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Markets, Marketers and Marketing: The End of the Road for Imposters

What is happening in the global financial markets is stunning, surely. I am more stunned, however, by the complete absence of dialogue in the marketing community about this historic moment. After all, as marketers, it is our job to know how – forgive me the obvious – to navigate the market. Like most stockbrokers who fell into success as markets expanded, most marketers only know how to carnival-call their offerings to cash-flush consumers. Say goodbye to that easy effort. The age of true strategy is at hand. It is make or break, to be sure.

Forget the cause of the meltdown; it is, for all practical purposes, irrelevant. It is here, cannot be reversed and cannot be stopped. It is underway, though the public and the politicians do not seem to understand this. The flow of cash and credit has all but stopped, meaning the economic machine is not functioning. Corporate spending is drying up like a lakebed at noon; technology is falling and will continue to do so; media is starting to crumble. Understand “cash flow” a bit better now, or still talking about “liquid content” and how quaint the notion of monetizing it is? How many marketers know how to sail in dead water? The good ones do.For all of the solipsistic babblers I read on Facebook , Twitter , et al about “strategic marketing,” evidence of it is as rare as a Dodo bird (pun intended). Who among them understands economic principles and financial stimulus? Who among them knows how to inspire confidence in something as amorphous as “the economy”? Or rebuild brands for new quasi-governmental concerns in banking, insurance, investments and mortgages? Who among them can capture customers’ attentions and wallets without the cheap (and recessionary) move of a pricing adjustment? These are not small changes, nor are they challenges likely to be met by the wild-haired dudes out there. (Twitter on, my wayward son…)This is the moment where marketers can prove they really do deserve a place at the management table, with the big men and women who must marshal entire workforces through a desert. If marketers cannot navigate now, they are not marketers, merely managers of budgets, directors of wind in fair weather. Are you a “noun” marketer — a maker of “stuff”? Or a “verb” marketer — one who knows how to maneuver through and with the market? Going forward, it is about the right path, the right moves.Those who can succeed in the wilderness to come will do so by eschewing all expensive, ineffective, momentary tactical reactions — the Wall Streeters have a name for these quick moves, and it is called “panic” — and choosing instead to make meaning and forge relationships. It will be an older form of marketing, a slower pace. It will be one that requires actually knowing the consumer, inspiring her trust by honoring her, and providing legitimate value for cash exchanged (boring things, like quality, service and reliability will matter again). Maybe social media will be key to this; maybe its free-for-all mode and model will collapse.Regardless, the bullshit is over; the pouty “sophisticated” and “exclusive” positionings are dead. Marketers must cease the “image building” that has proven to be part of the illusion encouraging consumers to leverage their mortgages at 125 percent. Yes, there is a moral to this story, and marketers are not on the right side of it. It is time we switch sides.In short, responsible marketing — effective, ethical, honest offerings — is about to have a debut (one can hardly claim a resurgence for something that has not existed). Do you really believe ad agencies and “gurus” can lead there? It is time for plain speak, real stories, legitimate value. Clarity will earn confidence, as it always has (politicians, take note).

The wizards behind the curtain will surely find themselves mute when it is time for real advice, not gimmick. Maybe then the clear-eyed and reflective among us can calmly say “here, go this way.” Knowing the direction forward is, I believe, the best definition of strategic marketing possible.

Here’s to the market. It did its job. A lot of “toxic assets” will be removed from the financial sector. Now, if we can also make sure the market flushes away the impostor-marketers out there as well.



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