Without a doubt, those outside of the profession have a wide range of ideas about what marketers do. Heck, the inspiration for my blog came from my corporate work leading MBA recruitment; the #1 question I got from the all the career switchers on campus visits was some form of so…what exactly *do* y’all (I went to school in the south) do all day?

I eventually got pretty good at the answer and summarized it in one my earliest posts on What Marketing (Really) Is. I was able to reconcile it in the context of what you learn at school and the gaps left to fill on the job. Neat.

But that’s the more sanitized approach to the subject matter. I much prefer the hilarious meme-like graphics such as this to succinctly showcase what different cohorts think marketing is about. A little bit of truth in each tile, not gonna lie.


Even among those of us immersed in the business world, there are many misguided ideas about what marketing is and the role it plays. Entrepreneurs in particular are deploying the craft while at the same time dipping their toes in the whole thing, if marketing hadn’t been a part of their background.

So in my travels over the last years advising founders and startups I have begun to see trends in thinking – trends that are proving to be dangerous, and in the worst cases, fatal. Below I will point out a few of the more troublesome thought patterns that I’m seeing in the digital / app space. If you identify with one of these statements, it might be time to take a step back and seek out some guidance (that’s French for ‘call me’!)

Let’s just get the product launched so that we can market it to build a following and drive sales.

The idea behind all this is that you can’t just keep working the product forever and ever, burning through cash. At some point, the heat’s on; you have to start making money and building a customer base.

Nevertheless, there’s all kinds of yikes with this sort of approach that I have heard articulated in many versions.

First, keep in mind that marketing has 4 Ps, the first of which is PRODUCT. Building a product that consumers want is arguably the most critical step in the process, unless you’re selling a commoditized product….in which case branding becomes essential.

The role of marketing is to fulfill the destiny of the product (or service).

I’m taking ownership for that line, but feel free to use it.

That’s right. In almost all cases, the promotion side of marketing isn’t a miracle-working endeavor. I had to tell many-o-filmmaker this in my days in indie film commercialization. You pretty much seal the commercial potential of the film once you master it. Marketing can rarely overcome the limitations of a product. In fact, I have told my clients in such cases that marketing as they see it can only affect outcomes to directionally +/- 20% of a certain amount. Now there’s no real science behind that number – only a strong message that promotion cannot build a product for you. I had to get that direct because some filmmakers actually thought that if you threw $20M into a film launch it would be #1 at the box office and they’d be on red carpets everywhere. Not so.

Your product when launched should be feel less like MVP and more like a mic drop.

mic dropMinimum Viable Product is becoming so 2012 real fast. I have previously written about the dangers of taking the MVP approach to building your digital service, so I won’t provide them all again here. There are times when it makes sense and I do recognize that, but the points ‘for’ are becoming fewer and fewer.

The entire cycle for conceiving, uploading and managing a startup has drastically shortened in the last several years, thanks to robust levels of activity and a collegial community of founders all anxious to share their wisdom and give back. Processes are quicker, activity is more furtive and spaces are becoming crowded. Companies of all sizes are rushing through their lifecycle or being bought up by the few congloms that are destined to penetrate every commercial category known to man. No, you can no longer launch and take a few years to get in-market learning or fiddle with code. Time is not on your side anymore.

More importantly, you suffer the business risk of being out there with an inferior product. Because the bar is high to stimulate engagement in your app/site among all the alternatives out there, you have to pretty much kill it from day 1. MVP comes into play in the sense that you keep your focus narrow so you can still pivot as you learn. You have to be able to somewhat undo what you’ve done. But, what you do expose to the consumer has got to have a WOW factor. Great products are like underground movements. They create conversation on their own (word of mouth, we call it). This entire phenomenon is what will drive your business more than your passionate initiatives to influence people to take a look.

Publish your site or app with confidence. Know why you’re causing chaos and disruption. That’s the mic drop. The product should speak volumes for your business, and practically be able to do it on its own.

You know you’re at DEFCON 4 when….

…you’ve decided to not only focus on marketing to acquire customers, but to also engage or retain them.

Sure you think you’re real savvy because you’re spreading out your marketing spend against multiple objectives. But the fact of the matter is your product is failing you. Otherwise the engagement would be organic and sustained.

If you’re in a commoditized category with multiple options of the same product or service, then go ahead and do this — pay for repeat transactional business. But if you have to encourage (beg?) people to engage with a product that was originally designed to solve their problems or provide a unique benefit, you need to press ‘pause’…and again, call me.

We need to get creative / think outside of the box.

(Whenever I run into any founders, execs or any biz types who practically froth at the mouth as they demand innovative executions I tend to raise an eyebrow. Makes me wonder if they really believe in their product. Anyway…)

When asked for examples of when I have thought outside of the box I usually reply that I can’t because I don’t recognize a box.

I don’t see the point of being unusual for its own sake. There are times when bargain basement SEO is the right (and even best!) approach to driving traffic. There’s a time when dancing carnival troupes can get you there better. The ‘creativity’ lies in the insight of when to deploy which tactic. Not enough of us are blessed with that.

A huuuuuge part of the process of marketing is discipline. Yes, it’s kinda textbook-y. You make marketing choices based on the 3 Cs, the business objective, the consumer and how they make decisions, your communication goals, the complexity of your message and your resources at hand, among other things. I lay this out in a sort of mini Digital Marketing handbook (not that long, really!) that I published months ago. I share it with founders to organize their thinking and to make sure all the boxes are ticked..and in the right sequence.

Within that discipline there is room for breakthrough execution. Keep in mind though that creative marketing initiatives can only cause certain outcomes. You might be able to get yourself a bit more awareness and ‘buzz’ but it may fizz right there. The actual strength of your product is the primary driver of conversion and engagement (ie that’s where the $$ comes from), and I have to assume you care about that. You want to not only WOW but more importantly satisfy your consumer or your success will just stop at a temp bump in traffic. There are cases out there of web sites being mentioned on Oprah yet they ultimately failed. Just sayin.


It’s a bit crazy, you know – I’m a hard core marketer but I attach heavy weight to a strong product. You have to. Price action and other promotions come and go, but it’s your core proposition – how well it’s designed, the needs it serves in the way no others do – that keeps you in it for the long haul. You can no longer afford to sell yourself short on (digital) product development even though it’s the hardest part. Don’t rush though it for the sake of leaning on the easier and fun stuff that is the rest of marketing. You’re setting yourself up to fail – or at least decelerating your progress on the path to success.


Best article I ever read on Medium from May 2016. It’s about the reverse marketing funnel. Forget paying to acquire more customers to dissatisfy and instead maximize satisfaction with the ones you have and THEY become your free marketing.