The End of the Expert: Why No One in Marketing Knows What They’re Doing

It’s a stark verdict from a prominent source. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who were trained and mentored, and studied classical marketing, and they got good at it,” says Clark Kokich, chairman of digital agency Razorfish. Unfortunately, the world has changed – and that education is no longer relevant. “If your self-worth and your confidence is based on you being an expert, you’re in deep trouble, because there aren’t any experts,” says Kokich, author of Do or Die: Surviving and Thriving in a World Where the Old Ways of Marketing Aren’t Getting It Done. “Sure, there are experts in some fields. Someone may be really good in SEO or in mobile. But there aren’t any experts in making this transition.”

In the late 1990s, digital marketing debuted to great fanfare, but it was still fundamentally about advertising to customers. But in the past several years, new social and mobile tools have upended that paradigm. “The focus has really changed,” Kokich told me in a recent interview at the Inbound Marketing Summit, where we were both keynote speakers. “It’s less about advertising and more about creating an experience that transforms what it means to be a customer of a brand. And that change has really caused a lot of consternation in marketing because none of us were trained to do that.”

As a model for the future, he cites the iconoclastic examples of Richard Branson’s Virgin; Nike’s “Write the Future” campaign, in which youth competed to be identified as a rising soccer star; and the “Epic Mix” campaign by the Vail ski resort, which leveraged digital technology to help friends connect, track each other, and compete on the slopes. To succeed in marketing moving forward, he says, “What you need more than expertise is curiosity, someone who’s interested in what’s happening, loves change, and wants to develop ideas and drive change. If you’re not one of those people, you’re going to hate what’s going on in marketing and you won’t be effective. I have friends who have told me they’re just trying to hang on before people realize they don’t know what they’re doing. But I don’t think you can fake it another five years. You’re just not relevant if you’re fighting the reality of what’s happening.”

So how do you begin to “create brand experiences” instead of relying on past methods of advertising? The first step, says Kokich, is to “ask a different question.” He advises companies to pull together a cross-section of company and agency staff – “everybody that’s responsible for building anything that touches the customer” – put them in a room and ask: “What do people hate about doing business with us, and can we use digital to fix it?”

The wrong frame, which too many companies use, is “This is what we are, and how do we shine it up?” Kokich believes more fundamental change is necessary. “We talk a lot in marketing about the importance of being good storytellers. Well, we need to be good story changers, because telling a story isn’t enough. Customers can see right through a great story about a lousy product.”

If you succeed in the new marketing, Kokich says, the benefits can be profound: “Companies like Virgin or Vail fundamentally altered their market position, because they fundamentally altered the way they did marketing.”

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on November 11, 2012.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.