Home > Marketing > 15 Takeaways from Killing Marketing [Book Review]

15 Takeaways from Killing Marketing [Book Review]

top-15 Takeaways from Killing Marketing [Book Review]

Marketing has made so many small incremental changes over time – think social, digital and content – that we’ve forgotten to pause and examine the effects.  More importantly, we haven’t examined how all these little changes through the years, have fundamentally changed business.

Marketing has evolved substantially – as anyone that works in marketing will attest.  Yet it’s my observation that for many business leaders, the last time they cracked open a marketing book was in college.  That could have been 20 years ago or more…this book is your bridge to catch back up.

The book Killing Marketing isn’t so much about actually killing marketing, as it is about re-engineering the marketing organization – as author Michael Hammer might have said – from the ground up, including how it fits into a business and its impact on customers.

Despite the name, Killing Marketing is not as much an indictment as it is a call to action.  The call is to change marketing from an organization that describes features and benefits – and then distributes those descriptions at cost – to an organization that delivers value. Importantly, value is defined as a customer that is better off as a result of a marketing effort than they were before.

I recommend the book, especially the audio version, which accompanied me on roughly 6 hours’ worth of hikes around the Chattahoochee River.  My notes below stem from 33 “voice memos” which I recorded on the go as I listened and have paraphrased here.

Below are 15 takeaways I offer you from Killing Marketing; I hope these encourage you and your organization to both get a copy of the book and embrace content marketing.

1) Challenge your marketing beliefs

Conventional business thinking is that marketing exists to create and distribute product information to grow revenue or save money, through lower cost per acquisition.  Put that aside for a moment and consider:  could there be a better way?

Movies make money selling tickets, right?  That’s what 20th Century Fox thought when it took a chance on George Lucas and his Star Wars idea. They didn’t really expect success but here’s what happened next:

“From 1977 to 2015 (before the Disney release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Star Wars movies pulled in just over $5 billion in ticket sales. During that same period, merchandising sales were $12 billion.”

Here’s the kicker according to the book: Lucas was able to retain the licensing rights for all the merchandise because of course, movies know they money by selling tickets. He made more in merchandise than a mature company in the business model it knew.

“It’s not what you know that kills you,” says co-author Joe Pulizzi, with attribution to Mark Twain, “it’s what you think you know.”

2) Distribution, not the creation, of content, has been democratized

Content has been democratized!  That’s the popular refrain anyway, but that’s not really true as the authors point out. The specialized tools and large investments it once took to distribute content have changed but it still takes skill to create content, what has changed is the distribution.

3) Collections of people doing “marketing like things”

Most B2B organizations do not have a marketing leader, the authors say.  This is because most CEOs look at marketing like a tax and will do all they can to spend as little as possible on it.  As a result, what these organizations have is a collection of people doing “marketing like things” and reporting to sales.  That’s not driving value – it’s merely an organization that finds clever ways to dispose of the things that the business makes.

4) Create value rather than merely describe it

Most marketing shops strive to describe value rather than create it, yet that’s the central theme of the book: marketing should be creating customer value.  That means helping customers to be better off than they were before.

5) Evaluate marketing as a whole, not by campaign

One year a B2B company that “puts things on pallets” grew by 650%.  Coincidentally or not, it was the same year they hired a marketing director.

The CFO wanted to understand what drove the growth, so he asked for an analysis. The marketing director examined results campaign by campaign – search, PPC, retargeting, events and more.  A few campaigns brought in leads or deals, but not enough to substantiate 650% growth, and most were flat, meaning there was no return on investment (ROI).

Next, the CFO asked departments – PR, social, direct – to examine their analytics and help him understand how they contributed to the 650%.  Every department came back with a solid case of how they contributed to that growth and more.

So, when the business examined individual campaigns, marketing looked like a failure.  But when the business looked at results by department, marketing was very successful.  The CFO confided to the authors, business needs to look for results holistically rather than by campaign.

Of course, the smart marketers have been saying this for years.  It’s not whether or not one tactic is better than another, it’s how they work better together to achieve a business result.


Also see these related book reviews:
8 Epic Takeaways from Joe Pulizzi’s Epic Content Marketing
Book Review: 7 Takeaways from Jay Baer’s YOUtility
Five Takeaways from the Book Contagious
3 Takeaways from Neal Schaffer’s Maximize Your Social
Nine Takeaways from the Book Optimize by Lee Odden


6) Why marketing is viewed as a cost rather than investment

Marketing is viewed as a cost, not as an investment (which works like compound interest) because it scrutinized by cost per lead, cost per sale, cost per customer and other metrics.

Yet these are not measures of ROI (where ROI = Net Profit / Total Investment x 100), they are metrics of accountability, according to the authors. These are not even goals, but rather incremental steps toward goals like more revenue or lower costs.

Sure, if you put enough of these together you can get smarter about campaigns, but it’s incremental progress at best, and it’s still not measuring ROI.

7) Will this marketing campaign work?

Measuring marketing campaigns in this way, is like measuring the impact of gasoline on your job satisfaction, says co-author Robert Rose.   Gasoline just gets you to work, and every new marketing campaign is a like a tank of gas.

If you want to try something new, you have to make a case for it and so, marketing is asked:  what will the ROI be?  In other words, the business is asking marketing to determine the ROI of something that has never been done before.

You can use your experience to take an educated guess about how this new idea might work, but that’s like predicting how your career is going to be based on your fuel consumption.

8) An overreliance on metrics encourages marketing to underperform  

Mr. Rose described a company with slow growth of 1.5% annually, but it could measure a solid ROI on marketing.

This is a problem because this focus on ROI encourages marketing to underperform – don’t try anything new or different – and the impact is visible in the stagnant growth.  Mr. Rose offers an oversimplified example to illustrate the point: If you spend $250 to make $250, your ROI metrics look better if you spend nothing at all.

In my experience, I have found this is more often true (but not exclusively) in large organizations. The status quo reigns and nobody dares to try anything new because it’s constant battle of justification.  It’s just easier to go home at 6:00 p.m. and forget about a leadership that fights you at every turn. So, the organization plods along with 1% growth and finds itself in a state of constant restructuring.

If your goal is to harvest revenue from existing products, then this is probably a good strategy (that’s why technologists say big companies are where good software products go to die).  However, if you want to grow, marketing must be an investment.

9) An insurance policy for a future company

The core of content marketing is the skill, talent and experience of building an audience.  Having an audience gives an organization a lot of flexibility and options…but it takes a while to get there.  This is not easy.

Schneider Electric, a French multinational and engineering company, took a different approach.  The company acquired 150 websites and magazines.  The goal?  To appeal to young engineers and develop a market.   Content marketing is like an insurance policy on the future of the company.

10) Content marketing as a pre-customer database

Johnson & Johnson operates a site called BabyCenter.com, which as I write this, SimilarWeb estimates received 100 million visits per month.  You won’t find J&J’s brand plastered on the site, but what they are gaining is data about future customers – a pre-customer database.

For example, the company knows new moms start planning for their child’s first birthday at 10 months, according to the authors.  They also know which headline “sleep overnight” or “sleep through the night” will resonate more, and perhaps be used in other marketing mediums, because they’ve tested it in content on this site.

Content marketing, especially a corporate blog, is a great place to experiment.

11)  Content is the only way to scale marketing

Over the years, marketing has added more digital channels – email, SEO, PPC, and social for example.  But what marketing cannot do, is just keep adding people to cover every new channel.  Content however, can be shared across channels, and to the extent, you can build an engaged audience, you achieve scale.

12)  Buying vs. building an audience

The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) which was founded by one of the co-authors, reached a point where it wanted to add a conference for more advanced content marketers. Rather than build an event, and compete with those that already existed, they purchased the Intelligent Content Conference.

Similarly, UBM, a publishing and events company known for its technology trade publications, acquired CMI when it decided to get into content marketing.  Even for the experts – publishers – sometimes it’s a better move to acquire an audience than trying to build one.

Mr. Pulizzi offers a couple of pricing models that ought to be familiar to the venture and tech community:  a) make a payout on net earnings over a period of years or b) pay per subscriber – you can think about the Microsoft acquisition of LinkedIn in these terms, even as we keep an eye on the integrations to email and CRM software.

Side note for PR pros: I wrote about the UBM acquisition of CMI when it happened.  At the same time, UBM was acquiring CMI for $17.6 million, it was selling PR Newswire to Cision for $841 million!  If there has ever been writing on the wall for PR…here’s your sign. The cost of your press release is going up, even as the value of the distribution is in stark decline.  I don’t think press releases are dead, but there are clearly fewer utilities.

13)  A rebuttal to content shock

Content shock” is an idea championed by another respected author, Mark Schaefer, that puts content marketing in the framework of supply and demand – the volume of content grows while content consumption is finite.

Killing Marketing rebuts this idea by asking a question:  What is the alternative?  There’s been too much content at every step of publishing innovation, from the Gutenberg, to mass communication, to the internet.  It’s not going to stop, we – the world – will continue to generate more and more content for the foreseeable future.

I have no inclination to stir a titans-of-marketing-debate – they are all credible thinkers – because most marketing leaders I speak with care only about the substance.  What I can say, from the trenches of doing this stuff on both the client and agency side successfully for many years, is that every organization is unique and these arguments are not mutually exclusive.  That’s my point here: The Shocking Beef about Feeding the Content Monster.

14) What are you NOT going to do?

The enthusiasm a marketing department has for the new approach of content marketing is almost always met with a realization: they still have to make product sheets, brochures, and websites.  They can’t do it all and they don’t have to…

List out all those “marketing like things” that department produces on a whiteboard. Next, ask why marketing produces such content.  The answer, as Mr. Rose says, invariably comes down to some form of “this is how it’s always been done.”

If you are going to do this new thing, he advises, start by making room through the elimination all those little tasks that no one outside the organization is going to miss.

15) What if content marketing is all wrong?

To the authors’ credit, they entertain the idea that they could be wrong.  But here’s another way to think about it:  Is your organization creating more content this year than last?  Of course, it is, which means “people in your company are making content right now without a plan.”

That’s probably wasteful.  If there’s no other reason to embrace content marketing, then do it to get your arms around the program and costs.  Because next year, your business will probably be producing even more content.

Content Marketing Makes Business Better

While I don’t recall the authors using this analogy in the book, I have heard them discuss it in other mediums:  Content marketing is like butter.  No one wants to eat a spoonful of butter, but you can add it as an ingredient to just about anything and it tastes better.

Content marketing is very similar in that it makes every better.  To that end, Killing Marketing isn’t just about making marketing better, this approach makes the overall business better.

The entire book is filled with both data and anecdotes worthy of every marketing leader’s time; I could not recommend the book more.

* * *

Disclosure: a chance exchange with Robert Rose on email about another book he co-wrote, prompted him to offer me a free copy of Killing Marketing as an audiobook.  After he made the offer, I proposed a book review.  This review is completely independent and the co-authors had no editorial influence. Other authors of business and marketing books are welcome to solicit an independent review of their work.


Can your agency bring big ideas and execute?
Give our services a try.  Talk to Us!


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Survey Analysis: Competition in B2B Content Marketing Heats Up

You may also like
The 4 Engines You Need to Pull Content Marketing Program Together Successfully
The 4 Engines You Need to Pull Off Content Marketing Successfully
Survey Analysis Competition in B2B Content Marketing Heats Up
Survey Analysis: Competition in B2B Content Marketing Heats Up
We are All Forever Students of Marketing
We are All Forever Students of Marketing [UML]
Your Brand is Not the Hero; Your Customer is the Hero
Your Brand is Not the Hero…Your Customer is the Hero
  • My copy of the book arrived last week…..great synopsis…..but I’m not releasing myself from reading it cover to cover! 😉

    • Nice! Tons of goodness in it! Thanks for reading and sharing Michele.

Subscribe to the next post by email!

Two posts each week delivered to your inbox.  We will not sell or share your contact information.




Read previous post:
3 Studies that Challenge Marketing Assumptions
3 Studies that Challenge Marketing Assumptions [UML]

Assumptions are akin to a heuristic – an imperfect method of decision making that’s “good enough” and saves time. When...

Close