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Back when I got my first marketing degree, my professor would say that while business schools teach the importance of fully funding marketing, it was also the one area CEOs were most likely to cut. We observe people lining up for movies, for devices like music players and iPhones, and once, during the Windows 95 launch, they even lined up for an operating system, all because of marketing.

Let’s talk about why it is critical that marketing is adequately staffed and funded and why creating demand doesn’t have to be evil.

What Is Marketing?

Marketing is the manipulation of human behavior at scale. People that are very good at it, like Steve Jobs was, are expert natural manipulators. And, like any tool, marketing can be abused and misused. This month we lost one of the great marketers of all time, Ron Popeil, who died at age 86. This guy could go on TV and convince millions that they needed things like a fishing pole that would fit in their pocket or head paint to cover up a bald spot. These are just two of his products that most would have thought were unsellable, but he sold vast numbers of them with marketing.

Put another way, marketing is sales that scale. No matter how energetic, one sales rep can only touch a handful of people a day; an excellent marketing campaign can touch millions of people in a minute. Marketing, for volume products, costs far less than sales commissions as well, and when it works, people come to you to ask for the products – you don’t have to hunt them down to convince them to make that same purchase.

Some of the Best Campaigns – And Problems

While many point to the 1984 Superbowl ad that Apple did to launch the Mac as great marketing, and it was a great ad, the Windows 95 campaign was far more impressive. For a while, Macs did OK after that ad, but people didn’t line up for the things like they did around the block for Windows 95, and Windows 95 wasn’t even a whole thing; it was an operating system that went on a PC you still had to buy. It’d be like lining up for car software. Why? But over a year, and I was tied at the hip to that campaign, Microsoft created so much excitement that when the product showed up, people went into a frenzy for something they really didn’t understand and pretty much had no idea how to use.

It was ironic that after that launch, Microsoft decided never to do that again because they couldn’t handle that much demand. This result was kind of like having a race car that had revolutionary technology but was so fast that the pit crew couldn’t keep up and then, rather than speeding up the pit crew, slowing down the car rather than speeding up the crew.

Apple, under Jobs, co-opted some of the top technology reporters of the time; they built a marketing engine nearly unmatched, which got people to buy Apple products that Steve Jobs had said were crap when he first took the company over. And he got those people to go near rabid over an MP-3 player that cost nearly $500, and then again for a smartphone that was an iPod with phone features that initially sucked. Primarily with marketing, Jobs took the company from a failure to success. Yet, the vast majority of that marketing engine has now been dismantled as if all that incredible success was unimportant, and Apple hasn’t had a hit product since.

At IBM, Louis Gerstner took a company that was failing, whose brand had gone negative (where people would pay more for a non-branded product than an IBM product), and restored the firm to profitability and the brand to value by building one of the most capable marketing organizations on the planet. One of the first things his successor did was dismantle that group as too costly.

Intel had the Bunnypeople campaign that put Pentium on the map and made the company the equal of Microsoft during the Windows 95 years. The campaign did wonders for the brand; kids collected the stuffed characters like Disney characters, and Apple was so threatened they felt they had to create disparaging commercials to offset the effort. The campaign could have lasted for decades. Instead, it was killed when they decided to do a Super Bowl commercial to turn the Bunnypeople into thieves.

Don’t Neglect Marketing

The number of times I’ve seen companies yank failure from the mouth of incredible success amazes me. Still, the public sector doesn’t get this either, even though they just watched a guy with no political experience whatsoever take over one of the major parties largely through hype. If they adequately funded and staffed a marketing campaign on Covid vaccines, we’d mostly be vaccinated by now because marketing can and has changed hearts and minds.

If your company is underperforming, if you are having trouble finding customers, if your sales aren’t what it once was, chances are the problem is underfunding and understaffing marketing. But convincing people to adequately fund the effort is like trying to teach a kid to fly who could be Peter Pan but doesn’t get that marketing is the industry’s fairy dust.

I look around and I see marketing being issued to spread conspiracy theories and all sorts of anti-science BS, and I wonder if the core problem is that we aren’t embracing and using the same skill sets for good. As a result, they are being used for evil. Maybe the way to fix the world, and our own companies, is to hire this talent again and focus them on things that will make the world a better place to live, rather than creating an even bigger mess.

Further reading: The Channel Has Changed. Channel Marketing Needs to Catch Up