Years ago, I was fresh out of school and the company I worked for, a small and growing company sent me to a marketing conference (DMA). This was maybe 2001, 2002. The company I worked for was small and spent a fair bit of budget to send me, a young graphic designer to this marketing conference. It was held by a reputable marketing organization at the time and the topic was direct marketing. In retrospect it was an industry that was about to suffer setbacks. But they were branching out into digital.

It was in a good hotel in Orlando. I recall going into the first session. This speaker was the best marketer, a top marketer. The guys at the table around me were super interested in what he had to say. They said he was the best.  It became clear to me they wanted to be this speaker, to do what he did. But I couldn’t help but think I was being sold to that entire time, that he was a used car salesman and what he talked about was garbage. The guys around me were very much into what he was peddling. I was young, and I didn’t know any different. I just wanted to add value to the company that spent money to send me there so I paid attention and learned the best I could.

He was talking about Adwords but if I am honest now it was 60% Adwords and 40% about the business he owns and how they can manage Adwords programs for any sized organization. Leave your business cards at the door on your way out and we’ll send you the presentation to your inbox. State of the art techniques, some of which they’d cover over the next hour. Very valuable stuff.

I knew at the time, deep down, what was wrong with this. I didn’t have the experience or the confidence to articulate it but I had sensed the secret of the industry I was just starting to get to know. This secret truth about many marketers, about most marketers and about the marketing world as a whole. I just wanted to make sure my boss was repaid in full value of the cost of the trip, and it was going to take a lot of time and effort to make them comfortable I’d accomplish this.

But most marketers were just not very good. If they aren’t used car salesman they are milk cartons unicorns. And at the worst they are actually borderline con artists.

3 Types Of Marketers

There are three basic kind of marketers, as far as I can tell.

  1. Scam Artists – say they can deliver the world but they can’t deliver really anything.

  2. Unicorns – they do special sauce, everything they make is magic and unexplainable to regular people.

  3. Operational – One size fits all, if you don’t fit, then the problem is with YOUR BUSINESS not with the methodology.

It Hurts My Soul

16 years after that DMA conference I have had the privilege to speak to many of our clients, and one thing that frequently and embarrassingly comes out more often than not is something like this:

“We’re a small company with a small budget. We outsourced our marketing to a respectable company that promised big things but barely delivered. I am not even sure what they did but we cut them a cheque for 12 grand. I am pretty sure marketing doesn’t work.”

Or this:

“I just spent 5 grand on a web site and it’s not performing. I don’t even know what it’s doing!”

This alone is enough to make me want to drop the marketing title I have fought so hard to earn, and worked so hard to master over the years. Years of hard work, of learning from scratch, with no help from anybody. Worked to bring a positive return for the company paying my salary. And here I see marketing firms squander away dollars with false promises or poor execution. And when I review with them what they were after I see so much promise. So much potential.

The Cookie Cutter Approach

Part of the problem is the cookie cutter approach that you’ll often see these days. One-size fits all. If it worked for Jimmy’s Sporting Goods it will also for Rick’s Online Jerky Emporium. I think this approach is entirely wrong and backwards. The fact is I have not spoken to a single company, ever, who didn’t require a hand crafted marketing/digital approach. I have spoken to many marketing folks who just can’t conceive of an approach outside of this cookie cutter mentality.

“I don’t understand. This is how you set up a nurture program…”

And all the critical thinking in the world couldn’t get them to change their mind. That was just how things were done. That is how you do it. I understand all the good intentions here. I get that they mean well and are doing their absolute best to deliver.

But the fact is most (not all) marketers just aren’t that good.


You know what really sets me off is the same people who claim cookie cutter approach works are also the same people claiming their work is like unicorns; mysterious one-of-a-kind rainbow farting mythical creatures who are the only ones capable of delivering good marketing return using their hand-crafted unique formula of pink teddy bears and golden sunshine sparkles.

You’re not a unicorn in the shape of a milk carton. You’re just a milk carton with a straw coming out that kind of looks like a unicorn horn. There is no golden sunshine sparkles.

The Scam Artists

Facebook seems to be filled with these people. They say they can get you 18x the growth, or that they, and they alone have the secret to doubling your list size overnight.  They have a basic “tripwire” offer that is for a few dollars, then they email you until you either unsubscribe or pay for their $800.00 product that has 86 components, and if you do all 86 parts of the course, you’ll see the results…of course if you miss even one part then you will fail.

I’m Not a Marketer Anymore

It really pains me to see the state of where the industry is at. It hurts to see companies burned by marketers who can’t perform because they were sold a dream that is not tied to reality.

Of course I still do marketing.

I believe that hard work, every day hard work, is the ultimate variable to success. I think good marketing is based on experience, trust, intelligence, good data, common sense and hard work.

I think good marketers want to learn what the business needs, they care about the ad spend they are responsible for, they put the effort in to make their work great. They aren’t interested in using fluff metrics to show how valuable they are. They use real life ROI to show the value they bring, They know the tools they use inside out.

That is the kind of marketer I am. What kind of marketer are you?