We're taking the Marketing Smarts podcast on the road, and our first stop was in Seattle on March 28, as part of the run-up to our SocialTech 2012 conference. I sat down with Ian Lurie, CEO of PortentInteractive, and Geoff Livingston, author and marketing strategist, in front of a 125 smart marketers at the Seattle Art Museum, and we captured the ensuing conversations for posterity. (You can listen to the recording below.)
My interview with Ian focused on a post he had written early in March that called into question our tendency as marketers to continuously invent new ways to talk about what we do. As he asked both rhetorically and rather bluntly in that post, "Are we marketers so pathetic that we can't sell our services effectively without constantly redefining them?"
I wondered where that question was coming from, and by way of response he explained, first of all, that he was essentially a marketing idealist:
Because of such idealism, he went on to say, it bothers him when we continually add new categories—inbound marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, social media optimization, etc.—to the marketing playbook.
"It seems to me," he said, "when we keep adding new names and terms, we actually cloud everything. We make it more complicated. We make it harder and harder for the rest of the world to understand what we do."
And beyond obscuring what it is that marketers actually do, Ian said, it actually reflects poorly on our ability to do what we do.
"If we're so bad at marketing that we can't market ourselves without coming up with entirely new terms for what we're doing," he asked, "how are we going to market anybody else's stuff... ever?"
My subsequent interview with Geoff Livingston (which begins around 27:38 in the recording below) picked up where my interview with Ian left off. With Ian, I ended up talking a bit about the stigma (or "taint") that hangs around SEO practices. With Geoff, I started out by discussing his rather jaundiced view of PR.
The jumping off point for that conversation was a post Geoff had published just that morning. In it, he'd written:
Of all the professional skill groups that can be included in the marketing toolkit, public relations is the most ridiculous... Filled with backwards, unethical, and untrained professionals that consistently spam people and promote attention metrics instead of actual outcomes, the PR profession can't help its poor image.
Geoff went on to say that there are in fact many very ethical, effective people doing PR, but, expressing a kind of idealism of his own, he called for more rigorous vetting of the people we choose to work with, insisting that "We need to elevate the conversation and demand a standard of excellence from our brothers and sisters."
Ultimately, however, Geoff didn't see the practices of people working in PR or any other marketing discipline as the real root of the problem. Instead, he pointed to product marketing as the source of great marketing, on the one hand, and the cause of marketing's missteps on the other.
"Product marketing is what it comes down to," he said, emphasizing that doing marketing well is a lot easier when you are "representing something fantastic."
"I think we get into trouble," he added, "when we want to say something about an offering that's not really true."
One issue is that the various marketing disciplines are disconnected from the offering and the audience and basically siloed away from each other, which brought us around to the need for integration and communication that Geoff discusses in the forthcoming book, Marketing in the Round, which he wrote with Gini Dietrich.
A main theme of that book is that the marketing function needs to be more tightly integrated, with marketing professionals working more closely together in an ever-more coordinated way. And what makes that integration more necessary than ever is that in reality our customers interact with our messages in a manner that defies and confounds the silos.
"None of our customers," Geoff explained, "goes home and says, 'Gee, I think I'm gonna consume social media for four hours.' They don't do that."
Instead, "They're listening to drive-time radio, or they're in the metro or the bus system looking at ads there. They're reading a trade pub, maybe, on the way there, or a real magazine or a newspaper, then they go to work. They see the online stuff and the ads...; they talk to people; they see things; they go home; they watch TV."
"I mean," he concluded, "this is the way we digest information and it's just much more comprehensive then the way we talk about it in the profession."
In other words, as you can hear in the entire episode, the way we can save marketing from itself is to cut back on the proliferation of marketing terms and the glorification of specific tactics, and focus both on what is best for our clients and, especially, what matches the actual needs and behaviors of the customers.
If you live in Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, or Boston, I invite you to come out and hear us talk to some smart marketers in person. You can find the details here. Hope to see you there! If you can't make it to one of our live appearances, subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes and never miss an episode.