Why Is Marketing So Confusing?

When you ask a marketer what they do, you get a politician’s answer: lots of words, yet somehow, nothing of substance is actually said.

“We bring innovation throughout our projects and push technology as well as strategy to help our clients achieve success”

Image result for what GIF

What does that even mean?

It’s code for: “We’re not sure what we do either.”

You could argue, and many do, that marketers are consciously deceiving you; but having worked in the underbelly of this institution, I can assure you that’s giving them far too much credit.

Most marketers are just as unclear on what they do as you are.  It’s why you’ve probably walked out of a 2-hour meeting going, “Wait…what?”

No one is blurring the truth (at least…not on purpose).

We’re all confused because marketing, as an industry, is in transition.

Marketing is where medicine was in the 1950’s.

Today, you’d never expect a podiatrist to perform an appendectomy. That’s CRAZY. But back in the day, we did because we didn’t have specialists. We didn’t know any different. You had “doctors” and “not doctors.” And doctors did everything.

The same holds true for marketers today.

We’ve clumped everything together and called it “marketing!”

YOU get to be marketing! And YOU get to be marketing!

YOU get to be marketing! And YOU get to be marketing! AND YOU GET TO BE MARKETING!!

We say “marketing” when really we mean:

  • Web development
  • Public relations
  • Data analysis
  • Graphic design
  • Social media management
  • SEM
  • Advertising
  • Etc…

Few of these have overlapping skill sets.  A good web developer is probably not a great social media manager, in the same way your brilliant IT guy is probably not great at being the MC at your holiday party. They’re different skill sets.

It’s no one’s fault. This is actually a great thing, like adolescence. It’s unpleasant, but necessary for maturity.

Getting someone’s attention back in the day wasn’t difficult. There were only four channels where you could reach people: Radio, TV, Print, and Out-of-Home (aka, billboards). Someone who had a business could take out an ad that said, “My business sells widgets – do you need widgets? Buy them here.” And that would suffice.

Today, to do the equivalent of that, you need to know design, copywriting, HTML…the list goes on.

It is exponentially more difficult to get someone’s attention.

There are more products to choose from in each category and more distribution channels to reach people than ever before.

In your mind, marketing is simply a bunch of things that help you get customers and helps you stand out.

The how is up to the marketer (which, in fairness, is a decent way to think about it).

Here’s what typically happens:

You (business owner) get smart, do some reading, and learn enough to be dangerous. And you’re like, “Ah! I got it. I need SEO!” So, you do the logical thing and you hire an SEO guy. The SEO guy is like, “Yes! I have a client! I’m going to do the best job ever!” and he does.

But then sales are “eh,” and you’re left wondering why.

but why

It’s because marketing is a system.  

SEO is part of that system, but it’s not the entire system.

Neither you nor your hire know who is responsible for setting up that system. The SEO guy thinks it’s you since he’s only here to do SEO. And you think the SEO guy’s responsible, since, you’re the business owner and that guy is in marketing, so this is his domain to rule and advise you on.

The SEO guy, in earnest, promised you SEO was the silver bullet you were looking for and would get you a ton of leads. He wasn’t wrong that it would help with leads…it’s just…you need to do something with those leads…hence the “system.”

This happens all the time.

It’s the chicken or the egg conundrum of marketing: Who is responsible for setting up the system!?

SEO without a conversion optimized site (which is part design, part engineering, part copy, and part branding) is like getting everyone in the neighborhood to come to your shoe store and then the store being a mess and then asking, “Why did no one buy shoes?”

There’s no simple answer. It’s inventory, it’s merchandising, it’s the pricing strategy, it’s the distributors, it’s the checkout process, it’s customer service…There are a LOT of reasons someone didn’t buy shoes.

When it’s a brick and mortar store, it’s much easier to assign jurisdiction and governance to each domain. Obviously, your marketing person is not going to be responsible for checkout or inventory, that’s fulfillment and supply chain territory.

In today’s world, especially online, the lines aren’t so clear-cut.

The trouble lies in one simple question: Where does marketing begin and end?

The simple answer is: we don’t know, yet.

Lots of thought leaders wax poetic about how “marketing is everything!” and they’re not wrong. Every customer touchpoint is communicating something about your brand to your customer.

But it’s not exactly a helpful distinction (or definition) when you’re trying to run a company and make different departments responsible for things.

We’re getting close. We’re nearing the phase where we go, “hmm maybe a foot doctor should focus on feet and an internal medicine doctor should focus on appendices? And also – let’s get a different doctor working on the brain. They shouldn’t be messing around with feet or appendices. That seems like a good idea.”

Until then, if someone tells you they’re in marketing, reserve judgment when they cannot tell you exactly what it is they do.

Odds are, they aren’t quite sure what they do either.



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