Good Marketing is Good. Bad Marketing is Bad.

Fred Wilson blogged about marketing:

I believe that marketing is what you do when your product or service sucks or when you make so much profit on every marginal customer that it would be crazy to not spend a bit of that profit acquiring more of them (coke, zynga, bud, viagra).

Brad Feld piled on with a post titled: Why a Start-Up Shouldn't Have a Marketing Budget. Brad says when he hears the word "marketing" he vomits in his mouth a little.

But, Brad's not anti marketing. He's anti bad marketing. He actually says every one of his start-ups spends money on marketing. It's just that the marketing efforts are "wired into the DNA" of the product and company.

And Fred, after dismissing the importance of "marketing," endorses a bunch of activities from his portfolio company that could easily be called marketing.

The word "marketing" encompasses a bunch of good activities and a bunch of bad activities; a bunch of useful philosophies and un-useful philosophies. The question is which specific marketing activities and philosophies are productive and useful and which are a waste of time and money.

And that depends on the specific company, product, industry. We can all agree throwing $10k to a social media consultant to "promote" a product on The Twitter is a waste. But usually it's more complicated. For example, Fred noted he was referring only to consumer internet companies and not enterprise SaaS companies. That's a crucial distinction. Another example: manning a booth at an expensive trade show like CES may be a good marketing expense for Orbotix, but not a good marketing expense for other companies.

Marketing is neither good nor bad, neither a waste nor a necessity. It's both; it depends. This sounds obvious, and maybe it is, but it seems worth keeping in mind when reading broad-brush posts like the one Fred wrote this morning.

7 comments on “Good Marketing is Good. Bad Marketing is Bad.
  • I absolutely categorize Fred’s examples as “marketing”—they’re just not paid-for marketing, which is what it seems like Fred is really objecting to.

    Only of course, they are: that money comes from somewhere, even if it’s just the potential money represented by time invested.

    To paraphrase Seth Godin in his smart, brief comment on Fred’s post, swap in “advertising” for “marketing” and sure—that’s a no-brainer.

    I’m wary of people who are imprecise with language AND make sweeping, potentially dangerous generalizations. (Not that anyone is likely to die from a marketing-related injury, but hey, there are people and livelihoods depending on right actions.)

  • I agree with your points. I think there is an additional bit of perspective that might help shed light on Fred’s perspective. Suppose, just suppose, that there were no Internet or WWW. Now, how would you find customers and let them know about your product? The answer to that question is roughly a description of what “marketing” consisted of before the year 2000.

    There are a lot of professionals out there who learned how to “market” before 2000 and have not really kept up. There is a heavy emphasis on spending money and implementing programs and NOT on measuring because it was very hard to measure. That’s the sort of thing that makes Brad “throw up a little in his mouth.” It’s more appropriate to call it “traditional marketing” or “pre-Internet marketing.”

  • Ben:

    Marketing is no more than:
    a. promoting your product/ service,
    b. to a group of people who either need it or are amenable to be convinced they need it, and
    c. who have the ability to pay for the product/ service.

    “Bad marketing” could simply be if any of these is missing i.e. you don’t have a product/ service properly defined and developed; the audience has or knows no need for it; the audience cannot pay for it.

    The internet is but one channel to promote one’s product/ service; it is seductive because it is perceived as “free”. In the end nothing is free, including the time one spends on the web. So it is smart to have a budget or notional cost allocated to the time you cannot spend writing code or checking the airtightness of the fruit juice bottle you plan to sell.

    I do however routinely lament this web-centricity of discussions, including those led by truly smart people like F Wilson and B Feld. There is way more “marketing” going on in the world where people do not use or care for the intertubes the way some of us living on them 24×7 do. Your post on P&G went outside that narrow field of vision.

    To understand if marketing can indeed be called good or bad, one has to try _not_ delivering whatever one promises. All the free publicity one gets at lightning speed shows how important it is to set aside money, for nothing but to control the damage. I blogged about it once and have linked it to my name here. You will see a mention of Seth Godin in there. And of P&G.

  • Similar to the shorthand, “People hate to be sold to, but they love to buy.”

    Good marketing, to me, seems mostly about targeting the right kinds of people. We hate marketing mostly when we don’t want the product, or the product doesn’t actually serve our needs.

  • Simon Sinek recently posted this on his blog (

    Good Marketing vs. Bad Marketing

    Marketing,per se, is neither good nor bad. It is simply the way a company speaks to us. People use their mouths, companies use marketing. It is objective. However, how companies choose to speak to us is another story. And in that case how they they market to us is mostly bad.

    Good marketing offers us a view of the world.

    Bad marketing offers you a product to buy.

    Good marketing speaks for us.

    Bad marketing speaks at us.

    Good marketing starts with a cause.

    Bad marketing starts with a goal.

    Good marketing drives loyalty.

    Bad marketing drives transactions.

    Good marketing promotes values.

    Bad marketing values promotions.

    Good marketing tells us exactly what a company really thinks.

    Bad marketing tells us what the company thinks they want us to think they think.

    Good marketing seduces.

    Bad marketing targets.

    Good marketing never mentions price.

    Bad marketing always mentions price.

    Good marketing uses the products to help tell a story.

    Bad marketing tells stories about products.

    Good marketing is about us.

    Bad marketing is about them.

    Bad marketing manipulates.

    Good marketing inspires.

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