Last week Bill Lee wrote a controversial article in which he claimed that “marketing was dead” (yet another clever use of a traffic-grabbing title.). It was later (correctly, IMHO) pointed out that what Lee probably should have said was that “advertising was dead”. Regardless of where you come down on this debate, it’s nice to see a lively discussion around the disruption that social channels have wrought; despite the hyperbole, it’s still a significant pain point for organizations everywhere, and few have it figured out.

However, at the moment, the conversation seems to be largely unsophisticated – more of a contradiction than a true debate of ideas (I’m reminded of the Monty Python “Argument” skit – where the argument becomes about what, exactly, constitutes an argument). So I’d like to throw another perspective into the mix. Marketing isn’t dead – the big disruption is simply that it’s now everywhere, and everything, that a company does.

From user manuals to the now largely undisputed notion that customer care (or, for that matter, any customer interaction) is an important part of the brand experience, everything you do is marketing. Even if you’re not a marketer. Social and digital channels have accentuated this shift, in no small part because of the firehose of content that they demand from brands and enable users to create; figuratively spraying brand experiences (good and bad) all over the web. To put an even finer point on it, the metadata around your content is now also part of the marketing experience, and something that is not often considered. I’ll provide you with a few examples:

From HBR: “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poo…”

The author of this excellent post on why words matter (I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar) probably didn’t consider how their headline would translate into an URL, which would explain why, from a metadata perspective (ie: if all you ever saw was the link, shared, unshortened, via email or elsewhere) you’d think the article was on a different topic altogether, a topic not likely to be covered by the Harvard Business Review.

You need to consider everything that's findable on the web, even your comment signature.

This is a personal example. It occurred to me several years ago that every time I (hopefully) leave a reasonably intelligent comment on a blog post, it would be a pretty good idea to help establish my credibility to make that comment based on where I work and what I do for a living. So I started including a little more metadata, and in the process ended up providing some incremental exposure and marketing for my company.

Missed opportunity: this image out of context is meaningless

Of course, these days it’s a foolish writer that doesn’t mention Pinterest at least once in every post! All jokes aside, Pinterest is a great way to check your metadata, and, let’s face it – as the fastest growing website ever, it’s also something you need to consider. In this example, MOMA misses an amazing opportunity to promote their upcoming Ellesworth Kelly exhibit. By failing to provide the “what, when and where” in their image metadata, they’ve lost the chance to ensure that no matter where this file is shared (by someone interested in Ellesworth Kelly!), important details will provide context and a marketing opportunity for the upcoming show.

Bulgari has it right - give me the details!

Bulgari gets it – their product images will travel across the web with full details, though they have neglected to include their brand name (viewing the image as a discrete file, out of context and as an independent object, should inform how you think about its ability to act as a marketing vehicle. It could end up anywhere).

Flash websites, ugh.

And finally – the dreaded Flash website, which doesn’t let me share much of anything, on Pinterest or elsewhere (never mind mobile).

In researching this post, I also found something a little surprising: when we think about marketing in this context, that it’s essentially everywhere, and every image, file, graphic, video, whatever your organization produces, needs to be looked at through that lens, guess where best practices in metadata popped up? On sites that are fully accessible to the visually and hearing impaired. The descriptive text, while generally missing brand names and a marketing perspective, was far superior to the limited data surrounding websites that did not comply with accessibility standards. Interesting convergence.

So – is the fact that marketing is everywhere a good thing, or a bad thing? Are you thinking about it this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. when anything is everywhere it gets ignored. See that’s the point, financial goals and quotas, payroll realities mean seller needs to force buyer demand in many, most (but not all) cases. As a result Marketing – by my definition the information necessary to motivate buyer behavior – is everywhere because we don’t want to miss any opportunity. Therefore marketing is like a river, always here, always running for consumers to consume as they wish.

    all the best my friend, as always your perspective is enlightening.

  2. Maggie Fox Author

    Thanks, Albert – great to hear from you!

  3. Aaron Davis

    Very interesting post, Maggie. I’m of the school of thought that this is a (very) good thing. Although your attention to detail and self awareness has to increase due to this added marketing; every mention, headline, URL, image, etc provides another opportunity for a positive and informative customer experience. As you call out in your Ellsworth Kelly example, it’s simply not enough to think of how every detailed piece of content will look in its initial iteration, but even more important to envision how it will appear/inform with its 2nd, 3rd and 4th iteration when shared by your targeted audience. It’s like the old game of Telephone, just today we have the ability to make things as precise in their 10th repetition as in their 1st.

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