The Advent of the Amateur

I’m thinking of giving this up. The ClickZ column, I mean.

The reason is quite simple: I don’t belong here. I am a stranger in a strange land. I look around the site on a daily basis — usually in search of something that interests me. Usually to no avail.

So, I’ve been thinking about this: Either I have no interest in ClickZ’s other writers because of me, or I have no interest in ClickZ’s other writers because of them. That is to say, either I’m just not interested in the nuts and bolts of marketing, or the writers on the site are just damned boring. The nice guy in me wants to say that I’ve corresponded with a lot of these people — they’re all very polite, well-intentioned professionals — and, hence, I don’t want to level against their collective the charge of inciting boredom. The asshole in me… well, you can guess.

And then I wrote that last paragraph…

“Well-intentioned professionals.” That phrase sticks in my craw; ruffles my feathers; sets off faint alarms in the recesses of my quickly failing mind. And it reminds me of this:

Over time, any functional specialization tends to forget its relationship to the larger social context it was created to work within and serve. Instead, it concentrates on developing an inner sanctum of specialists who talk among themselves in a private language inaccessible to outsiders. Almost without exception, such professionals despise amateurs. Or worse, accord them a patronizing form of faux eye-rolling patience.

(That was from Chapter 1 of the soon-to-be-released book “Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices” by Christopher Locke. Chapters 1 and 2 can be found in their entirety at www.gonzomarkets.com.)

On Tuesday, I received an email from ClickZ reader Jack Sheehan. Jack wrote (in part):

Cheap used car hucksterism” is a term coined by psuedo [sic] marketing gurus to describe successful marketing efforts that they had not thought of or did not approve of.

Jack’s spelling error aside, his attempt at insightful criticism (“cheap used car hucksterism” is my phrase from a previous article) actually did get me thinking — specifically his use of the term “pseudo marketing guru.”

That “pseudo” is presumably meant to be some sort of verbal slight aimed at my professional status as a marketer. And then it hit me: I’m not a professional marketer. Even more, I’m not a professional of any kind. I am an amateur.

This is the advent of our time: We are become the age of the amateur (nods to Michael Lewis).

The pre-industrial world was the realm of craftsmen. And the essential step toward craftsman status was the apprenticeship. The industrial revolution altered this equation. It brought about the rank of the “professional.” The professional was not formally apprenticed by another human being. Rather, the corporation served as the teacher of the young Skywalkers of commerce.

But something is different now.

The Internet really did change something: It cracked wide open the gestalt of the professional. Masses of miscreants migrated to the edge of technology, and they found themselves able to craft whatever they could envision — with no formal ranks or accepted structure.

The age of the amateur is characterized by this: The apprenticeship step disappears.

Eventually, through the twisty turns of a life led strangely, it leads to folks such as myself ending up as the managing editor of a Web site on personalization. And soon thereafter, I’m a writer for publications such as ClickZ. Which is to say that I find myself — a self-realized amateur — in the ranks of “professionals.”

Oddly, none of this disqualifies me to speak of the skewed realities of modern marketing.

For, although the secret handshake, terms, silly hats, and marks of distinction of modern marketing may not resonate with me at all, I do have an advantage: I’m not in the inner sanctum. Thus, I’m still convinced that marketing has some greater connection to life.

Selling, I maintain, is a tertiary activity.

The shocking thing of this strange realization is this: The Internet is composed almost entirely of amateurs. All of the “users” certainly are. Most of the really great sites are amateur creations. In fact, the only sites that are not “amateurish” are those that are tentacle extensions of the un-Fortune-ate 500 and their ilk.

And therein lies the gap.

The Internet as marketing vehicle, selling machine, instrument of our great branding — it’s a farce. The Internet is the great canvas of the amateur. This is the reason for business’s total inability to reach us.

My point, gentle readers, is that marketing, as I see it, is blind to the movement of the amateur. Marketing will have to change course. Turn that rudder 180 degrees and full steam ahead. Otherwise, consider the iceberg hit. Scramble for the lifeboats — oh, wait, the CEOs will have taken all of the rich seats. Um, yeah — the marketers will be among the frozen corpses floating akimbo in the North Atlantic.

Marketing’s next step is slowly revealing itself. And I do not claim to know it in total. But I am cognizant enough of my own ignorance to know that there is a problem. There are hints.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll have to bring up a major one in the next article.

I guess that means I’m staying.

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