Marketing 3.0: Puffery so extreme it is unreadable

I recently had the misfortune of reading a 20 page excerpt of Philip Kotler’s Marketing 3.0.   You’d have to pay me far more than my standard hourly rate to induce me to read more of it.

Kotler is one of the most famous marketing professors at any business school.  His text book Marketing Management is not only in the standard today (the 14th edition is on my shelf for instance), but was also the text book of many of today’s marketing professors when they first studied marketing.  If this man is the academic standard bearer for marketing, I’m starting to understand why people have such a low opinion of marketing.  Current thought about marketing, by marketing’s most famous experts, tends not to be rigorous or practical.

Apparently, this begins with a lack of understanding of what marketing is for.

In Part III, we share their thoughts on several key implementations of Marketing 3.0 for solving global issues such as wellness, poverty, and environmental sustainability and how corporations can contribute by implementing the human-centric business model.

I’m as much a believer that corporations can change the world as anyone, but marketing as a discipline discovers and stimulates demand.  Period, full stop.  Corporations can have a good effect on society and have done a great deal to improve the human condition.  I’m  glad that marketers slinging sugar water or floor wax can feel good about themselves, but for those of us in emerging industries that really will change the world, we need our marketers to have a laser focus.

The confusion continues when he discusses actual products.  Apart from shameless promotion of S.C. Johnson (Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son, Professor of Marketing) he seems to be quite confused about the real market drivers of products.  He goes on at length about Timberland’s social responsibility program.  I don’t know if this had any impact on Timberland–perhaps it did.  However, I’ve never heard anything about this, but I have seen tons of earned media for Timberland based on catering to gangters, rappers, and wannabes. Nary a word about this.  I’ve seen maybe 1-2 actual outdoorsmen wear Timberlands in my life, but hundreds if not thousands of wannabe toughs wearing them–admittedly not a scientific survey, but it is at least more than anecdote.   You know what would be useful in this discussion?  Data!  Kotler and his co-authors do not provide that though.

If you’re interested in creating demand for specific robotic products, please skip Kotler and his disciples.  You would be far better served to read someone who comes out of the start-up world and has a rigorous, measurement driven approach to marketing.   Steve Blank, Eric Ries, and Geoffrey Moore all tackle marketing challenges in a much more practical and implementable fashion.  They are also concerned primarily with keeping businesses that really do have the potential to change the world in business long enough for them to do that.  To them, marketing doesn’t need to be a special calling with magic thinking about how the discipline is going to change the world.  To them, marketing needs to fulfill its business function, discovering and creating demand, at a minimum of cost and as quickly as possible.

No finance or operations professional would tout finance or operations 3.0 as being fundamentally different from all that came before it.  These disciplines have highly measurable results in the world that they can easily explain to stakeholders outside the discipline that take the time to understand.  Marketing should be no different–be very wary of anyone who says that it is about the human spirit.

Four Steps to the Epiphany: the Moby Dick of start-up books

Image: Front Cover; Source: Amazon

If your experience of Moby Dick was that you were constantly aware that you were reading one of the best books of all time that was opening your mind to new ideas if only you could keep your eyes open, you understand.  Four Steps to the Epiphany is the great white whale of start-up books for a reason.  Although it is not nearly as easy to read as his disciple Eric Ries’s more famous book, The Lean Start-up, it is much more systematic.  This books has some profound insights about understanding why some start-ups can do it one way and others need to do it completely opposite.

Instead of abstracting and generalizing the insights, Blank focuses on the issues of managing under extreme uncertainty in their native context.  He tackles every aspect of the non-engineering side of the business.  Most of the book is about how to systematically eliminate the market risk for your product, this will be somewhat familiar to you if you’ve read the Lean Start-up.  However, seeing the original idea and seeing it laid out in full detail, in the context it originally sprang from adds a lot of richness and practicality to the idea.  Blank devotes a good deal of time to understanding how to make technology push and market pull work together.  He covers when to go for broke spending money to enter a market and when to hold back and let the customers come to you.  Most importantly, this comes with some practical steps to discover when to do each.  He even covers how to start converting to mature company once you’ve almost made it.

Much like Melville, Steve Blank will say something really profound and insightful, then launch into a description of whaling–er, uh–start-up processes that are needed to implement that idea.  This can make the book a tough slog, because reading a process description around bed time can definitely have soporific effect.  However, this tough slog is absolutely worth it if your a practitioner in the world of technology start-ups.  You can’t hand it to your cousin that works at a big company and expect him to read it.  This is meant for the start-up community.  If you are a start-up practitioner, get this book and make yourself read it.   You will not be disappointed.  I expect my copy to become much more dog-eared than it already is before it gets confiscated for some future company museum.

So how does this relate to robotics…

Reading this book will further persuade you that many if not most management teams of robotics companies don’t have a clue.  You’ll even be able to look at robotics success stories and realize–wow–compared to software our industry’s state of management practice is pretty dismal.  Many successful robotics companies just fell bass-ackwards into their success.  Many were product driven companies to a fault that were able to expensively keep trying until they finally hit a success.  This is not the same thing as systematically eliminating and consciously balancing market versus technical risk to produce the greatest chance of creating successful business that uses robotic technology to make money and make the world a better place.

We’ve got a long way to go as an industry.  Luckily, now that we know that there’s nothing inherently ‘capital intensive’ about the robotics industry we can start addressing why we have so often screwed it up before.