Marketing Gurus vs. Ninjas vs. Rock Stars and Mastermind Groups

There are a lot of marketing experts purportedly ready to help you with your digital marketing efforts. Many marketing experts can also help you beef up your marketing knowledge.

How do you know which marketers are the most knowledgeable and able to help? There are a lot of interesting titles used by marketers and other authors who write about marketing. But what do these titles really mean?

What type of marketing expert do you need? Is it a guru? Maybe a ninja? Would you be better suited learning from a rock star? Or maybe you need to attend a mastermind group full of gurus, ninjas, rock stars and other entrepreneurial peers.

Let’s dive into each of these titles and see what they mean. We’ll also discuss if there is any real difference between them all, and which kind of marketing expert you actually need.

What is a Marketing Guru?

What is a guru? According to the Oxford English Dictionary definition, a guru is either “a Hindu spiritual teacher” or “an influential teacher or popular expert.” Given that, in theory, a marketing guru would likely best be defined as an influential teacher or popular expert in the field of marketing.

What about in practice? Does the real world usage of guru in the marketing world live up to that definition? Let’s see how some of the top results for “marketing guru” on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) portray the phrase.

Many of the results are of this variety: “Top X Marketing Gurus …” All of the lists basically include a mix of various marketing authors, speakers, affiliate marketers, and other entrepreneurs. All of the lists include notable marketing influencers like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Neil Patel, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Tim Ferriss.

Let’s look at each of these well-known marketing influencer’s about page and see how they describe themselves:

  • Seth Godin says he is an “author, entrepreneur and most of all, a teacher.” He also describes himself as a “speaker” and founder of Squidoo and Yoyodyne.
  • Guy Kawasaki says he is, among other things, a “chief evangelist of Canva,” “brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz,” and “author.”
  • Neil Patel says he is a “co-founder of … a digital marketing agency.” He also says he’s been described as an entrepreneur, “a top influencer,” and an NYT bestselling author.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk says he is “chairman of … a modern-day media … company.” He also says he’s a “public speaker”, NYT bestselling author, and podcaster.
  • Tim Ferriss says he is “an early-stage technology investor/advisor,” an NYT bestselling author, and an influential podcaster.

On all five about pages, the word “guru” was used exactly zero times. All of them prefer to describe themselves mostly as (bestselling) authors and entrepreneurs. So there must be more to the guru meaning. These famous marketers appear on marketing guru lists, but describe themselves differently.

It’s not that these people are too shy or too humble. Tim Ferriss points out that he’s been called “the Oprah of audio.” Gary V says he is a “highly sought after public speaker” and a “prolific angel investor.” Neil Patel’s about page is on this domain:

So marketing guru listicles include the most famous marketers, but none of those marketers call themselves gurus. This could be in part because they have more prestigious credentials to list.

It could also be that calling yourself a guru has a negative connotation. If you’ve seen any ads featuring a self-proclaimed marketing guru on the Internet, you know they definitely aren’t a Gary V or a Tim Ferriss.

There is an article entitled, “How to Become a Marketing Guru, in 8 Steps,” that is on the first pages of the SERPs. It was written by Dillon Munro on Contently, and he lays out the basic steps of what creates a marketing guru. Here are four of the eight things he says you need:

  1. A goofy hairstyle or be bald like Seth Godin,
  2. A grainy picture of you from what appears to be a TED talk,
  3. To create a blog with a gimmick, and
  4. To attach yourself to (only) one part of marketing.

This article reinforces what the listicles and high-profile marketers are doing. A lot of marketers and entrepreneurs see marketing gurus as goofy, gimmicky, and overly focused on a single area of marketing.

Given all of this, the best practical definition of “marketing guru” is dichotomized into two distinct groups. First, the famous marketing influencers. Second, the lesser known aspiring marketers looking to appear popular or promote a get-rich-quick scheme.

The former let others call them gurus, whereas the latter love to refer to themselves as gurus, especially in online advertisements like Facebook Ads. Carefully consider which, if any gurus, you want to be your spiritual teacher of marketing.

What is a Marketing Ninja?

Let’s start again with the noun part of this phrase. What is a ninja? Going back to Oxford English Dictionary we learn that a ninja is a “person skilled in the Japanese art of ninjutsu” or informally “a person who excels in a particular skill or activity.” And ninjutsu is the “traditional Japanese art of stealth, camouflage, and sabotage … now practiced as a martial art.”

Given the definitions, a marketing ninja might academically be described as a person who excels at marketing potentially with a shadowy, undercover or underground flair.

Let’s again turn to the Google SERPs to see what the Internet has to say about marketing ninjas.

One of the first results is a post on the r/AskMarketing thread of Reddit. The consensus there is that ninjas and ninja marketing either don’t exist, mean nothing, or are just hype for old marketing tactics. Given that, why would someone call themselves a marketing ninja?

Another article by Paradox Marketing talks about exactly why someone would use “ninja” as a marketing job title. One theory they have is that the term “ninja” is just cool on the Internet.

The other points they bring up are related to the definition that we started with regarding the covert nature of historical Japanese ninjas. The most compelling analogy being that historic ninjas engaged in espionage and marketing ninjas engage in strategic information gathering.

A lot of the other posts talk about ninja moves and ninja techniques. A lot of the topics the other articles seem to focus on are data, analytics, and strategy. And this is where we could draw a slight distinction from marketing gurus.

Marketing gurus are kind of either well-known marketing experts and influencers or digital evangelists of themselves and a certain variety of marketing tactic. Marketing ninjas are perceived as experts, but slightly less focused on fame and glory. They also have a perception of being skewed towards proficiency and expertise in strategy and analytics.

What is a Marketing Rock Star?

Back to the Oxford English Dictionary, we find that a rock star is defined as a successful rock music performer or “a person treated as a celebrity, especially in inspiring fanatical admiration.”

Based purely on the definition, it sounds like a marketing rock star is going to be a marketing guru without the facade or veneer of being focused on marketing purely for the sake of entrepreneurship. Instead, it’s all about the celebrity and admiration.

Let’s turn again to the Google SERPs. As you might expect you see a lot of articles, memes, and puns that are a hybrid of marketing ideas and rock band cliches.

Beyond that, there are a few more serious and relevant results. For example, there is a Marketo article about creating a rock star marketing team. The article basically uses the word “rock star” as a replacement for “expert.” They do briefly mention that a marketing rock star needs challenges and will take initiative to “make the company a success.”

That’s about it for meaningful information. It would seem rock star is not a popular title for expert marketers on the Internet. It’s really just a less popular and more vain version of marketing guru.

What is a Marketing Mastermind Group?

Another popular marketing phrase is a “mastermind group.” A mastermind, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a person with an outstanding intellect” or someone who “plans and directs an ingenious and complex scheme or enterprise.”

A marketing mastermind group should therefore be a group of crazy smart marketers. Let’s turn to the Google SERPs to see if that matches up.

First up is an Entrepreneur article about the “Top 10 Mastermind Groups…” That article mentions that mastermind groups in general are “peer-to-peer gatherings … helmed by thought-leaders.”

The article goes on to talk about how a lot of groups are lead by people who have rags-to-riches stories, have risen from the ashes, or otherwise unexpectedly achieved stunning levels of success in business.

They also link to what the author claims are the best mastermind groups. The first three on the list are:

  1. Organized Brilliance by Dean Graziosi
  2. War Room Mastermind by Roland Frasier, Perry Belcher and Ryan Deiss
  3. High Performance Mastermind by Brendon Burchard

Lots, or maybe even all, of these people hosting these mastermind groups appear to be successful authors, entrepreneur, and marketers. Many of these people were also listed in some of the marketing guru listicles we mentioned earlier.

But the cost to attend these mastermind groups is steep for most entrepreneurs. War Room Mastermind, for example, costs $25,000 – $30,000 per year. High Performance Mastermind has a similar price tag. The pricing for Organized Brilliance is $25,000 per year, and Graziosi has another mastermind group that costs $100,000 per year.

Should You Join a Marketing Mastermind Group?

So, is it worth it to join one of these marketing mastermind groups? On one hand, most entrepreneurs don’t want to waste money on digital marketing or other unneeded marketing expenses. On the other hand, maybe there is some exciting knowledge you’ll learn to help your business.

Some entrepreneurs think being part of a marketing mastermind group is what allows their business to reach that next level. And there is plenty of useful information you can get from experts and peers at a mastermind group.

However, what most entrepreneurs really get out of these sorts of groups is a friend in business that understands the struggle. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, especially in the beginning. If you’re in this position, keep in mind you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars.

These mastermind groups can be a huge help, but there are also other options to be part of a group of like-minded entrepreneurs, marketers and/or other business professionals. You can even form your own mini-mastermind for free.

Carefully consider what you want from a mastermind group before joining. If you think you’ll see a return on investment (ROI) from a high priced marketing mastermind group, you should definitely join.

On the flip side, if you just need mentorship, basic advice, or a friendly entrepreneur to talk with, you can probably get that for free or cheap elsewhere. Don’t break your marketing budget on a mastermind group when you really just need a fellow entrepreneur to chat with.

Who is a True Marketing Expert?

We’ve talked about gurus, ninjas, rock stars and mastermind groups. But what truly makes a marketing expert, and the kind of expert that you’d actually want to get advice from?

An expert is someone with skills or knowledge in a field; in this case, marketing. And that is really what most entrepreneurs want, either for themselves or the marketers they hire. They want to become a marketing expert or have a marketing expert working by their side.

You don’t need a fancy title of guru, ninja or rock star to be a true marketing expert. Don’t let the fancy titles distract you. They are just marketers marketing themselves.

These words have no special power, and any marketer can use them. The wielder can be a true expert or an all-hype wannabe. More and more people are using these titles. As they do, it is creating a growing divide between marketing gurus and actual marketing experts.

Ideally, you want a marketing expert who is also knowledgeable about all aspects of business. A marketing expert who’s only real-world business experience is selling marketing products like mastermind groups to other marketers has limited value to most entrepreneurs.

When learning about marketing or partnering with a marketer, look for true experts. Just as importantly look for marketing experts who also understand business in general and, more specifically, the needs of your individual business.

Do you have any experience working with a marketing guru, ninja, rock star, or other expert? We’d love to hear any stories you have to share. Let us know in the comments.

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