The New Marketing Hacker

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There is a massive and missed opportunity happening in the marketing industry.

It seems like Judy Shapiro (Chief Brand Strategist at CloudLinux and blogger at Trench Wars) was busy asking herself some very similar questions at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York this past week. In her Advertising Age op-ed piece, When Hacker Culture Collides With Business Reality, she sees some major opportunities for marketing companies that we’re not only not pursuing, but allowing (and enabling) small startups to take on: "…while the tech boys are breaking their toys – it is often the professional marketers (a.k.a. adults) who are left cleaning up the operational mess brought on by a lack of metrics and operational scalability. This culture collision starts to explain why marketers are facing tech fatigue and why Facebook’s IPO languished. Just maybe, investors were unconvinced that Facebook could deliver the marketing goods since marketers themselves are getting weary of cleaning up the messes."

It’s not about adults versus startups.

The truth hurts. Here’s the truth: the majority of marketing professionals are scared of technology. They don’t understand it. The don’t play with it. They would much rather leave the technical work to programmers and those with IT degrees, than spend the time to deep-dive not into just what a new platform or channel can do to tell their brand’s story in a new and interesting way, but how it works. If marketers don’t start pulling up our socks and embracing technology, innovation and the startup culture, we’re going to set our industry on a course for extinction. The main reason why marketers shun the majority of these innovative startups (and why many of them suddenly become amazing successes – look no further than Radian6) is because marketers fall into two classifications:

  1. Clients. The brands. These people have to get the four p’s of their product down to a science. They don’t have time to figure out how to reinvent marketing nor do they have the resources (people, time and budget) to figure out how the overall industry is going to evolve. Can you imagine a brand developing an advertising platform like Google AdWords? I can’t. On top of that, if you were the CEO of a brand would you allow your Chief Marketing Officer and their team to go out and spend time and money trying to figure out new forms of media in our hyper-connected world?
  2. Agencies. The majority of agencies are nothing more than a professional services firm. Their business model is no different than other professional services firms: they charge more money for a human unit of time than what they paid for it. They act as the marketing team for a brand that should not incur those kinds of costs, and they act as a client’s partner in helping them to solve their most challenging marketing issues. Many agencies have evolved. Some create and sell their own products, others have allocated time, money and resources to labs and skunkwork like faculties. Some have even become financial partners with clients – working together to grow the business – and move away from time-based billing. There has been some level of motion at these varying new business models, but nothing has truly broken through (yet).

Stuck in the mud?

Some might argue that us marketers are missing the bigger opportunity, but it’s hard for me to agree with those sentiments. Marketing agencies are set-up to do a certain thing (as are brands). Suddenly telling them that they have to become technology companies or venture capital endeavors to survive is actually telling them that they have to either completely change their business model or add in an entirely new skill-set that runs anathema to what has made them successful to date.

So, what works?

It would be wonderful to say, "no problem, let’s just embrace this whole ‘technology’ thing and move on!" As we all know change is hard (especially as your business begins to flourish). There are some keen lessons coming out of Silicon Valley that can’t be ignored. In the same breath, there are some keen lessons coming out of Madison Avenue that can’t be ignored, either. In as much as marketers need to be spending time at TechCrunch Disrupt, marketers also need to spend equal amounts of time studying psychology, sociology, art and storytelling. Ultimately, as technology connects more people and as more people become content creators and curators, the true job of the marketer is going to be a hybrid that moves beyond putting messaging in front of people to a better understanding of what motivates people to buy things in a world that has changed so dramatically. I’m not sure that there are many startups in the Valley tackling this challenge.

It will be interesting to see if marketers are up for this massive challenge… and if they’ll lead it or be dragged through it. 


  1. Interesting thoughts, Mitch
    I’ve been writing about a similar subject recently. As someone who’s just ventured into the marketing consultancy world, and also under the 30, I perceive a lot of stand offish looks. I want to use my age as a selling point, though. For reasons you just mentioned.
    The world is evolving…FAST. Marketing is no different, and I honestly believe time will catch up with those who don’t look to adapt. There’s always going to be a need for TV and Radio and Magazine…it’s no the vessel, but the manner you do things.
    Interacting is what people desire these days. It just so happens that new media offers this better than most, but that doesn’t mean old media can’t either.
    I hope to see more fellow marketers embrace change. Look to balance Creative & Strategic Thinking, because this is the future I see.
    You said stuck in the mud…well, this is what I see when I speak to a lot of marketers. Maybe I’m not an ‘adult’. Maybe I’m a dreamer. But hey, is there anything wrong with that? 🙂 Bring on the future I say!
    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  2. I was just pondering this thought in my own personal life. It has been a real discipline at times. My need to know everything means loads more self study, trials an error then ever before. I came from a corporate IT background so knowing technology was something I just had to do. But it changes so fantastically often.
    This blog has been a great sign post and reality check at times. Thx.

  3. I love this article. I’m a yoga teacher who marketed her own services until she realized that, in order to raise two boys in San Francisco, where we have a surplus of underpaid yoga teachers, I needed to learn to do what other people can’t. So I started what I call a values-based marketing business. It’s basically content marketing meets the Yoga Sutras. So far everything is going well and I’m excited about the success my start-up has had. Why I am writing this comment to the dulcet tons of three 8 year-old boys deciding what their cowboy names are at 7:43 on a Saturday night? Because I am trying to meet the “massive challenge” you outlined so well!

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