Save me from gurus, ninjas and visionaries!

Save me from gurus, ninjas and visionaries!

Thanks to Tim Ellis at for highlighting this post this morning: Mark Ritson: Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t an ‘expert’ in marketing be trained in marketing?

I’m not sure what Mark Ritson has done to make his observations on marketing authoritative. As one of the commentators on this thread noted “there are people who do and people who teach” and Mark, as an admitted academic, certainly falls into the latter category.

However, I realise, academic qualifications and being smart are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Mark seems a smart bloke and we seem to share an irritation with the widely-adopted Ninjas, Gurus and Visionary titles, so he’s alright as far as I can see.

Can you teach marketing? Well, you can certainly help people acquire the skills required of marketers but, as Mark and others in this thread also point out, there are a lot of them, and counting. I can’t imagine anyone capable of expertise in them all. If they were they’d be a Marketing Guru and, like fairies, there is no such thing.

Marketing is increasingly complex so we break it down into vertical disciplines, experts in which combine to produce a synergistic solution. The closest the marketing world gets to an oracle is a strategist, who should have a general knowledge of all the disciplines sufficient to be able to find, appoint and coordinate the experts to deliver a cohesive solution – that’s close, but it’s still not an oracle.

When you see a great marketer in action, you realise it’s a state of mind rather than a discipline. A real marketer is one of those things that’s hard to define, but you know a good one when you see it. I’m inclined to believe they are born rather than made. Educators still haven’t grasped how to “develop” people’s inherent traits and insist on perpetuating a model that beats “disciplines” into people, often at the expense of any natural talent.

Any attempts we may make at teaching marketing are also hampered by the absence of a universal definition of what “marketing” is. You only need to take a look at the threads and articles on LinkedIn to realise that a lot of people, even so-called marketers, confuse marketing with “marketing communications”, itself one of the innumerable disciplines mentioned earlier, but definitely not the full picture.

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Marketing to me is the process of aligning organisations to business opportunities. If you accept this definition you begin to realise that marketing drives everything an organisation does. That includes its structure and practices, the products and services it provides and the recruitment of the people who contribute to that. Seen this way it’s a big subject. It’s definitely the centre of every organisation and whether we recognise it or not, all of us are involved to some extent. That doesn’t, however, make us all marketers.

I’m putting this out there, you understand, humbly and with a readiness to engage in discussion, because I’m not a guru, I hate the term “ninjas” – it conjures images of Bruce Lee and as for visionary? Well, I don’t see dead people and I guess the accuracy of my predictions can only be determined when I’m long gone. I’m a marketer who is happy to be judged on what I have achieved with my clients and to pass on what I have learned from these experiences to anyone facing similar challenges, should they be interested. I hasten to add that I see any value I may have as my ability to solve unique challenges in a sustainable fashion. The solutions I have come up with so far being no more than evidence of this and not something I encourage you to rinse and repeat.

Maybe the, largely, from what I can see, self-proclaimed gurus, ninjas and visionaries are just being sucked into the vacuum created by the failure of educators to measure up. Managers in any area of business these days are required to resolve unique problems on a daily basis and our approach to education is to equip people with solutions then set them off on a career devoted to finding best-fit challenges.

This approach never really worked and it certainly isn’t fit for purpose given the competitiveness of the digital age. So maybe there’s an excuse for those who decide to take the initiative. It’s just a pity that the people who are probably best qualified to do this are mostly too busy actually applying their skills, so it has fallen largely to the also-rans to step up to the plate. A guarantee of mediocrity and not the best solution in a world where being the best at what you do, is the only assurance of success.

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