The Growing Divide Between Digital Marketing Gurus and Actual Marketing

If you are an entrepreneur, you’ve likely seen ads from marketing gurus and ninjas. And not the gurus from ancient Indian traditions or the ninjas from feudal Japan. These marketers all portray themselves as gurus, ninjas or whatever other marketing expert buzz words they’ve come up with.

So what’s wrong with the ever-expanding marketing guru world? It’s not that they are not good at promoting themselves, their courses, and their products. These self-proclaimed marketing gurus are sometimes true experts in the promotional aspect of marketing.

The problem is that they are bastardizing what some entrepreneurs consider marketing. And it’s a huge detriment to these entrepreneurs. Many walk away from the bombardment of gurus thinking one of two things:

  1. Gurus are not real and a huge waste of money, and therefore all marketing is a waste of money, or
  2. Gurus are true experts in marketing, and therefore their offerings need to be studied in order to run the most profitable business.

So what’s the problem with those two conclusions? Spoiler alert, they both often lead to a warped perception of how marketing intersects with business, economics, and commerce more broadly.

What Exactly is Marketing?

Before diving any deeper, we need to be really clear about what marketing is exactly. When most gurus, and some subset of digital marketers, say “marketing” they are not talking about the entire field of marketing.

The Average Guru’s Definition of Marketing

The quintessential guru, when talking about marketing, is normally referring to promotion — a subset of marketing communication that presents something or persuades someone regarding something. The something most people think of most often is a product or service, but it can also a brand, person, organization, or issue.

Some gurus corrupt the definition of marketing even further by conflating marketing for an even smaller subset of promotion: advertising. And they are normally talking about just digital, or online, advertising on a platform like Facebook, Google, or YouTube.

This oversimplification of marketing is at the core of why the two takeaways from guru bombardment is a huge problem for a lot of entrepreneurs.

The Real Definition of Marketing

Marketing is basically related to everything in business. Most people know advertising is marketing. But it really includes all forms of marketing communication. That means things like personal selling and public relations are also marketing.

And it’s even more than just marketing communication. It’s really any part of business that involves the exchange relationships your business has with potential and existing customers.

It includes anything required to take a product, service or cause from inception to consumption, and even beyond. For example, here are some important parts of marketing that are often overlooked:

  • Branding and designing or selecting products and services to sell.
  • Developing other elements, like packaging, to help communicate brand identity.
  • Setting prices to reach objectives like maximizing customer lifetime value (CLV).
  • Determining the best places and methods to sell your products or services.

And we’re just barely scratching the surface with this explanation of what marketing is. But, hopefully, this brief explanation gets you thinking about how an overly simplistic view of marketing could limit your business.

Now, let’s get back to the two main possibilities with guru overload and see what can happen.

What Happens If You Dismiss Gurus and Ignore Marketing?

First, let’s consider if you totally ignore the gurus and dismiss their version of marketing. This isn’t the worst thing in the world if you already know a lot about real marketing. The problem is that no one is an expert at everything in business.

When a Skilled Professional Becomes an Entrepreneur

Some entrepreneurs have a business degree or learned about marketing from the school of hard knocks. But just as many, if not more, are mostly experts in other aspects of running their business. Consider a chef who starts a restaurant, a vet who starts a clinic, or an inventor with a great product idea.

All of these people are intelligent and skilled professionals who have a huge piece of the puzzle to start and run a successful business. They just need to learn how to successfully market their business. This means they can learn the skills themselves, hire skilled employees to help, or partner with a marketing agency.

And all three of these options are viable. Which is best for any given business should be a decision that is not taken lightly. It is a decision that requires considering your business goals, evaluating your marketing budget, and doing a bit of research.

When Entrepreneurs Look to Learn and Meet Gurus Instead

The problem some business owners run into is when they look to educate themselves. They start searching and researching, and they get exposed to the world of digital marketing gurus. The gurus’ ads promise to teach marketing and promise untold fame and fortune.

Savvy newcomers to business quickly realize this is too good to be true. And many understandably think to themselves, “these marketing gurus are selling a pipe dream.” They then believe they need to stay as far away from marketing and marketers as possible.

The sad part of the story is that marketing is a very real and very crucial part of business. All business are engaged in marketing. If you ignore it, it will still exist within your business. You just will no longer be in control of the situation.

The takeaway here should be: it’s a perfectly good idea to dismiss and ignore all or most of the marketing gurus peddling their wares. What you absolutely should not do is dismiss the idea of understanding the importance of marketing in business.

What Happens If You Buy Into the Guru Hype?

Next, is another common problem new and aspiring entrepreneurs run into. They have a great idea or are looking to expand their business. They turn to the Internet to learn more about business and marketing.

The problem here normally starts when they make an uninformed or impulsive decision and partner with the wrong people. In this case, a partner can be a teacher or source used to educate, an employee or freelancer hired to help, or a marketing agency brought on to consult.

Any partner, in marketing or elsewhere in business, can be a costly mistake. It’s actually one of the quickest ways to waste money on digital marketing.

You should be just as careful if you hire an employee or partner with a marketing agency, but let’s focus on the marketing educators for now. More specifically the digital marketing gurus you see promoting themselves all over social media and elsewhere online.

When Entrepreneurs Look to Learn and Buy from Gurus

Gurus and ninjas are dangerous. It’s not because they are not smart. Many actually are very smart. It’s not even because they are not good at promotion; many are great at promoting their own guru courses and consulting. The danger is that most of the gurus are only teaching about promotion, or even worse only one variety of digital marketing advertising.

And there are exceptions who are amazing marketing and business educators. So how do you know if it’s a good idea to buy a course or pay for consulting from a ninja? Find out how they define marketing. If they say it’s just advertising, or Facebook Ads or SEO, run!

Marketing touches almost everything in business. Even if your goal is to only learn about Facebook Ads, you want to learn from someone who understands the entire field of marketing. If your teacher doesn’t realize the difference between the words marketing, promotion, and advertising. That is a huge red flag!

Would you want to learn how to change your car’s oil from someone who doesn’t know the difference between gasoline, diesel, and electric cars? Maybe they still know how to change oil, but it’s very telling that they don’t understand the absolute basics of cars.

To truly get the most from your money from Facebook Ads, SEO, or whatever else is being taught, you need to learn more than just the basics. You need to learn how a given tactic ties into the marketing plan for your business as a whole.

Countless new entrepreneurs start campaigns with Facebook Ads and Google Ads each and every day. According to a report by Local Search Association (LSA), 30 – 40% of them abandon their search engine marketing advertising campaigns every year.

This is likely in part because the business owner does not take the time to learn the platform, its idiosyncrasies, and how it interacts with the business at large. The exact same thing happens when you work with a guru who doesn’t understand the big picture of marketing.

How to Identify Gurus Who are Too Good to Be True

Once you know what to look for it’s pretty easy to find the digital marketing gurus to avoid. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that there is nothing magical about marketing and business.

Avoid Shortcuts, Secret Ingredients, and Free Parking Jackpots

There are absolutely no hidden ways to make endless money. There are just great ideas, hard work, perseverance, and luck. You can’t control luck, and neither can gurus, so don’t buy from people selling luck.

Watch out for people claiming extraordinary results for themselves that you can replicate with just a little hard work. Here are few examples:

  • They discuss anything remotely resembling multi-level marketing (MLM).
  • They mention a secret tip or trick that no one else knows about.
  • They offer knowledge available for only a limited time or a select group of people.

If someone truly had a secret or a hidden method to make tons of money, why would they sell it? Does the value of the knowledge they are selling even match their price? If they are selling a million dollar secret in a $1,000 course, does that really make sense?

If they had this valuable secret, they’d keep it for themselves or sell it for a larger sum of money. On the flip side, even if the secret is real, others will buy this secret too. At that point, it will no longer be a secret. Everyone will begin taking advantage of this knowledge, and it will become devalued.

Watch Out for Rags to Riches Stories

People who are down on their luck absolutely do go on to do great things. However, rarely are these sorts of stories reproducible by others. These stories can be great to motivate you, but you should be extraordinarily careful before paying these people to teach you their magic.

Watch out for classic guru overnight success stories like these:

  • They went from being a drug addict to owning a multi-million dollar consultancy.
  • They were on the verge of suicide when they discovered this marketing method.
  • They are giving away their secrets because they’ve already made too much money.

The best case in each of these scenarios is that the person worked hard and got lucky. The worst case scenario is that they are a con man or woman looking to take advantage of unsuspecting people.

There is a purpose of mentioning these type of stories in their pitch. It is to pull at your heartstrings and make you think if they did it anyone can.

And the reality is that most entrepreneurs can succeed in business if they have a good idea and are willing to work hard. What is not reality is that the path to their success requires buying information from these types of pitches.

Distrust Claims that Sound Too Good to Be True

Just like the idea of a secret ingredient or overnight success story, distrust any claim that sounds just a little too amazing. It’s unlikely that a marketing strategy or tactic alone is going to drive crazy unbelievable results.

Be especially careful of ambiguous or spectacular claims of profit or growth. For example:

  • They talk about making money but don’t clarify if it’s revenue or profit.
  • They claim to have gone from $0 to $1M+ with their first business in one year.
  • They suggest compound annual growth rates (CAGRs) higher than 500%.

Stay Alert for Other Creative or Meta Guru Pitches

There is one final next level guru trick. It is when a guru, going by a different moniker, tells you that all gurus or marketing in general is a waste of time. At the same time, this person tries to sell you a course or consulting package remarkably similar to other guru offerings.

This is a massive red flag. They are making a meta guru pitch to explain how guru pitches work and why they are all deceptive. Once they’ve enlightened you about the guru pitch formula, they try to sell you something indistinguishable from other guru offerings.

The other creative thing for a guru to say is that marketing doesn’t work. Or they mention that a specific tactic or strategy is dead, and they have the thing that will replace it.

As we mentioned marketing is inherent to business. So the idea that marketing doesn’t work is totally insane. Marketing by definition works, because it is literally everything your business does to sell products or services.

If your business makes money, it’s because your marketing is working. If you business doesn’t make money, it’s because your marketing is not working. That is the essence of marketing. Good entrepreneurs realize this and are constantly working to improve their marketing efforts.

As for claims that specific techniques are dying or dead. If they are working for you, then they are successful. Don’t worry about it some guru claims it’s not working. You know your numbers, they don’t. You know the reality, and you don’t need to worry about what other people purport to be true.

How to Identify Marketing Education That Will Help Your Business

Anything that looks like a shortcut is probably a waste of time, money, or both. So how do you learn about marketing online without the waste? First, learn all the free information you can. There are plenty of free resources where you can learn a lot.

If you need more information or a directed path, look for someone selling you real information. If they mention success, it should be a real path to success through hard work and dedication. Any sign of a shortcut is a sign that you are buying a gimmick.

If luck strikes, that’s great, but don’t plan on it. And certainly don’t buy courses or consulting that relies on luck or happenstance. A great entrepreneur knows they need to survive without luck, but is prepared to capitalize on luck if and when it strikes.

Focus On Actual Marketing Not Gurus and Ninjas

Marketing is a large field that is misunderstood by a lot of people including some in the business world. And unfortunately, with the rise of so-called gurus, it is also prone to hype and get-rich-quick schemes.

Try to ignore most or all of the gurus. Marketing is not new, and no new digital marketing tactic alone will propel your business. Focus on developing and executing a real marketing strategy for your business. This will likely mean spending a good amount of time and energy developing that plan.

If marketing isn’t your passion or expertise, it may also mean hiring trusted employees or partners. Just make sure that the people you hire are true experts in marketing. If they are selling the same hype like many of the marketing gurus, look elsewhere.

Do you have any experience with digital marketing gurus or other online marketing education? Let us your success or horror stories. We’d love to know what worked and what didn’t work in the comments.

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