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Is Marketing Dead?

Marketing Horizons: Is Marketing Dead? featuring Theresa Kushner

In this provocative episode, database management expert Theresa Kushner explains why she believes that the marketing profession as we know it today is obsolete. What does this mean for the future of the marketing discipline, and for organizations as a whole? Listen here to find out.



Ruth Stevens: We're dying to know what you meant by this very provocative statement, marketing is dead.

Theresa Kushner: First of all, Ruth, it's your fault to begin with here. You sent the article from marketing profs about ‘is the marketing database dead’ and I thought, it's the wrong question, it's not the database and marketing that's dead, it's the fact that marketing has been countermanded. It's been taken over by sales, it's been taken over by strategy, it's been taken over by operations, it's just so dispersed throughout the organization that as a discipline it doesn't have the force it once had. You could see that from the fact that marketing has adjectives in front of it now. It’s relationship marketing or it’s Internet marketing or it’s partner marketing, it doesn't have its own, definable entity. And, quite frankly, when it disperses like that, you get sections and portions of marketing that can be so easily absorbed into other disciplines.

I’m a journalist and I know for a fact that journalism gets absorbed into everything. Journalism is sort of a foundation that you need, and marketing is becoming like that. It's a foundation you need for business but it's not the same skill set that we learn when we learned marketing from end to end, from strategy to delivery and reporting on that. Quite frankly, us in the direct marketing space probably put that on the realm, put it on the road to becoming extinct in a way in that we tried so hard to make marketing measurable and accountable. In doing so, we sort of moved it into the sales environment in a big way, from a direct marketing perspective. That then left this huge gap for people that are in the marketing intelligence area, where were they supposed to go? When I was at Cisco, this was a really big issue. They did not know what to do with the market intelligence team that I was part of, do they included us with the strategy team or do they leave it in marketing, do they move it into sales operations, so it could be closer to sales, they didn't know. What we were really doing was trying to figure out the marketing of which things you actually take to market and what your customers think about it. You know, that was the part of marketing that just sort of went different places. So, in a way, marketing is being stretched like on one of those ancient devices. I believe part of it is an organizational problem, I believe part of it is too, and I see this in a lot of companies, is marketing is not stepping up to the things that it needs to do to be effective. The company marketing strategy needs to support the company's strategy and oftentimes marketing strategy is about a brand, that's only part of a company strategy, usually it's not all of it. Because we've been so specialized in what we attempt to do, we ourselves are sort of death warrant.

Ruth Stevens: Well, that raises a question that your thesis reminds me of, do you see AI and its development as playing a role in this direction that marketing is taking?

Theresa Kushner: I am continually amazed at how Google can take one thing you click on and see your intention, or sort of envision what you might do if you were presented that same thing five times over in five different locations on your site. That just always amazes me that somebody is thinking through that and then I have to come back to the fact that it's not somebody thinking through that, it's a machine that's been given that kind of instruction. That kind of instruction is going to be in everything we touch in the next 10 to 20 years. It's not going to be just something we call AI, that's a technology that exists out there, it's going to be in software that you call up when you pull your iPad up in the morning or your iPhone is going to be in the elevator that takes you from one floor to the other. AI is going to be in everything around you and I think that's one of the things people have got to start to learn, and marketers especially, is how do I set that out. I always like to think of artificial intelligence as a child. How the machine learns and how people learn is very, very, very important nowadays. And so, if you start with marketing and you have an AI capability, how does that go forward? What are you feeding that AI instance with that would make it learn? What is it going to learn from today, tomorrow? And that's a really important concept that you have to get across and marketers should know what that is because it's going to drive how they think about the first instance that they put out there and how they envision the customer learning from that first instance. Right, so we maybe don't even understand the implications of what we're doing.

Ruth Stevens: So, Theresa, you mentioned that marketing has been stretched in a number of different areas, but you also said that marketing itself hasn't stepped up. I wonder what you mean by that. What should we be doing or what should we have been doing differently so that our profession, our function isn't getting diffused and dying?

Theresa Kushner: I think a lot of it has to do with making sure that the people around you understand the value of marketing, and let's face it, CMOs are never in charge. You've got to do that first job and that first job is to sell the person in the company that will make the difference for you, and that is the CEO. And it's, from my perspective in tech, they're very few CEOs that understand what marketing does, it's just a necessary evil that they spend lots of money on and never ever really see return. That kind of stuff, because, in order for marketing to be a contributing member of the executive leadership team, they've got to be capable of clearly articulating the value that they bring to that business and why they're there. And, you know, most CMOs go in with the idea that they can change anything, but that's not necessarily true. Marketing itself has got to understand how it gets positioned in the company, what kind of culture it has, what kind of culture it wants to permeate throughout the company now and where that company wants to be.

Key Takeaways/Three Little Piggies:

  • We need to encourage, as educators, students to get a broad and a liberal arts educational base before or concurrently with their marketing education. They need to be grounded in business fundamentals and understanding how to measure and communicate the value of your discipline in an organization so that you can get a seat at the table in the future.
  • AI has the potential to be like fire in setting the direction of mankind. It will become an institution in itself that becomes part of our fabric of our society, and with that many implications to go along with that.
  • Marketing has already had such a big impact on the firm and the company today that marketing has already been diffused throughout the various functions in the firm and the marketing function and people in it can take considerable satisfaction that they will be listened to and that everyone is pulling with the same or much more than they were in the past.

Read Theresa’s article “The Marketing Database is Dead, So, Now What?” to learn more.


Marketing Communications Today presents Horizons, it’s forward-thinking, looking ahead, through the front windshield and beyond, into the marketing future. Join Cyndi and Ruth bi-weekly for new ideas, technologies, tools and strategies that are emerging to help marketers navigate over the marketing horizon.

Meet our guest

Theresa Kushner

Theresa Kushner turned her master’s degree in journalism from UNT into a career in high technology. For over 25 years she has led companies – like IBM, Cisco Systems, VMware, Dell/EMC, and NTT DATA – in recognizing, managing, and using the information or data that has exploded exponentially. Using her expertise in journalism, she co-authored two books on data and its use in business: Managing Your Business Data: From Chaos to Confidence (with Maria Villar) and B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results (with Ruth Stevens). Today, as the “Data as an Asset” lead for NTT DATA, Theresa continues to help companies gain value from data and information. For her efforts in leading analytics, Theresa was inaugurated into the Analytics Hall of Fame at Pace University in New York in March 2019. She currently serves as an AI/Analytics consultant in the Data & Intelligent Automation group with NTT DATA.



Meet the hosts

Cyndi Greenglass

Cyndi W. Greenglass is a founding partner and Senior Vice President Strategic Solutions at Diamond Communication Solutions, a data driven communications firm specializing in Healthcare, Financial Services and direct response solutions and an adjunct instructor in the Data Marketing Communications online master’s degree program from WVU.

Greenglass has twice been named into the Top 100 Influential BTB Marketers by Crain’s BtoB Magazine and was the 2012 CADM Chicago Direct Marketer of the Year. Greenglass is a member of the Executive Management team at Diamond Marketing Solutions where she is responsible for the strategic planning process, participates in strategic acquisitions, and manages the agency services division.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City.


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