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Why You Shouldn’t Have a Marketing Department (Have This Instead)

You know how you aggressively brush your teeth the night before a dentist appointment?

Like, if you just brush REALLY hard, your dentist won’t notice that you haven’t been flossing those back teeth for months.

It never works. Your dentist always notices because she’s a dentist. It’s her job to know you’ve been half-assing your toothbrushing for the last few months.

I feel the same way about marketing. Or at least, how people treat marketing lately. It’s become this last-ditch effort to salvage damage that was done months before.

Let’s set the record straight here: You can’t “hire a marketer” and get your product launched just like you can’t aggressively brush your teeth the night before your dentist appointment and expect all the m&m damage to be gone.

Marketing can’t save you from an unnurtured list, poor time management, crappy team members who don’t execute well, a sh*tty product, inconsistent communication, or (the worsttttt offender IMO) lazy copy. (Ok it’s not actually the worst one, but it does make me angry)

Marketing enhances what already exists.

It’s like makeup. You can’t fix ugly if it’s coming from inside. But if you have nice eyes, those babies can pop with the right liner and some good mascara.

Eyes mascara beautiful marketing

Those fake lashes don’t work by themselves. They work together with that well-sculpted brow-line and baby blues.

I’ve written before about how marketing is held responsible for the outcome of a system it’s not entirely in control of. And today I want to explore why we keep expecting marketing to do a job it’s not designed to do.

Molly Pittman, VP & Traffic Manager Digital Marketer, says,

“The role of marketing is to move prospects and customers seamlessly and subtly through each stage of the value journey. It’s not to put in $1 and get out $1 million. It’s not awareness — It’s to take someone from “unaware” to an “advocate” and loving your product so much that they tell their friends about it.”

For more on what Molly said, enter your email and I’ll send you my notes from the Converted conference.

Like most things titled “value journey” (or canvass / blueprint / framework), I thought this was a BS gimmick. But turns out it’s legit.

“People use ONE campaign in the “excite” stage, and it’s no surprise it doesn’t work. Don’t just think of marketing as something that happens in awareness stage in business. You need to deploy campaigns later in customer journey.”

Ding ding ding ding.

Listen, I’m all for marketing being held accountable just like all departments in a company should be held accountable. But no one is blaming accounting if revenue is low. The expectation you have of a department needs to be consistent with what that department is responsible for.

If I had my way, there’d be no marketing department.

Yeah, I said it.

When marketing is its own department, the rest of the organization abdicates its responsibilities as part of the growth team.

“We made this product/We have this event – Now go tell people!!!” I can’t even write that sentence without my blood boiling.

You tell people!!

Sorry, ok here’s the thing: You can’t keep “telling people” stuff. Promotion is not “blasting” emails about your events to your audience in order to “get the word out!” You can’t irritate people into submission or force them to buy something they don’t want.

Do you remember that story about the burger place?


Not kosher.

Guy asks his friend, “What do you need to have a successful burger place?” Friend says, “I dunno, best meat. Great lighting. Nice tables. Fancy chef…” Guy says, “No. You need a crowd full of hungry customers.”

Marketing takes the crowd full of hungry customers and convinces them they want to eat a burger.

We can’t make customers hungry if they’re full. You can use the world’s greatest appeal, but if a customer just walked out of that Thai place stuffed to the brim, he’s not eating your burger.

From my experience, anytime a CEO blames marketing for failing to find hungry customers, she’s covering her own failure to build something people want. Can marketing make that thing MORE appealing? Sure. We can change the positioning, we can mess with the pricing, we can do lots of things that most of us argue make a HUGE difference

But do they?

Is a bad headline REALLY the reason no one is buying? I know, it’s sacrilege to say. I love headlines too. And I’ve read book after book on how they’ve generated billions of dollars for companies. I’ve even witnessed their power in my own collateral.

But you still have to offer people something they actually want.

The truth is (I’m really sorry you guys I have to say it) things sell with bad headlines when the customers really want them.

(I knowwwwwwwwww I know. I’m going to be kicked out of every marketing club that ever loved me. But it needs to be said.)

I’ve witnessed sh*t marketing sell like hotcakes because it was selling something people actually wanted. It’s like when we blame the algorithm when, really, people just aren’t interested in the topic you wrote about (RIP my articles on media literacy).

The best most “conversion optimized” website won’t work if the offer sucks. Remember what Zappos looked like in 2003? (WaybackMachine is the best way to waste time if you’re stuck in a meeting btw)

Zappos Homepage in 2003.

Zappos Homepage in 2003.

Things sell when the value proposition is something people want. Marketing’s job is to make hungry customers realize they want a burger, not frantically publish fliers all over the place at the 11th-hour when we discover no one has bought any burgers.

(Publish fliers = take out Facebook ads = tweak the sales page = send more emails = decrease the price = all the things you do at the 11th-hour to get a lift in sales when really you should have been nurturing your damn list and building something people actually want)

Marketing is important, but it cannot function in a silo disconnected from the rest of the organization.

It’s part of the rest of the organization (which is why it shouldn’t be its own department).

If you want to fulfill the function of finding leads, attracting qualified ones, converting them to customers, and then getting them obsessed with your business, then you need a designated “growth department” where a member of every team is required to come together.

come together

With our powers combined, we are CAPTAIN PLANET!!!!

Product people, dev team, design/UX team, sales teams, operations people, customer service, PR people, and marketing people.

We’re all on the growth team.

“Handing stuff off” to marketing is not how a system works. That’s how production teams work. “I made this flier, please print it. kthanksbye.”

Marketing used to work as a fantastic top-of-the-funnel lead gen machine. It doesn’t work like that anymore. If you’ve been feeling like crap about your abilities as a marketer, this is probably why.

The role we have now is to educate people on this system. And for goodness sake people stop promising things you can’t deliver. (You know who you are.)

Marketing cannot replace the hard work of building something people want.

It cannot replace the hard (unsexy) work of showing up when you’re not launching something, consistently providing value, surprising and delighting customers, and actually giving AF about the people you’re selling to.

If you don’t want to freak out the night before your dentist appointment, brush your teeth aggressively every day, floss those back teeth, and don’t eat m&ms for dinner.

This isn’t rocket science.