Can I take your order?

We all need to feel like we’re doing work with a purpose. No one wants to be told what to do all the time, or just go through the motions day after day, doing the same thing over and over again. We need to set strategies, make the big decisions, and test what’s possible, if we’re going to really feel invested.

How can we do great work if we aren’t masters of our own fate, at least some of the time?

Needless to say, it doesn’t always work out that way in marketing. I’ve been on teams or led teams where it felt like we were just taking orders, marching to the beat of someone else’s drum. Or like the requests never stopped, and we just scrambled to fulfill one after the other like glorified wait staff at the lunch rush (and I can say that as someone who waited tables). Or we would work for weeks or months to cross the finish line on a massive project, only for it to be revised or even canceled for one reason or another.

When that happens, it feels like you’re chasing your own tail. It’s hard to get in really deep, to give it every last inch of effort. Instead, it feels like you are just going through the motions.

Perhaps my fellow marketers can relate. Does this sound familiar?

  • Sales comes to marketing strongly suggesting you do an event they’ve thought up or been to.
  • Someone in the company questions why a competitor’s site shows up when they google our company. Why don’t you reach out to Google and fix this?
  • You get stopped in the hallway and asked why something isn’t ‘above the fold’ on the company website. Can you move (INSERT: my product release/our event/that article) up?
  • A design piece is finalized and the feedback is, “Can you make it a bit happier or friendlier?”
  • Or, I need you to drop everything you’re doing. This is the main priority now. Um, ok?

If these kinds of things decide how marketing gets done, the end result is something considerably less than inspiring, both for the audience it’s intended for and the marketers who create it. 

Welcome to assembly line marketing

Assembly line marketing noun

As·​sem·​bly line mar·​ket·​ing | \ ə-ˈsem-blē-ˌlaɪn mär-kə-tiŋ\

1 : an arrangement of machines, equipment, technology, and marketers, and the process they work in, in which work passes mechanically from operation to operation in a direct line until the marketing product is assembled or the marketing operation is carried out.

As a service department, marketers are always going to get requests. This post is not about that. But to avoid any possible confusion, let me state emphatically: yes, marketing is there to help the entire company. We are committed to supporting sales, HR, product management, and the other departments, in every way we can. And we are proud of that role.

The problem comes in how marketing gets to deliver that help. To really provide the most effective solution for a given department and the business as a whole, we shouldn’t just follow orders. When we get caught in assembly line marketing, we end up producing marketing that is redundant, repetitive, that doesn’t move our audience. We tend to be a lot less satisfied with our jobs. And nowhere near as good at them. 

To put it on a more philosophical level, assembly line marketing becomes tautological, repeating itself and its message meaninglessly. It’s just versions of the same, over and over again. It doesn’t serve anyone effectively, neither the organization it’s designed to support, nor the marketers that produce it. It’s nothing more than a mechanical process of stringing together marketing bits and pieces. And that is letting the brand and the company down.

Mining for marketing gold

So, it goes without saying that the greatest value doesn’t come from assembly line marketing.

We are here to think about the problem at hand from a unique perspective. We are not here to do exactly what we are told. I tell my team all the time, if we’re here to play that kind of role, then I don’t expect you to stay at the company, and I won’t either. 

We are here to find and execute on the best solution to the problem. While marketing is an art and creativity is essential, there’s also a heavy dose of science involved. When we propose a solution, we have some good reasons for it. We base it on experience and expertise, relying on things like:

  • Global demand generation strategies that take into account key buyer personas, valid market research, ever changing conversion rates and historical campaign data.
  • Tight brand standards that are the hallmark of any company out there that scales effectively and wins consistently. A brand that never disappoints and creates a reliable customer experience every time is key to a company’s success.
  • Stories that build strong connection to the brand for prospects, customers, investors, partners and the board.
  • A complete understanding of the messaging we’re using, reflecting ROI optimization, focus groups, and AB and marketing testing.
  • Having clear sight lines on budget limitations and sweet spots. We know how much we can spend on what, which inevitably helps shape what we can do and why we make the choices we do.

This is why marketers will often ask questions in response to what you ask them, or push back on requests, or, heaven forbid, request a creative brief that outlines the project and its objectives. We want to craft a solution to your problem that’s based on all of these points, and to do so thoughtfully, artfully, with a solid basis in real data and experience. As we absolutely should.

So, what’s the extra effort worth? What does a marketing team operating at this level provide?


It’s an understatement to say that strategy is a valuable commodity. When marketing gets to play a strategic role, it can help drive brand awareness, increase demand, and build stronger customer relationships, to name just a few. And execute within budget.

Surviving the assembly line

I know a lot of marketers are stuck on the assembly line. I know a lot of organizations don’t recognize the strategic value that marketing can bring. And that’s ok.

Here are some quick tips on how you can start to change how people think about marketing in your company.

  • Ask clarifying questions. I’ve noticed that sometimes people are intimidated by marketing, especially when they are asking for creative projects, and don’t know how to ask for or formulate what they need. If you ask for that, people will have to think through what they want more completely. It will help you be more strategic in executing, and it will help them understand what marketing is all about. 
  • Point to past successes to gain the freedom to make decisions. When marketing does its job strategically, it can move the needle for the whole organization. Call out when you’ve made this happen in the past, even on smaller projects, so you’ll be empowered to do more of it.
  • Show passion. Fight for what you believe in. Ask for trust. Market your own marketing strategy. At the heart of every great marketing campaign, is a story. Articulate your story in a way that inspires, demonstrates value and why it will make your stakeholders and company successful. This is not the time to be timid. 
  • Use data. Always. Back up your arguments and decisions with the facts. This means that you need to understand the numbers and have a way to get them. Don’t neglect putting this in place, because it will take you far. 

And finally, show them this post. Down with assembly line marketing.