People Should Not See Marketing

Posted by

If Marketing is doing its job, Marketing should be invisible to the consumer.

That sentence would have never made any semblance of sense in the days when mass media advertising ruled the Marketing landscape. As we transition out of one phase and into another (where Marketing platforms like Social Media, Customer Service, and more play a larger part in the Marketing ecosystem) and make a slight shift away from continuously (and obnoxiously) blasting and cramming these advertising messages into every waking moment of a consumer’s life, perhaps the companies that will truly benefit from their Marketing expenditures will be the ones who make the Marketing seamless… nearly invisible to the consumer.

What would that look like?

For years, great thinkers like Seth Godin, Tom Peters and many others have pushed business leaders to build the Marketing into the actual brand, product or service. Essentially, make the brand so remarkable (unique or, as Godin calls it, a Purple Cow) that people talk about it, share it and become "loyal beyond reason" to it (to quote Kevin Roberts from his book, Lovemarks).

It’s a lofty goal and pushes Marketing into many (nearly every) aspect of the business.

Maybe that is the big idea: if we start to better understand the Marketing aspect of it from the innovation stage (instead of the Marketing that we typically see – which is after the brand is ready for prime time), we can better market to consumers. All too often the brand differentiator happens at the post-production level and it becomes more about logos, colors and campaigns instead of the great story that this brand can really tell.

Maybe Social Media’s true goal is to be the consumer’s microscope.

One of the main reasons to get excited about Social Media is because it is driven by the consumers, what they publish, share and chat about. It’s about the minutia and details of products and what they can do (and yes, this even includes the unboxing of products). Social Media is not an advertising platform that was created by a brand or publisher (like almost every other aspect of advertising as we know it today). It’s somewhat humorous to realize that by all aspects, Social Media was forced on to brands. Brands (and we’re generalizing here) never wanted transparency. Brands never wanted consumers publishing their perspectives about them to the world. Brands wanted to control the messaging and conversation (from the top down and back up again).

Marketing becomes invisible when marketers get out of the way.

When Chris Brogan shoots a video to review his new Eagle Creek Tarmac 22 carry-on luggage (more on that here: What A Social Media Case Study Can Look Like), he’s not Marketing (as we have known Marketing to date). He’s being helpful. He’s telling a story, and he’s making a very credible testimonial without expecting much in return. It’s a generous act of appreciation that has value attached to it. In essence, it’s what all Marketers have ever wanted, but when they could not get it, they decided to position their messages in between moments of interest for consumers instead (or in addition to).

Is it time for Marketing to get out of its own way? What do you think?


  1. Marketing becomes invisible when it is a story. This is why the best TV Ads, Motivational Speakers and Door to Door sales people are those that demonstrate their product with a story. Even religion uses stories to Market it’s beliefs.
    Marketers need to learn the art of story telling, to ensure their products or services are the ones that are talked about and recommended in this social world.

  2. If you find it impossible to resist the urge to buy, or find out more… then the marketing has become invisible. When the value to me has been so effectively communicated (not sold) and is compelling, that marketer has done their job.
    Because it’s all about me.

  3. It’s amazing how much the landscape of marketing has changed, even just over the past year or two. I studied marketing in college and even though I’m only 22 and just graduated in 2009, many of the things I had learned are becoming obsolete.

  4. This really resonates.
    I love this: “All too often the brand differentiator happens at the post-production level and it becomes more about logos, colors and campaigns instead of the great story that this brand can really tell.”
    Even if clever campaigns follow, when the REAL differentiation is built right in, “marketing” becomes much easier, more natural (seamless) and more effective… Especially in social channels where the interruption model of getting attention almost always appears awkward and clumsy.
    I’m gonna add this post to my faves on my site.
    (BTW – Just googled “remarkability” and guess who came up #1?)

  5. “Social Media is not an advertising platform that was created by a brand or publisher (like almost every other aspect of advertising as we know it today).”
    I love that quote and in a few minutes I am posting it to my tumblr account.
    I find it remarkable that there are so many mid-career people who just don’t understand the importance of that statement. To me it’s about community and content. Get those two things right, and biz will follow.
    PS: The Communications Director at the university I work for suggested I read Six Pixels… I better listen. 🙂

  6. Marketing, as opposed to promotion, has long been about the identification of existing and potential consumer needs then developing product and services to meet those needs before finally promoting them.
    What the social media offer are hugely valuable opportunities for conversations between customers, developers and promoters.
    Indeed the potential is there for customers to join in with the development and promotion aspects. When customers are this “on-side”, the identification and development phases feel collaborative and the promotion a joint venture. In this ideal situation, customers will not be thinking of the process as “marketing” but as a greet way of getting the products they need. They will also want to tell the world their story.

  7. Nowadays the total concept of marketing has changed and will change in future also. Consumers have become more alert in choosing their commodity and so the marketing techniques should change. Producers should think of innovative ideas to pick up the major grasp of consumer. So the post is quiet relevant in the present time.

  8. That’s naive. Marketing is not just the discipline, but people. Marketing invisible = professionals less visible than before. So, people specialized in image being less visible? I’m a little bit cinic about it.

  9. Peter raises an important point by way of defining marketing versus promotion. My lack of formal education in the marketing sphere may play an important role here, but suffice it to say “marketing” has many meanings to many people.
    Just take a look at Wikipedia for a sample of slick revelry, where “marketing practice tended to be seen as a creative industry in the past” but now it is seen more as a science that involves “extensive use of social sciences, psychology, sociology, mathematics, economics, anthropology and neuroscience”.
    To the original point of your post, yes marketing should be invisible. Can promotion ever be? I doubt it.
    Let’s face the music I say. We don’t need any of this junk. So long as one has a roof over his/her head, some livestock and a vegetable garden, then survival is possible.
    What’s happening now isn’t a case of corporations identifying needs and delivering along ten other tangents for the betterment of society. Conversely, I would estimate that most people and companies are in the business of wealth creation–perhaps for political ends, but I would argue by-in-large that the luxury cars, massive homes, and precious stones/metals are simply for show. Keeping up with the Jones’.
    Without getting too far into ranting mode… I just want to illustrate that we’ve gone way beyond providing value and basic services. With technology being held back (see: other advanced countries), planned obsolescence (see: the iPhone you just bought that won’t be cool in 3 months), low self esteem (see: people buying things just for show)… well suffice it to say that we’re in quite a spiral that won’t lead to invisible marketing.
    Perhaps we’re making strides with people becoming more social online. I just don’t think that social media will even come close to saving marketing. Herd behaviour only serves to carve new niches and resistant strains of what was once cool.

  10. The distinction of helpfulness is vital. All too often marketing is all but helpful. I think it is when we want to sell something, which people do not really want or need, then we start to pull strange tricks and force the sale rather than encourage, inspire and motivate the buy – because what we offer is helpful. On my business blog I have touched on the difference between those two (buying and selling) and it’s huge. The blog is in Danish, by the way.

  11. Mitch I like the analogy that if marketing is doing their job they will be invisible to the consumer. The consumer will have a desire to fulfill a need with the product. This journey is now personal and usually done online. Since I have a soccer background I relate it to the best referee’s I have had in a game are the ones that let us play and not make the game about them by blowing the whistle every 5 minutes.
    Great post.

  12. It’s a great goal to set, absolutely. If WOM is the most powerful method of spreading brand-love and ideas, then marketing should absolutely attempt to be invisible.
    There is always “Spectacle” in marketing. There is spectacle in Chris Brogan’s carry-on video. The challenge for the modern marketer is embedding the spectacle throughout the business — from the branding to the retail experience to the raised eyebrows of interested friends.
    MadMen wanna-bes are still caught up in creating clever copy for 30-second spots, when there’s so much more opportunity to be creative in all areas of the business. Not just on the billboards and the banner ads.
    I love this post, and it’s goals.

  13. Mitch,
    I like this simple but powerful way of communicating your point – that marketing should be invisible. And I completely agree.
    I think the WHY behind your statement could be articulated differently. To me, the why of why marketing should be invisible is not just that the products and services are subject to comment in social media. Also, it is not just that differentiation should be considered as core to new product development, rather than superficial package-pimping (although that is a great point!).
    Why marketing should be invisible is that in some respects…marketing itself should not exist anymore. In a company that is truly brand-led (and therefore customer-led), all actions in all departments would be in line with customer needs/wants/passions. The natural outcome of this would be word of mouth due to extraordinary delivery and hence sales.
    This a utopian view, but the point is marketing should not just be invisible to consumers, it could potentially be integrated into all activities in a completely brand-aligned organisation.

Comments are closed.