The Digital Stone Age

Samuel Brealey
4 min readOct 3, 2018


We’ve not come as far as we think in Marketing and in some ways, we’re still dealing with outdated notions of what is and isn’t important.

John has just started a new job, he’s got to stand on a street corner for eight hours a day. He’s enthusiastic and he points people to what he’s selling, used cars that are for sale just around the corner.

Sometimes people stop and talk to John, most the time they just walk past. Sometimes they walk towards the dealership.

Harry is a salesman, he meets and greets every customer that comes through that door. He shakes their hand, gets them coffee and makes them laugh. Most importantly though, he sells those cars.

After three months of working, day in and day out.

John gets some bad news.

John is being let go, he didn’t do anything wrong, in fact he did the job exactly as was described.

But his boss just doesn’t see the value in what he does, he doesn’t sell anything and only three people actually talked to him out of thousands that walked past. He just stands there with a sign, being visible. It’s a bit old fashioned really and you can’t measure it.

So John is sent on his way.

Harry however, Harry gets a promotion.

In the last three months, Harry pushed up sales by 12%. Management gives him a rise and makes him Sales Executive because he’s done such a great job as a salesman. To meet demand, they’ve also hired a new staff member for Harry to train up and push those sales even higher.

But it doesn’t work, in six months’ time sales are back to where they used to be and the new guy, is let go. it wasn’t his fault. Management said it was though, he didn’t reach his KPIs.

Management didn’t see it. Neither did Harry. All they saw was the closing of the deal on a spreadsheet and a signed dotted line. Harry sealed the deal.

But who started the deal, it was John. By standing there day in and day out, John was the one who got the people in the door.

Without John, no one knew about the dealership around the corner as it was off the beaten track.

One customer, named Gary, saw John every day on his way to work for two months. He never walked into the shop but he did make a phone call and bought the highest ticket car on offer.

Harry gets the credit, John gets the boot.

This a story Marketers should be familiar with. This story is a Stone Age pre internet story because this is exactly what most companies are still doing today, it’s still the Stone Age, just a digital Stone Age.

Marketers are making the same mistakes, all dressed up with complexity of jargon, process driven, data centric, data driven, big data, performance marketing, dashboard reporting, micro managing, last click attribution accountability nonsense. All held firmly in a naïve belief that all those things make a big difference to marketing effectiveness.

Better to clean up perceived waste and save money than actually grow a business, right?

In many cases Marketers are attributing success to the deal closers because of an obsession with short term measuring and immediate returns, they use metrics that are simple and frankly stupid, without context to an organisations goals to try and justify their tactical decision making, they think fluff can impress the CFO, it can’t.

Then you have Marketers trying to expand on this, admirably but still foolishly. The notion of a single customer view or buyer journey. As though it’s a linear A to Z sequence and not the tangled mess that day to day life really is. Trying to measure that is a fool’s errand and largely pointless to boot.

Marketers are supposed to be growth drivers not surveillance officers.

The CFO and the board would rather hear how this year’s increase in revenue is not an indicator of overall success because all the little companies below it are rapidly eating into its market share. Which has dropped by several percentage points, despite being in a growth market. This is a long term strategic threat that if the company is not made aware of will result in the company being swamped with a tidal wave of competition in a few years time, then it’s too late to react.

The goal of marketing is to look at the big picture, that’s the story here, it’s to measure the whole and nothing but the whole. Stop focusing on the tiny little easy to measure details.

There are only so many hours in the day and they are best used simplifying things and creating real insights for decision makers.

If you don’t then management will look at profit and loss statements and draw conclusions from there, a whole load of costs and only one line for revenue. Accountants love it, it pays their bills.

The minutiae focus on direct results put John out of his job. Harry might get the sack too if he can’t reach his now lofty KPIs built on the back of John’s unrecognised efforts.

It’s neither of their fault, it’s because of Marketing myopia.

Good marketing doesn’t cut the heads off what it can’t measure easily, that’s not its job. Nor is it the right thing to do. You can’t cut your way to growth.

Good marketing creates insights for management to make better decisions.

It helps steer the ship against the unseen dangerous lurking underneath the waters.

Give John his job back and fight in his corner when the cost cutters wave their shears.



Samuel Brealey

Better Marketing, means better business.