The Good Marketer: A Guide to Marketing Virtue

painting of a Scottish lake landscape

What does it mean to be a good marketer?

Is it a simple matter of increasing sales or growing margins? A collection of industry awards and professional accomplishments? Maybe it’s years accumulated on the job or promotions secured. How do you and I know if we’re good marketers?

One word

The key lies in how we understand the word good.

There are many ways to understand good, but for this discussion, I think it can be distilled down to two concepts. The first being good as competence. A good marketer is one who is able to get results; a marketer that knows her stuff. The second is good as virtuous, meaning a marketer that is ethical and moral in the way they market and in choosing what work they do.

Note: I want to avoid getting stuck on the idea that good must equal charity. Certainly, if you were Mother Teresa’s marketing manager you’d be right up there in the pantheon of virtuous marketers. But, to be clear, meeting people’s healthy desires, helping a business thrive, and creating good jobs through your marketing activities easily falls within the concept of the virtuous good.

Mapping the terrain

Now, let’s take these two meanings and create a 2X2 chart, plotting virtue-good along the x axis and competence-good along the y axis. Here’s what you get:

a 2X2 grid of good marketing
Marketing 2 X 2
The Repugnant Sewer

This is the place where, thankfully, that which is bad meets marketing that’s completely useless. It’s the sewer and we see it for what it is. These are the horrors of society, like human trafficking and genocide. Sadly, at times “marketers” become more competent and are able to get some of these ideas to catch on, making them more accepted and moving them out of the sewer.

Sexy Poison

This is competent evil. It’s the effective marketing of goods and services that damage relationships, make our bodies sick, put our children at risk, or rob us of our agency. This is the peddling of ideas and causes that are destructive and dehumanizing. The scary thing is, the more competent the marketer, the less obvious the poison. Of course, we have to take into consideration the somewhat relative nature of this discussion. One person’s poison can be another’s small pleasure. Alcohol use or gambling come to mind here.

Wasted Benefit

Here we find the good suffering under incompetent marketing. These are the good causes, the good companies that make good products and offer good jobs, the good ideas, the good movements, and the good organizations that want to make the world better—each not realizing their potential. Their brands are weak, their campaigns broken, their strategies missing, and their tactics all wrong. If only …

Mountain Top

Imagine the combination of a decent company, with a product that makes life better and a marketing function that knows how to deliver. Or, an organization that cares for those who can’t care from themselves, coupled with a marketer that knows how to get the community to go all in. This is the mountain top—nothing but fresh air, clear skies, and a view that goes on forever. Notice, there’s hardly anyone here.

Being a good marketer

This is an overly simplistic framework for something that’s much more complicated and subtle. But, even in its oversimplification, it reveals the truth. The temptation is to use the complexity/subtlety argument as a rationale to reject the picture that the 2X2 creates; to dismiss it as silly and to move on. That would be a mistake.

Each one of us, at any given time, has aspects of our work that fall farther left on the chart than we’d probably like. And, unless you’re a perfect machine, there’s always opportunity to become more competent. Marketing can be complicated and it’s too easy to ignore the nagging question of goodness by getting lost in our work, as if being busy is justification enough. But, to become truly good, our underlying work must be to continually move farther right and further up the chart.

With each improvement in skill, each campaign launched with the benefit of our stakeholders in mind, each product or service we promote that makes lives better, each human problem solved, each life we enrich, each unfulfilled promise we reconcile, we move closer to the mountain top.

No one occupies a static place on the chart. We move, moment by moment, as we go about our work. If you want to be a good marketer, get into the habit of considering where you are at any given time and work hard to reorient towards the summit.