing background or a Chief Marketer with a business background.
  3. Recognize marketing as a revenue-producing, strategic component of the business
  4. Invite marketing to the leadership table
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