I earned a B.S. degree in marketing — with no small irony. I thought throughout college and the first years of my career that marketing was indeed mostly bullshit.
This is not to say I thought marketing required no skill. Not all bullshitting is created equal and I thought myself pretty adept. Effective bullshit must be convincing; holding an air of legitimacy, employing all the necessary tricks of shallow persuasion, sometimes more effortful, in fact, than the simple truth. Although unintentional I’m sure, college provided me a first class atmosphere for developing this already natural skill set.
As it turns out I was right. I’m pretty good at bad marketing.
But what’s the point of being good at doing a bad thing? If I wanted to do that I could have become a senator or a hitman for the mob.
No, I want to make the world a better place, improve people’s lives and build businesses according to that mission.
Nearly four years into my career I can see that enduring, effective, valuable marketing is about the farthest thing from bullshit. On some level I knew this all along, but always considered a bullshit veneer necessary to cover the ugly pieces of a business — that no business could ever get away with full and true transparency, that they all need a marketing fig leaf of to amplify value and conceal shortcomings.
I think the vast majority of companies use marketing in this way. Marketing as a practice and a profession was born out of the mass media age, where it closer resembled propaganda than honest communication; where people simply thought whatever we told them to think.
Well the digital revolution has torn that fig leaf away. Transparency is now unavoidable and marketers are left to choose one of two strategies for dealing with it:
- scramble desperately to manage your image across an ever-splintering array of media, or…
- focus solely on creating ecstatic customers who will multiply the good vibes about your authentically valuable business to everyone they meet.
Option #2 is the obvious and inevitable winner.