No matter where or what, there are makers, takers and fakers

-Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

makers, takers and fakersFor too long marketers have been, or have been seen as, fakers and takers, not makers.

Television has brought us Mad Men: fakers who create alternate realities, where family life is as wholesome and happy as slides projected from a Kodak carousel and where all the women are buxom blonds in silver shorts, high heels and a Maidenform bra. In their reality, the Mad Men sleep around, drink like fish and ignore their families. This is the marketer as image maker, telling fake stories with little basis in reality.

The Internet has given us the marketer as taker: the slick huckster with his carefully crafted “squeeze page”, whose sole goal is to take your money as efficiently as possible. In this view of marketing, it doesn’t matter what you sell as long as you can generate high sales and high conversion rates.

I want to suggest a different approach: the marketer as maker. In this view, the marketer succeeds by creating great customer experiences. Marketers work with manufacturing, operations, service and sometimes on their own to create a memorable experience for the customer. While faking or taking may lead to short-term improvements in sales or market share, it’s only through making that marketers create long-term, sustainable competitive advantage.

Vail Resort’s Epic Mix

I chaired a panel at the Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston this week, and on Tuesday morning I was lucky enough to catch Clark Kokich’s keynote. In his speech and in his new book (or perhaps I should say app, because it is available as an iPad app), Clark describes a brilliant example of marketing by Robert Katz, the CEO of Vail Resorts. Vail Resorts uses RFID chips to track skiers on the slopes and record their accomplishments, which they can share with their friends through Facebook and an application called Epic Mix. It’s a great example of marketing as making – creating a distinctive, enjoyable customer experience as a way of creating long-term differentiation.

And note the choice that Vail made. When Vail recognized that skiers like to brag about their accomplishments to their friends, and that after-ski socializing is an important part of the ski experience, they could have spent money on creating advertisements that showed a group of atypically beautiful people sitting around a ski lodge, faking a good time. Or they could have looked at their PPC campaigns for generating revenue from ski vacations, and tuned them to create better conversions. Instead, they invested in creating a better reality for the customer. That’s long-term, great marketing.

Apple’s Packaging

I know this example has been spoken of often, but I still think it’s a great example of marketing as making. Whenever I unwrap an Apple product, whether it be my first iPod or my most recent iPhone 5, the care and the work that went in to the packaging always lets me know that I’m buying a quality product. It also reminds me that not all marketing takes place before the sale. In this case, marketing continues to my first moments with the product, resulting in an experience that is pleasing and much more likely to create fans and evangelists.


Red Pepper Labs has created a new technology that recognizes your face as you enter a store, restaurant or pub and sends relevant special deals to your phone based on your history and your Facebook likes. You can watch an example of the technology below. This application was created using open source technology: Raspberry Pi, Arduino, OpenCV and the Facebook Graph API. This is another great example of the marketer as maker.

Makers, Takers and Fakers

Think about your next marketing project. What opportunities are there for making a great customer experience? Can you use some of that budget or that effort that you’ve been using to fake it or take it, and instead create long-term competitive advantage by making something new, something special? I’d love to hear about what you come up with.

Jim Ewel

I love marketing. I think it’s one of the most difficult and one of most exciting jobs in any company. My goal with this blog is to evangelize agile marketing and help marketers increase the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.

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