The Upside of Killing off Marketing

Another day, another provocative title for a blog post that stirred the passions of marketers across the globe. The most recent button-pusher was Bill Lee, marketing consultant and author, who boldly declared in a Harvard Business Review blog post that "Marketing is Dead." If you work in marketing, teach marketing, or otherwise have any connection to the profession, such a proclamation gets your attention. The title and accompanying article stimulated discussion ranging from Mr. Lee is correct to Mr. Lee is pathetic, and many opinions in between.

The heart of Mr. Lee's position is that traditional marketing - advertising, public relations, branding, and corporate communications - is outdated in today's social media environment. One-way communication has been overtaken by an emphasis on community building around a brand, its advocates, customers, and the general public. Groundswell from product users and fans has supplanted marketer-controlled messages as the driver of choice to build brand credibility.

Now back to the praise and bashing of Bill Lee - opinions about Mr. Lee's position varied, but there is a benefit arising from his pronouncement that "marketing is dead," even though I disagree with the statement taken literally. Marketers need the smelling salts of provocation that are delivered in a piece like the one written by Bill Lee. It is useful to be reminded that we operate in a very dynamic environment and that the role of traditional marketing certainly has changed. While advertising still plays a role in building a brand, it complements community-building efforts. The challenge for marketers is to find the balance in the respective roles played by traditional marketing and social media in nurturing customer relationships.

Marketing is far from dead, but it has undergone a radical makeover in recent years. Just as people experiment with different hairstyles, fashions, and hobbies to shape their identity, marketers must be open to redefining how brands and relationships are built. Social media is not a fad; specific platforms might come and go (e.g., MySpace) but user-driven communications are here to stay.

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