Marketing should be about business building, not selling snake oil as quickly as possible

I’ve been spending a lot more time on Twitter lately trying to learn about the social sector (and by social sector, I mean nonprofits, foundations and others bringing good to the world) and what people are talking about. However, about 90% of my feed, despite unfollowing people incessantly, is still filled with listicles and short cuts from “expert growth hackers” or “social media mavens” or the like. I’m all for working more efficiently, but these short cuts are akin to the lose-weight-fast pitches emblazoned on grocery store checkout aisle mags. Where are my marketing brethren that focus on strategy and business building?


Marketing is about building businesses.

I studied marketing in grad school, but it was really a formalization of what I’ve loved to do since childhood — build businesses, products and convince people to buy things from me. I, like many other suburban kids, started with a lemonade stand.

My parents were having some work done on our house in the late 1980's and it was summer in St. Louis — 90 degrees with 90% humidity. (Ps if you want to lose weight fast, work out for hours in those conditions — pro tip) I had a captive audience that had a need that I could fill and they were willing to pay a premium to get it. It was a great and successful business I ran for several weeks.

From there, I worked with my uncle (an engineer) to build a prototype of a floating table that would could affix to a wall in your swimming pool, because what kid doesn’t want to snack while swimming? (Ok, suburban Midwestern kid problem, admittedly.) 30 min rule be damned. I didn’t sell any of those and the prototype lived in our garage until my parents got sick of looking at it. I guess every product idea fails once in a while.

I spent all of my high school years working after school jobs to pay for my music and concert addiction. In college, when someone approached me with an offer to spend someone else’s money to produce concerts at Davidson, I said of course! 30 concerts produced by the time I graduated, I’d convinced the dean of students to give me $150k a year to play with. An English major with an education in building a break-even business and a team of 40 volunteers in four years turned out to be a good pairing and laid a foundation for my professional career.

In the 12 years I’ve been out of undergrad, I’ve been an Intrapreneur building businesses and teams inside McMaster-Carr, Disney and Jive — an industrial supply distribution company, one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world, and a collaboration software company. Now I’m at Timshel building out a marketing org, but really I think about it as building a business, not just the 10 things I have to do every day to build a list of opted-in email addresses. That’s a means to the end — building and growing a business.

Why is everyone just talking about the tactics when we should be focused on the big picture? We’ve created marketing orgs that are so siloed and specialized, that we’re generating a core of marketers who can never run a business end to end. And this makes me sad for our function.

I’m a liberal arts junkie. I believe strongly in teaching people how to think critically and building relationships across seemingly disparate things to generate new ideas and innovation. With the way we’re building marketers today as highly specialized tacticians, we’re losing the value and need for marketing within an org. I can teach someone how to write copy for emails or Twitter in an hour; teaching someone to think about how to build and grow a business takes years.

If you’re a new or newish marketer, think about the value of the skill set you’re developing. How will you build a career if you’re just focused on social media tricks and tips? If you really want to get lean and build a “body” that will stay healthy and allow you to grow over time and take on more responsibility, you should be thinking about building businesses and all those tactics in service of that goal, rather than the goal unto itself.