[column] Really good marketing is like bamboo

In the marketing and sales world, work is increasingly systematic and goal-oriented. Purpose has become an ideal, almost a belief. For promotion, inspiration is often derived from top sport. Everything is a big competition. The “game” must be won today. Direct results are sought under high commercial pressure. Immediate ROI, not tomorrow, but now! The result is – paradoxically – that the desired result is not achieved [1].

No one is to blame for this. It is the result of the business “culture of success” in which we must operate. Efficiency, measurability and accountability are not only basic principles of marketing, but in a broader sense also of business life and economic thinking in general. It’s collective conditioning [2].

The vast majority of marketing strategies, sales methods and systems promote effective thinking and acting. Almost every approach focuses on the constant pursuit and achievement of goals.

There are endless marketing books, workshops, training courses and motivation seminars that mainly help you achieve measurable goals. Marketing departments once functioned mainly on the basis of annual plans with quarterly reviews. That changed to monthly and weekly. Internally, new ideas must immediately prove ‘proof of concept’. Externally hired workers must demonstrate in advance how they yield more per hour than they cost. Those who promise quick fixes and instant ROI get the most attention. Marketing managers who lag behind on the KPIs are prematurely out. Agencies also feel this pressure. In the time of Mad Men the creative idea was central, now clients demand measurable insight into its effect.

Deep change takes time, but that time is often no longer there. In many organizations, the beautifully defined long-term missions and visions are only echoes from a distant past. Commercial goals must be achieved faster and faster and we are increasingly seeking refuge in technology for this. It’s a trend that’s been accelerating since the 1970s, but the real explosion is yet to come. According to the “World Economic Forum”, among others, we are on the eve of the “fourth industrial revolution”.

Digital transformation – towards what?

As docile believers, we are massively getting down on the knee for the gospel of the “digital transformation.” In times when even the best of us are losing control of the market, technology promises control. We’ve found ourselves in the worst recession since the Great Depression, but don’t worry, the technology will deliver the much-coveted top-line growth, the promise goes.

To achieve this new “Valhalla”, of course, heavy investments must first be made: marketing automation in many forms; relationship management via virtual environments; chatbots; augmented reality; internet of things; big data; machine learning; automated email; AI-driven CRM; digital KPI dashboards, and so on [3]. New technologies and applications that bring measurable efficiency to an unprecedented level.

Companies can now leverage AI to scrutinize the behavior of their marketing and sales staff on a minute-by-minute basis, collecting data on who is emailing whom and when, who opens and edits files, and when meetings occur. The Isaak system, designed by the London company Status Today, is an example of this. Isaak follows the actions of more than a hundred thousand people in real time and maps the characteristics of the employees. There is a trend to manage people and marketing processes with algorithms and this Isaac system helps with that. It shows managers how cooperative employees are and whether they are an influencer, follower or change agent. The managers, in turn, are also monitored by the AI. And where possible, the “behavior” of leads and customers is also accurately recorded.

Cogito is one of many other AI programs used to analyze marketing and sales departments and make them “more efficient”. The system sends, among other things, notifications (notifications) with real-time feedback to the sellers during their telephone conversations. In fact, Cogito is able to listen in. It recognizes emotions in voices and can direct the salesperson to speak to a specific customer faster, slower, more friendly or to sound more energetic.

Another example is Percolata, a Silicon Vally company that promises more sales. Among other things, it uses sensors to analyze seller productivity. The system ranks salespeople from most to least productive and can create workforce schedules that take that productivity into account.

“In the next three-to-five years, the sales function will be completely based upon artificial intelligence.”

–– Eric Quanstrom, CMO, Cience

Other AI applications being developed include facial recognition and other biometric information. They can monitor how many keystrokes someone makes per hour, monitor the mood in the workplace and register where everyone is.

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before

–– Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum

This is a random sample of the world’s latest offering of measurable efficiency. Manageability thinking is rampant. Where are we digitally transforming actually? Is this what we really want? Do we really believe this is the right way?

What we no longer see

Technology evangelists love to talk about how marketing technology will take over the difficult, arduous, and “boring” work. But rarely in combination with which investments are needed first, or how much extra maintenance and management it all requires. Chatbots are so popular because it is hoped that this will lead to fewer FTEs. That is all much more complicated. Almost without exception, innovative scalability comes with a hefty total price. They also like to talk about how more marketing technology will lead to more “personalization” and connection. But is that really so?

In a study by Dynamic Yield (2019), 36% of the respondents indicate that – despite all the extra efforts – they were unable to effectively deliver a personalized customer experience. In the same study in 2018 this was 17% [4].

The answers and “solutions” that are suggested are usually based on “more” and “improvement”. But more marketing technology simply doesn’t equal better customer experiences.

And more measurable efficiency does not equate to better marketing performance, or more brand equity. This is not a criticism of technology itself, but of the hype. To its docile glorification. Digital transformation as a goal in itself. Many companies invest in technologies, online services and digital applications and “forget” to investigate how these investments contribute to the organizational strategy. Fundamental marketing issues are ignored: does this really add value for our customers? Who are we doing this for? Does this contribute to what we try to achieve for our customers?

This article is a plea for reliance on intuition, rather than mastery thinking. Decades of scientific research shows convincingly that extreme purposefulness is the wrong approach to individual performance power and is even counterproductive [1][5]. The intense focus on accountability, measurability and goals blocks important things such as: vision, collaboration, creativity, spontaneity, courage, initiative, empathy and intuition. Unfortunately, these scientific findings rarely reach the mainstream. Its relevance to the marketing world remains largely unseen.

The danger of the obsession with measurable efficiency is simply that long-term goals will not be achieved. Goals are about the end result you want to achieve. However, marketing – including sales – is not a short-lived achievement with a definite end, but an ongoing one. It’s a long-term issue. It is never finished, the need for growth is endless [6].

Goals are about achieving milestones, forcing a breakthrough. About short-lived moments of success. But if we focus too intensively on this, we soon lose sight of the fact that these moments of triumph are usually the end result of many preceding actions. It is all of these actions, habits and processes together that build the potential to bring about great change.

Our focus, therefore, should not be on goals, but on the cumulative effect of small incremental improvements [7]. This is the principle known in economic science as “compounding interest” [8]. It is a pattern that we also find everywhere in nature.

Truly good marketing is based on values ​​and driven by emotion. It has a strong, timeless foundation and it takes time to grow [9]. The pursuit of the ultimate customer experience is not a goal, but a continuous process of many small improvements. It is never finished.

Ask yourself the following question. If you forgot all your goals and focused solely on improving all your marketing efforts down to the last detail – would you succeed?

I believe so. Forget your goals. Instead, focus on a continuous improvement process.


Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Capable of growing nearly four inches in one hour, some varieties are among the largest and strongest members of the grass family. The giant panda can derive its energy from it. What is the secret to bamboo’s performance power?

During the first five years you hardly see a bamboo field. You could walk over it and not feel like something is happening. But slowly and inconsiderately, the bamboo builds a complex, powerful root system underground. Step-by-step. These years of incremental build-up will eventually lead to an above-ground explosion of more than twenty-five meters within six weeks!

That’s marketing!

Marketing is like a strong tree that has to take root in the desires of those you try to serve

– Seth Godin, Marketing Hall of Fame


1. Stoutenbeek, M. (2020). Valuable Selling. Groningen: Noordhoff.

2. Taylor, F.W. (2016). The Principles of Scientific Management (original 1911 edition). New York: Cosimo Classics – Business.

3. McTigue J. (2019). What is the Future of Sales? TiEcon,

4. Dynamic Yield (2019). Personalization Maturity Assessment.

5. Seppälä, E. & Long, E. (2017). The Happiness Track. London: Little Brown Book Group.

6. Sinek, S. (2020). The Infinite Game. London: Portfolio Penguin

7. Clear, J. (2020). Atomic Habits – Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results. New York: Penguin Random House.

8. Compound interest.

9. Godin, S. (2018). This is Marketing, You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See. London: Portfolio Penguin

10. WEF (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond.

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