GTM Strategy

Alchemy and the Machine: The Duality of Marketing

Photo text lorem ipsum dolor site amet 2020 January 18, 2021

Good marketing requires adopting two radically different mindsets and virtually no one naturally has both. Marketers must be both alchemists and machinists to build both the magic and mechanisms of an extraordinary brand.

The challenge is the skillset of an alchemist type marketer and a machinist type marketer are radically different and it’s exceedingly rare to find one marketer who has both. Great marketers recognize the dual nature of their craft and find ways to build marketing organizations that balance alchemy and machinery. And, founders who understand this dual nature of marketing can reduce organizational friction and provide the support needed to build an iconic brand.

Let’s take a closer look at this duality and what’s alchemy versus what’s machinery. Alchemy is an ancient branch of philosophy focused on the science of turning base metal into gold. We know a lot more about chemistry and so alchemy has fallen out of favor as a career, but there’s still something cool about it. The idea of taking something common and turning it into something highly valuable, that’s pretty amazing. I mean if humble H2O can be turned into Smartwater and regular cotton can be turned into Levis –that’s alchemy. There are many cases where brands take things of little value and turn them into billion dollar products and in each case it’s marketing alchemy. The thing about alchemy is there is literally nothing special about the basic materials until the alchemist does their magic. Marketing alchemy is an ability to put emotions, thoughts and feelings about products in the minds of others.

“Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” Walter Landor
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Overview

The other side of marketing is the machine. The alchemist might have the idea but the machinist gets the idea into people’s hearts and minds. Without the machine the alchemy can’t happen. The machine is all the infrastructure needed to identify, target, message and reach an audience. The machine is often undervalued because a lot of the work is invisible to the end user. A good example of this invisible work is illustrated through the craft of email marketing. The output of an amazing email machinery is error free, perfectly timed emails that look beautiful. Given we all write and send error free emails all day this seems simple. But, the machinery required to run an email program on a massive scale is not simple. It means understanding FCC laws, pulling and cleaning data, preparing and staging content, building suppressions, nurtures and doing testing. None of this is hard, but it is complicated especially when you’re sending hundreds of emails to tens of thousands of people. Now imagine this level of complexity across a much larger machine that includes the media, MarTech, channels and attribution. The machine is the underdog of marketing and takes a non-trivial amount of resources to set-up and maintain.

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Title

Now let’s go back to the marketing leader, the person hired to be both alchemist and machinist and build the iconic brand. It’s not an easy job because the type of person that’s a stellar alchemist is creative, artistic and bold. That’s a totally different set of characteristics than what you want in a machinist where systems, logic and efficiency reign. There might exist extraordinary marketers who can seamlessly flip from alchemist to machinist but I’ve never met one. The best marketing leaders I’ve met are either one or the other and they have a clear awareness for which one they are and how to supplement where they are weaker through hiring. A machinist marketer will need a brand lead, PR firm and possibly ad or experiential agency support as well. An alchemist marketer will need strong operators leading growth, MarTech and product marketing. Any marketer needs access to designers, front-end and engineering/IT support needed to hook up and maintain the customer data model and the MarTech stack.

A founder or CEO who wants to build an iconic brand will understand the dual nature of marketing. They will not be trying to hire a unicorn who is both alchemist and machinist. Instead they will hire for the side they feel the business needs most and clear the way for this person to hire senior support in areas where they are weak. They will also reduce cross-functional friction in areas where marketing is existentially tied such as design and engineering. That might mean having design and front-end reporting into marketing to reduce cycles, it may mean dedicating resources in IT/eng to the customer data model and the MarTech stack. The more friction you remove the more brand magic you make possible.

Author: Hollie Wegman

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