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Agile Marketing Series: Intro: The End Of Mad(men)ness

Maybe the popularity of the television show Mad Men will finally kill off the bad idea that business can find one big marketing idea and hit the jackpot. Maybe we love Don Draper because, like Superman, he doesn’t really exist and never did.

Underneath advertising and public relations and product development, marketing is the name for figuring out how high your price can go above and beyond the cost to do whatever it is you’re doing.

Not a particularly good word, “marketing.” It’s like calling seeking out the right path “pathing” or thinking of new ideas “ideating.” (Don’t you hate that word? It fits brainstorming like a bad toupee.)

Many businesses are stuck in the world of cost reduction. As if deciding to get healthy by drinking cheaper and cheaper sodas, it’s a bit insane. Usually, these companies don’t have much in the way of a marketing program. They are too busy driving to navigate. Too busy drowning to find a life preserver.

Other businesses are stuck on the treadmill of the three pronged marketing approach:

  • Increase sales
  • Decrease Marketing Costs
  • Increase sales

These companies use marketing as a handmaiden to the sales department, carpet bombing with brochures, emails, sales promises, under-the-tent rhetoric, and other likeminded chatter. They draw up plays for long shots and lose, instead of taking the small shots needed to succeed.

Other businesses have a huge divide between their engineering department and the marketing department.

Instead of the two camps meeting in product research, the engineers assume marketers work in marketing—”whatever that is”— because they aren’t good at engineering. Marketers, in turn, assume engineers are the sort of meritocratic cranks who would think such a thing! The truth is we can learn from our engineering compatriots across the divide. How we build better products today is different. And how we market is different as well because, like the engineers have figured out, there are different requirements for bringing our work to market.

Marketing deserves some of that animosity. Call it the Don Draper effect: The myth of a singular marketing maverick who “gets it,” flouts all the rules, takes a pause for a midday cocktail, and reveals his genius at the big unveiling in the conference room.

Only, this is not how things work. It’s just a story.

In reality, people resent the hubris, even if backed with talent. People resent the risk, especially when coupled with an “all or nothing” mandate. More importantly, people don’t buy it.

That’s probably why Mad Men is so popular. It’s a compelling historical fiction, and the complete opposite of what’s required today.

What is required? To borrow from the world of software development, let’s restate a term that will pop up more and more over the next few years—”agile marketing.”

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