Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Underground Economies Understand the Power of Marketing

2778393050_0055e73791_mWhat got me thinking about this was a story about black tar heroin in the LA Times back in February. The sub-headline read, “Sugar cane farmers from a tiny Mexican county use savvy marketing and low prices to push black-tar heroin in the United States.”

The specifically savvy marketing in this case involved putting a premium on customer service (being willing to deliver even relatively small amounts), customer satisfaction (they called to check on quality), customer referral programs (discounts if you bring in new customers), etc.

Oddly enough, just prior to learning of this underground marketing success story I had written about the marketing techniques of the botnet masters. And then, soon thereafter, I heard an episode of OnPoint focused on Bernie Madoff and one of the guests, Frank Casey said, “We understood the ‘game’ of exclusivity and we understood that was his marketing concept.”

In other words, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much people malign marketing, they cannot deny its critical role in every kind of business success. The reality of the value marketing brings to any enterprise, far from being difficult to demonstrate, is in fact undeniable.

As proof of this contention, I submit the fact that “marketing” is a recognizable function in the dark allies and backrooms of underground economies, where many conventions of the above-ground economy – signage, agencies of record, HR- are eschewed in the name of fugitive efficiency.

Interestingly enough, and more as an aside, Frank Casey also points out that, in addition to his marketing concept, Madoff’s scheme relied on a sales (or at least a business development) function. As Casey puts it, “There was always somebody in the middle that was willing to make money feeding victims into the monster.”


Image Courtesy of indfusion.

This Statement Is NOT True

I first posted this back in August 2008 but think that it’s as true (or false) today as it was then. – Matt

Talking with a friend yesterday, he noted that my wife was a writer and then asked if I was a writer as well. I said I was, but explained I was in marketing. “So, you write lies,” he said with a smile.

As every hip marketer knows, thanks to the ever-wise words of the all-knowing Godin-one, all marketers are liars. With his semi-snide snarkiness, my friend was merely echoing the folk wisdom that that holds marketers and marketing more generally in contempt, a subject about which I’ve written before.

Godin playfully invokes this contempt in his “provocative” title, though he was careful to avoid the the liar paradox through use of the modifier “all.” To whit: If Godin is a marketer (albeit one who has achieved “guru” status), then, if his statement is true, we must assume that he may be a liar, in which case his statement may also be a lie. If it’s a lie, however, then it is not true that all marketers are liars. If I remember anything from the “Intro to Logic” course I took as a freshman, the negation of “all marketers are liars” is not “no marketers are liars,” but, “some marketers are liars.”

Proclaiming the undeniable truth that “some marketers are liars,” of course, would not have gotten Godin much attention. Instead, he fans the flames of virulent anti-marketing-ism and tars “all” marketers with the same mendacious brush. Although I wouldn’t accuse Godin of lying with his claim that “all marketers are liars,” I would say that he was “willfully misrepresenting the truth,” and not just about the marketing profession.

If you read the book, or at least the five free pages I linked to above, you discover that he is primarily accusing marketers of “telling stories,” a common parenting euphemism for “lying,” as we all know. Though I agree with him that the goal of marketing is to tell stories, I resist his equation of “stories” with “lies.” Stories may be fabrications and fictions, but that doesn’t make them “lies.” That being said, the problem with Godin’s title isn’t that it’s a lie, the problem is that it’s false (remember that a lie is not simply or necessarily “incorrect”).

But would the book have been so popular if he had called it, “All Marketers Are Wrong”? Is the one thing going for this alternate title the possibility that it could actually be true?