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Doc Searls Hates Marketing?!

by Mario Sundar  |  
July 25, 2006

If some of you are wondering who Doc Searls is, I suggest you take a ride in the Cluetrain Manifesto -- one of the seminal works of our times that serves as an operations manual for businesses operating in this newly connected marketplace....

Doc Searls is one of the four authors of the Manifesto, who "assert that the Internet is unlike the ordinary media used in mass marketing as it enables people to have "human to human" conversations, which have the potential to transform traditional business practices radically." (Source : Wikipedia)
What drew my attention to Doc Searls' opinions towards marketing was a recent article he published on Linux Journal (that I found via Scoble's blog), where Doc explains how to teach marketing to those who hate marketing. There is some validity in many of his key thought, but I'd like to clarify a couple of his ideas that I don't necessarily agree with:
1. As markets become truly free, we don't have much, if any, need for marketing.
The basic premise behind this statement is the presumption that marketing serves two purposes: "decide what to make, and provide infrastructure to support transferring info from people who make stuff to people who are trying to decide whether to buy it." But I believe it's a simplistic way to look at marketing's functions in a corporation.
To clarify my rationale behind marketing, let me re-phrase one of Drucker's oft-repeated aphorisms in new light (via Forbes):
Because the purpose of business is to solve a customer need, the business enterprise has two basic functions: marketing and innovation; all the rest are costs.
You may have noticed, I replaced the purpose from 'creating a customer' to 'solving a customer need'. However, I still see marketing in the above equation because marketing is called to fulfil a key need. The need to evangelize the benefits of such a solution to the millions of prospective users who may not know that such a solution exists. Of what use is a solution if it's hidden in the depths of technology?
I believe the sole purpose of marketing is to humanize technology and translate the benefits offered by products and services to plain-speak, stripped off all tech-jargon that can then be presented to a prospective user. (Think Apple.)
2. Advertising is going to die. PR is already dead.
I don't believe advertising and PR will necessarily die, but rather I think they will undergo a sea-change that will redefine them. As Doc himself states:
When it (read transformation) is complete the result won't bear any resemblance to PR as we've known it.
What we are going to see, is more honesty and candor via the respective advertising and PR machines. I recall the fervor with which Jack Welch used to advocate candor in the workplace, and I believe the future will see a lot more candor in a company's relationships with its customers and prospects and this will manifest itself through their respective ad and pr campaigns.
That can only be good, since as we all know, candor breeds trust and inevitably that's integral to a healthy relationship.
In conclusion, I'd like to quote David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard) who said "marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people" (via Forbes). Today we see the evolution of marketing to evangelism but the buck doesn't just stop with marketers. Each and every employee of a corporation and user of the product should in essence be an evangelist of the product or service that his organization provides. And, I believe, the onus of rallying the troops (both internal and external) lies with marketers.
Thanks, Doc, for the reality-check. It maybe time to take the bitter pill and upgrade to the next level of marketing, as the pioneers envisioned it.
What do you think of the Doc's diagnosis of marketing?
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Mario Sundar has over five years experience in leadership roles both in Marketing as well as in Software Development. Mario currently works at LinkedIn, the World’s largest online professional network, as Community Evangelist. Prior to that, he helped develop & manage marketing initiatives for Fortune 50 high-tech brands. Mario is also on the board of the American Marketing Association (Silicon Valley Chapter).

In May 2006, Mario launched his marketing blog where he discusses customer evangelism, community marketing and social media strategy. Ranked as one of the fastest growing Wordpress blogs in July 06, “Marketing Nirvana” continues to expand its readership each week. The blog currently (as of 04/07) has a Technorati Rank of 7,113 and an Alexa Ranking of 142,830.

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  • by Lewis Green Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    This may be the most important mantra in all of business: Each and every employee of a corporation and user of the product should in essence be an evangelist of the product or service that his organization provides. And, I believe, the onus of rallying the troops (both internal and external) lies with marketers. I agree and believe strongly that every person in every business should be given the responsility and held accountable for marketing with a passion. It is the sincerest form of brand building for success.

  • by Allen Weiss Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    Personally, I like Doc Searls (he was one of the first people to give a glowing testimonial for the MarketingProfs web site), but many of the marketing ideas that technology oriented people speak about are typically based on a misunderstanding of marketing (most come from environments where R&D develops useless products and then rely on marketing to try to sell them). It seems a lot of people like to use marketing as a whipping post in order to push their so-called "new ideas" or sell books.

  • by Mack Collier Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    Doc's idea of a 'perfect market' is one where marketing doesn't exist. Doc's a smart guy, but he lets his hatred of marketing cloud his judgment whenever he speaks on the subject. As a result, he is constantly coming up with his latest 'theory' on how at some future point, marketing, and people that make money off marketing, will go away. Of course neither will happen, because people don't WANT to see marketing go away. Do we all want more efficient marketing, and less marketing that gets in our way? Absolutely times two. But what Doc and other members of the 'a world without marketing is the world for me' crowd forgets is that people WANT to be sold to. They want to be 'romanced' by companies seeking their business, they want to comparision shop, and many of us actually ENJOY shopping, at least for certain items. Again, Doc's a smart guy, but whenever he speaks on marketing, I take whatever he says with a grain of salt.

  • by David Armano Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    Mario. Welcome to the DF! And great first post. Advermarketing as I like to call it will not die, but as you say here, needs to be re-wired and definitely requires some evolution. But the good news is that we see change happening around us. And when marketers try to "pull a fast one" like the lame Wal Mart "social network" site–they are held accountable. From my perspective, it's a shift from communication to experiences. From canned to live. From staged to real. From exclusive to inclusive. etc. etc. Great times to be a "marketer" eh?

  • by Claire Ratushny Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Mario. I enjoyed reading it. You make some strong points and so does Lewis Green. I agree strongly that the onus for implementation of a marketing strategy should be company wide. I also believe it should be endorsed at the highest levels since the CEO or president of a company sets the tone for the entire enterprise. Either upper management makes marketing a focus and that permeates the entire company structure, or they don't, creating a blase culture that doesn't care about marketing. In the latter scenario, it's the norm to hold the CMO or marketing manager culpable for the perceived failures of marketing. Unfortunately.

  • by John Dodds Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    Doc Searls is just plain wrong because he equates promotion with marketing (as do many marketing departments and CEOs). Marketing is everything that creates the means of meeting a customer need (starting right back at product development).

  • by Mario Sundar Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    Thanks to fellow bloggers, Mack and David, for the warm welcome and encouragement. I'm glad that most of the user comments regarding Doc's argument, seem to agree on one issue, that marketing/evangelizing belongs to the entire company, spearheaded by the marketing team. I'm glad that this post resonated with all the readers and look forward to raising key marketing issues in my future posts. Mario

  • by Mario Sundar Tue Jul 25, 2006 via blog

    Allen, I hear Doc's point-of-view since I come from a programming background myself. There is no questioning Doc's expertise, but a few of his arguments against marketing seem specious and overly critical. I also have to add that I am a big fan of the "Cluetrain Manifesto" and see it changing the way Marketing/PR will operate in the future. Mario

  • by TheBizofKnowledge Wed Jul 26, 2006 via blog

    I suspect that John Dodds was right in his comment: it sure sounds as though Doc Searls is railing against promotion rather than marketing. It's meen a long, long time since I took Marketing 101 but I do remember the differences between marketing activities and promotional activities.

  • by Monica Powers Wed Jul 26, 2006 via blog

    Marketing won't die but companies' perception of the uses and value of marketing will have to evolve. Marketing must come into play earlier in the strategic process (early stage product development, business development, strategic planning, acquisitions) to keep a company and its products competitive and relevant to the intended audiences. As consumers gain more power of choice, we should see less fluffiness and hype from great companies, and more substance and forethought.

  • by nettie hartsock Fri Jul 28, 2006 via blog

    Insightful post. I actually am a fan of the "Cluetrain Manifesto" and was lucky enough to do an interview with another of its original authors, David Weinberger - , and ten years later I've got to say many of the ideas he talked about in this interview still hold true. I particularly like what he said about CEOs and conversations with customers. Excerpt: NH: What is the role of a CEO or CIO in a hyperlinked organization? DW: To help the company be smart. Companies are smart not because they have lots of data or lots of smart individuals but because they have smart conversations happening all over the place, crossing all the organizational boundaries, including with customers." And I agree we always need to see less fluffiness and hype!

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