The top 12 sins of Marketing Gurus (and their books)

yoda.jpgI thought I’d help Guy round up his Lies series, by writing about my top 12 favorite sins of marketing gurus and their books.

  1. Anecdotal evidence: Guru’s are always telling nice (even great) stories, giving lots of examples and anecdotes. Those can be a lot of fun and quite educational, but most are too specific to work for you, and when you want a more thorough justification it’s not necessarily there, thanks to the invention of best practices…
  2. Best practices: best practices are a result of reverse-engineering, so it’s like trying to figure out a cake recipe by using a lab analysis of its ingredients. Most are either too generalized to be helpful with specific problems, or too atomized to be restructured practically.
    “Best Practices” actually means: building on experience in a world of disruption and fluid rules ; Building on gut feelings on subjects that are built on complex, contradictory or just messy theoretical disciplines ; Using imitation in a world where very few players actually know what they’re doing and even they use a lot of trial and error.
    And when best practices are not powerful enough you can make them into rules…
  3. Sweeping generalizations: Gurus love rules! The golden rule of this, the immutable laws of that. And on the other hand…
  4. Sweeping negatives: Which doesn’t change the fact that we’re told that “X is dead” and “Y does not work anymore”, while “Z is just not enough” and besides – all the rules have changed, rules are meant to be broken etc… (see cliches)
  5. 100% evangelism (or “I’m converted, let me go”): Many guru ideas are explained in the first dozen pages of their book, and can be quite powerful. While you look forward to their development, it tends not to happen, and the rest of the book is mostly reiteration and preaching to the choir (with frequent use of anecdotes, which are fortified by calling them “case studies”).
    Heck, maybe they are just saving the good stuff for the next time.
  6. More bulk for your buck: this is about over beefing books, reports and presentations. Why are so many marketing books so thick when the first 30 page (and if to be honest – sometimes less) will suffice? If what you have to say can be summarised in a post – write a post, don’t sell me a whole book. (BTW – the best way to beef up a book? Yup – Anecdotal evidence)
  7. New marketing is old marketing and vice versa: This is a cycle that has been spinning so fast, that it seems both new marketing and old/retro-marketing live together in perfect harmony side by side on the best seller list. Surprise! while some things change, some stay the same. It’s tempting.
    And you can always make the old look new and the new newer by creative use of rebranding…
  8. Rebranding of jargon: take an old concept and wrap it up in a new metaphor. My current favs (=peeves) are “total branding”, “quantum branding”, and Lovemarks(TM!) – All different levels of rebranding branding, a problematic product to begin with.
    If that’s not enough – go extreme…
  9. Fundamentalism: Many guru arguments are built as all powerful, all engulfing doctrines. It’s that “All you need is X” rhetoric (X being CRM, Branding, Positioning, Buzz Marketing, etc.).
    That’s just not true.
  10. Evoking the geeks: Want your ideas to be more viral? Compare them to star wars (e.g. light side/dark side analogies), talk about blogs, and don’t forget there are other strong geek groups, like the spiritual geeks – have you sold your Ferrari today?
  11. Cliches: In the new business environment of our rapidly changing landscape, complexity is increasing, uncertainty is the only certainty and consumers are fickle…
  12. Round numbers: Gurus just love to make up lists. This list should have ended at either 10 or 12 points according to guru rules. Thus I’ve sinned myself, but since I was at 11 I had to either make it 12 or (good grief!) go all the way to 15 or 20.
    The more artistic version of list-making is letter-alignment – making acronyms out of words like SMART, or the 3 S’s and 7 P’s and the n N’s. Just by thinking about this phenomena I realise this list is getting way too silly, and must stop.

(damn, I forgot you never point – you pontificate!)
This list is obviously lovingly dedicated to all the gurus I came across through the years, many whom I obviously learned from and appreciate…

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41 thoughts on “The top 12 sins of Marketing Gurus (and their books)

  1. In the Big Moo (ed. seth godin), trully sweet and inspirational book, many of your spot-on points are particularily relevant. Perhaps because it is a collection of authors you find a nice story (anecdotal evidence) on one dude who ran a local photocopying shop, wanted a change/growth/reinvent and lost. The lesson – don’t change.

    20 pages down the book (excuse my slight inaccuracy – don’t have the book with me here) there’s another story on another dude, he did this and that but didn’t anticipate this and that. he lost as well.
    The lesson – you have to keep reinvent yourself, be up-to-date and keep changing …. 🙂

    context is king.

    I think i’ll start to use “get abstract” when it comes to marketing gurus books.


  2. Personally I think seth’s recent books have a more political role in their evangelism – changing the worldview of marketers is important and takes a certain kind of rhetoric, so my expectations from them adjusted accordingly.

    I’m towards my second read through “all marketers are liars” (the “did i miss anything?” read) and while it’s a very enjoyable read, it only scratches the surface of the subject of narrative marketing. I guess this stays the role of more dense and theoretical books like Stephen Brown’s books ( , but Seth’s book still plays an important part in bringing this important subject to a wide business audience.


  3. Nice post, right on a line with my blog. This is my first time on your blog and I was impressed by your “ambitious web things on hebrew.” I am wondering how come you are don’t write about their development on this blog? Or did I miss something?


  4. Roman – I would write about them when it’s relevant, but I’ve been doing them since 1999 while this blog is quite young, so i haven’t got around to it. yet.


  5. Got it, nice blog though keep it up. Your blogroll opened up to me the world of Israeli bloggers and marketers. Didn’t see any of them before or thought that Israeli internet is so developed.Thanks


  6. Fabulous blogpost. But as I have commented in my response ( )- perhaps a little defensively – the resaon authors do most of these things isbecause that’s what the audience demands. Clients and readers don’t want logic and evidence – they want a quick insight and a mantra. Fads are created as much by their consumers as by their suppliers.


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  8. Loved it. I’ve been collecting thoughts, quotes and notes for two years now to at some point burst onto the international scene of speaking engagements as ‘the anti-guru’ 🙂
    Obviously I would charge just as much as the gurus…

    Kidding aside, your post has inspired me to pick this up again. Especially the sweeping generalisations and fundamentalism are something that always disturb me, and are the hardest to overcome when sitting with a client. “But so-and-so has laid down his golden rule of such-and-such – how can we not adhere”. You spend days explaining that there are no sure fixes or one-size-fits-all solutions.


  9. Two quotes to fit with David Maister’s points:

    ‘The secret of genius is to never reveal your sources.’ Einstein

    ‘The public gets want the public wants.’ The Jam


  10. May I add two more?

    Failure to Validate: I can’t tell you how many of these folks come up with some statistically valid observations based on a qualitative study or deep dive on internal data, but never go to the trouble of validating it. “We interviewed 150 people and found these three factors were most important to them in the way they buy X”…but then they never go to the trouble of hypothesis testing or examining the variables in the real world! They just write-up a new book, register a trademark, develop a few seminar slides, and hit the speaking circuit.

    Testing for Scale: And how many times have we read recently that Webinars are more efficient than trade shows? PR is more efficient than advertising? Blogging is more efficient than PR? And, then read sweeping declarations, quoted in all the best magazines, that obviously the leader on that function should “have a seat at the table”, and how every company should move all their wasted Wannamaker money into these more effective “strategies”? Yet, how many times does someone say, Gee, how much can that idea scale? or at what point doesn’t it work? How many email blasts are too many? Will 1000 more pr people really increase our revenue? How many blogs can a company meaningfully produce before everyone is stepping all over each other?

    Balance, my Jedi friends, balance.


  11. Stefan – guru bashing is a hobby more than a vocation for me 🙂

    But seriously, and in reply to David’s post, many of those practices emerge because of audience and market demands, as well as the dynamics of marketing book & speaker industries. I would like to think most guru’s stumble into those practices rather than employ them cynically.
    I wrote this list tongue in cheek – many of the “sins” are just effective rhetoric, and you can’t write a readable text or convince anyone without using that. The serious angle (which was not the focus of this post) is what happens when form overtakes meaning, when the market becomes addicted to this discourse and when many marketing ideas focus on self-marketing to the level of dismissing the dialectic nature of knowledge creation. Hopefully the web will take care of that in the long run, but probably not – because of echo chambers, and because some of the guru dynamic will prevail.

    Ed – thanks for two great additions, i will post an updated on the weekend once the “kawasaki effect” passes…


  12. You know what made me chuckle? The fact that you didn’t use a single concrete example to support your argument. #3 also applies to bloggers who write about those who write about marketing.



  13. Great list. I love pundit bashing.

    In my research I learned that punditry (guruosity) is the world’s second oldest profession and closely connected the world’s oldest.

    The rules for a successful pundit/guru were developed during the 500 year rein of the “Oracle at Delphi.”

    In general all the rules all revolve around giving the customer the kind of advice he/she craves (magical, flattering, and requires no heavy lifting) and preying on the common flaws in human reasoning.


  14. A wonderful list, Uri. I plan to send the link out to a number of people. Thanks.

    I wanted to respond to two comments Stefan made. First, Stefan, please let me know when your anti-guru presentation goes on the road. I want to see it. There are a couple of people now doing anti-motivational speaking and they are both great fun and thought-provoking.

    I also second Stefan’s comment on one-size-fits-all approaches. When gurus spin their theories as if companies and people and industries and professions are monolithic, I am irritated — and puzzled. They are bright, they must know better than that?


  15. Hmm… by process of elimination, it seems like the only thing left is a bunch of wishy-washy pablum that’s not even based on any real-world world experience.

    Seriously, imagine a book with:
    – No real-world examples
    – No conclusions drawn from multiple real-world examples
    – No generalizations (if there are no general lessons, if every case is unique, what can you possibly learn from a book?)
    – No negatives, no positives, just a wishy-washy middle
    – 150 pages or less (and costing as much as 250+ pages, because the incremental cost per page is miniscule)
    – No representation of timeless wisdom – everything has to be new (if it’s not new, how proven can it be?)

    Gack! That picture is far worse than the one you paint of these so-called “mistakes”.

    Seriously, Uri, what’s left?


  16. Scott, by no means am I preaching to rob the colours of marketing writing (heck, I’d be in trouble myself without many of the sins) ,
    In moderation, many of those sins actually become necessary tools of the trade.

    Hey Randy, take it easy 🙂 It’s a humorous post, not a dissertation. Also note the “top” in the title. Anyone who’ve read more than three guru books is familiar with the regular shticks, I’m just poking some fun in their overuse.


  17. Stephanie, I’ll certainly let you know when – just have to find the time…
    Could you tell me who the anti-motivational speakers are? I’d love to see those.

    And Randy and others taking things a bit too serious – before you start lambasting me – the anti-guru thing would be firmly tongue-in-cheeck of course – maybe a little shtick to start off a conference and put a little mirror up in everybody’s face.

    As a matter of fact – may I call upon anyone here to send me any kind of anecdotes that could fit in?


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  22. laurence:

    It’s not a matter of bruised… it’s a matter of what I like (and find useful) to read. For example, anecdotes help tie the theory to real experience. Uri says they’re often too specific to apply to you, but I find that they are what help me get from the general to the specific.

    Best practices is the drawing of conclusions from multiple anecdotes. If the guru isn’t going to draw any conclusions from their observation of the real world, why would I even want to read their book?

    The operative word on #3 and #4 is “sweeping”. Of course, this post is making those same sweeping generalizations and sweeping negatives. 🙂 And Uri’s comment in reply to me basically admits it. Isn’t this whole post basically a sweeping negative that you yourself don’t entirely believe, Uri, just for the sake of sparking controversy and, therefore, buzz?

    Laurence – please don’t insult healthy debate and well-founded disagreement by resorting to an easy jab. Snarky is so last-century. 🙂


  23. Scott,

    What I tried to say is that this post pokes fun at what happens when those tools are over-used, as they often are. (And it is the audience that pays the price)

    Sinning in moderation is highly recommended.
    I passionately believe that. 🙂

    That was the sentiment behind this post, which is also why i still don’t see it as controversial.


  24. Scott: You take Uri’s comments to the absurd (Reductio Ad Absurdum) and call that well-founded disagreement? Puhleeze.

    And take a cleansing breath… my dog that barks was hardly an insult.



    My point about blogging is that it is at once an incredible tool and a massive distraction. I started off wondering what was driving all those new readers to my site (thanks again, Rod), and I found myself jumping from one site to another getting caught up on new ideas and different ways of applying tested ones. On a daily basis, I can catch up with intelligent and thoughtful people who I have come to know through their posts. I’ve never met Guy Kawasaki, but he seems like an old friend. He even claims to have nothing to say to those who have nothing to do. What better friend that that?


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  27. Heh! Awesome post. Properly deflates what (and who) needs to be deflated, especially those who automagically retread concepts (see, for instance, the “creating passionate users” blog).


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