Marketing Isn’t What You Learned in College, Online at Work or Anywhere…

Crowd in Black and White

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (on Amazon)

Marketing is flawed. Marketing is broken. Marketing suffers because of four forces that conspire against producing your intended results. These forces include college education and career training, internet research fallacies, an industry filled with companies that have poor incentives to do better and finally there are the employers hopelessly misinformed and stuck with old or incorrect information. These forces have resulted in convincing us that marketing is a set of tools and tactics instead of a way of being, an identity the permeates every thought, decision and interaction with your intended audience, a way of communicating. We’ve been taught that marketing is what we do, not why we do it.  

Why what you learned is wrong:

Marketing and its implementation through advertising and tools is broken. Innovation focuses on cost efficiency and profits for agencies and service providers instead of reducing overhead, increasing transparency and focusing on marketing’s objective of creating a relationship with a consumer for mutual long-term benefit all the while communicating brand in a way that resonates and connects.

The College Problem

Classroom Lecture

Marketing isn’t what you learned in college. The essence of marketing isn’t found in a textbook or obtained from tired lectures that are repeated each and every semester with tweaks focused on “recent innovations.” If those days ever existed they are long gone.

In college we learn about the 4Ps. Whether you studied marketing as an undergrad or as part of an MBA program or other training, you can’t escape the 4Ps, also known as the the pillars of marketing. You were probably taught early on in your coursework that if you get those down, you’re on the right track. In this case, you and your professors would be wrong.

In case you didn’t pay attention in class or you forgot what they were, here is your review.

The 4 Ps

  • Product (or Service)
  • Price
  • Promotion
  • Place

Product (or Service)

A tangible good or intangible service. Marketers understand how features translate into benefits for consumers of the product or service.


Obviously this is what the product is offered at and how that compares to the market at large for exact or similar products.


Promotion focuses on communication channels and how your message is relayed to current or potential consumers.


How will you make the product available and get it into the right hands?

Academically these are good thought exercises, but marketing is so much more than this tactical framework. The 4 Ps provide context and clarity of vision and a scaffold for which to discuss ideas, values and the value of your product or service itself. They are perceived as the nuts and bolts for a plan for “putting the right product and/or service  in the right place, at the right price, at the right time.” Marketing literature will discuss this ad nauseum. Some key challenges with the model include the following:

  • Product suffers greatly in this framework because it is presented as static and flowing through a product lifecycle instead of evolving and ever current. The product isn’t the singular widget. You are the product and what you produce is a detail.   
  • Price suffers because a decision to buy is rarely about price but rather the perceived value a product and/or service maintains in the eyes of the purchaser. Price is built around the package including your company, team. Again it’s not about the widget.
  • Promotion is unfairly weighted against the other buckets. A marketing maxim is that your message and your brand are your product among other things. Get this wrong and you won’t find success.
  • Place is easily at odds with product and at the same time is inherent in the product. You can’t have one without the other.

Your product and/or service should solve a pain point, one of considerable value and importance to the consumer. From there, your job is to get them access to it or into their hands. Beyond that, how you package everything and build your brand are deciders on whether you win or lose.

Academia is often late to the game with tactics especially as they relate technology. To be sure, talking about tools and technology is far easier than talking about identity, values and relationships. Unfortunately this misses the mark in teaching what marketing truly is.

Internet and Offline Research Bias

Google Search

Marketing isn’t learned from the garbage you read online, find through Google searches that lead to opinion articles on blogs and newspapers or by reading any of the selfagrandizing thought pieces put out by industry press and guest writers. If the first things that come to mind are ad campaigns, analytic tools and conversion rates, you’ve fallen into the trap.

Online, the amount of noise to filter through is seemingly endless and at times deafening. The amount of useless and confusing search engine optimized information is even greater. Publishers of online content will lay traps for their prey with content that ranks well in common search results. Driving content to topical pages generates advertising revenue or worse yet, affiliate commissions from “programs” that promise to teach the ins and outs of marketing. When it comes to marketing knowledge online, altruism is hard to come by.

As far as your Google searches go, those tips, trick, strategies and tactics you learned to get more users and conversions?…unlearn them now. Don’t depend on them. They aren’t what’s important in your marketing success story. They are fleeting at best and usually outdated much like a stock tip read in Money magazine.

Those business books you read were undoubtedly inspirational. In many cases the authors were lucky, in most cases they were pioneers, in almost all cases, the real story isn’t the story itself, it’s the context of the story. The real story is the person or team behind the story.

The Industry Echo Chamber

Trade Press

Trade articles, particularly those focused on technology and written by industry experts aren’t much better for gaining an understanding about marketing. They often aren’t more than thinly veiled sales collateral and content marketing pieces. In short, they are well written advertorials. Trade articles represent the structure of an echo chamber, validating how smart we are and how much value we who provide advertising or marketing products and services provide our clients. I say we because I too am guilty of creating noise in the chamber (Back to Basics or The Mobile Advertiser’s Dilemma, Say No to the Blame Game in Mobile, The Mobile Publishers Conundrum: Native Apps or Browser Based) as promotion for my fledgling company at the time, Media Armor.

Your Job and Employer


For the web, if you’re not in Martech or Adtech, then you’re likely the consumer of one or more products or services based on technology for delivering a marketing message such as an email or display ad or perhaps insights about your business. Offline, you may be seduced by agencies or industry experts that produce collateral and TV spots. Much like any consultant, these providers can’t know as much about your business as you do. They may be good at the how, but they will never be good at your why.

Marketing isn’t what you learned from your job or employer either. You see, marketing is the execution of your brand through communication. It’s not the tools, frameworks and numbers themselves. Those are just the the details. For business owners and employees, marketing is a hard fought battle that starts before you’ve even settled on a company name and product and/or service offering.

Businesses relying on one or more solution are vexed with two issues, one figuring out if a product or service is actually providing value and a return on investment and secondly, who to pay when working with vendors, some of which provide similar or complementary offerings. Not wanting to get burned by every new shiny object, many businesses will rely on performance based payment methods. Accountants trying to allocate costs into the right bucket will happily work with vendors that can attribute performance. Employees, especially those working for small and lean operations will be tasked with proving instant results, staying ahead of the curve while reducing cash burn.

The vendor, now being in the unique position of expert will craft strategies for closing the sale by answering objections through deal structures and metrics that fail to confirm marketing’s value such as pay for performance and it’s related cousin, attribution. Buckets don’t tell the whole story.

What is marketing?

That’s what we’ll be discovering together. We will arrive at the deep truths we are after through thoughtful conversation and careful introspection for both the how and they why. Throughout our journey some of the themes we’ll cover as we studying marketing include:

  • Emotion
  • Creativity
  • Advertising
  • Rigid Experimentation
  • Trial and Error
  • Rational and Irrational Behavior
  • Deal Making
  • Supply & Demand partnerships
  • Reach
  • Fraud
  • Statistics
  • Analysis
  • Technology
  • An ecosystem
  • Evolving
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Sales
  • Your team
  • Why


Getting the word out across one or multiple channels. How do we get attention and more importantly, can we keep it? We earn attention and then build on trust. Advertising as a form of communication is ongoing.


“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.” – Don Draper, Mad Men

This is a myopic view, but it does have merit. Marketing’s agent Advertising is built around the notion of emotion.


Creativity takes many forms. Humans are easily anesthetized to the same. We seek out different. When different seeks us out, we notice it.

Rigid Experimentation

Evolution requires experimentation. Success is based on creating a system of repeatable and scalable results. Without a plan, we’re just guessing.

Trial and Error

Not all right answers are known. Pioneers inherently know this. Sometimes we have to test things out to see if they work. Failures are success if you learn from them

Rational and Irrational Behavior

Not everything can or will be explained through conversation, data or experimentation. We make the best decisions we can with the information at hand. Sometimes the best laid plans go wrong.

Deal Making

Whether it’s gaining exposure through partnerships, better pricing through negotiation or converting consumers, there’s an art to the deal. We make deals with our partners, our customers and ourselves.

Supply & Demand Partnerships

Relationships matter. Preferential pricing, guaranteed exposure, long-term revenue all rely on partnerships on both sides.


If marketing doesn’t reach it’s audience, it doesn’t have effect.


Sadly we don’t always get what we paid for. The cause can be negligence, malicious or simply not knowing any better.


Many tools give us data. From the data we can infer knowledge.


Understanding is achieved through analysis. When looking at programs we should see to understand “why that happened.” This can come from a combination of conversation, and qualitative and quantitative data.


There is no doubt that technology can make our lives easier and can provide efficiency and scale. There are many “solutions” to marketing problems. Technology that helps us connect efficiently and effectively is important to marketing.

An Ecosystem

No one company or product does it all or can do it all well. Even Google is part of the ecosystem, not the ecosystem itself. Every seller and provider is fighting for a piece of the marketing pie all the while competing for attention.


Nothing is created or operated in a vacuum if it is to do well. The more varied the thinking, the better. Your customers are online AND offline. They use a variety of channels and technologies. Context is ever changing.


At the end of the day, “sales solves all business problems.” They are the lifeblood of any company. Regardless, tactics and methods can have a cost and/or a benefit.


What worked yesterday may or may not work today. Our knowledge and understanding of consumers is increasing. Applying data and learning benefits everyone.

Your team

Everything starts with team. Your brand, your identity, values and solutions all come from the team whether a company of one or one thousand.

Your Why

You can have the best product or service offering but if it doesn’t resonate with your consumers’ core, you won’t be successful. Brands take years and even decades to build through ongoing relationship building and can be destroyed in seconds. Any action or actions that are incongruent with not only what you stand for, but what your consumers stand for will cause you to fall out of favors.

Marketing is so much more

Open Road

If you’ve read this far, you’ve reconciled with the fact that I was being slightly dramatic with the title. Sure, you’ve learned a lot from many perspectives to date. Some of what you learned has been great and worked for you. A lot of it likely was not so great and that resonated with you enough to read on. If that’s true, you are the one I want to converse with. I’ve also enumerated many tactics. To be clear, which tactics you choose and how you implement them goes back to your brand. I can’t overstate this.

Marketing requires understanding and a plan. It’s your business. Marketing is for the long term. Marketing comes from within. Marketing is your soul, your raison d’être. Marketing isn’t what you learned. Marketing is who you are and how you convey that externally with everything you do. Let’s start marketing intelligently.

If you liked this article, please feel to like, share and recommend it. I would also appreciate comments and feedback. Thanks for reading!

Also published on Medium.

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