Some years ago I listened as a senior marketing executive from a technology company discussed a product their customers hated. Sales were miserable because the product was deeply flawed. “As marketers we felt that it was us that failed,” she said to me in a rather embarrassed voice. “Because we felt it was our job to convince the customer that it was a great product, even though we all knew it was a dud.” 

Marketers and communicators are often put in an unenviable position. Management expect them to "do their magic," to spin the news in the most favorable way possible. Not only that, senior management often uses marketing and communication as a vehicle for vanity publishing.

I have seen numerous situations where there is overwhelming evidence that a particular marketing approach does not work. Yet, the company pursues it because some Vice President thinks it’s cool, and it makes them look good among their peers.

There is often also a very unhealthy relationship in many larger organizations between the executives and their advertising agencies. In a surprising number of situations it seems like the ad agency is directing the marketing strategy.

Large ad agencies are notoriously out-of-step with the digital age because their whole business model is analog. It is obsessed with getting attention and on telling you what they want you to want. Their output is the very opposite of useful whereas useful is the watchword of the digital era.

I recently dealt with an organization that had employed an award-winning ad agency to help them become more "innovative" and "interactive." Millions upon millions were spent turning the website into an unusable art gallery of management vanity. For example, they had white text on a black background. (Have you noticed that "innovation" in web design almost always involves black backgrounds?) As soon as the new website launched, sales plummeted. Within three months of the launch they were back to an old simple, useful design.

It seems that many marketers are on a slow march to irrelevancy (and ultimately redundancy). Their marketing efforts of silly images and vague, meaningless catchphrases are hurting the company. Online, traditional marketing is a brand killer.

More than half of business owners see marketing information as too sales-centric, according to a 2014 business-to-business survey by The Alternative Board (TAB) “This sentiment was even more pronounced among the future of the business world, with 62 percent of 25 to 54 year olds saying that marketing information was too sales-oriented,” Daniel Burstein of MarketingSherpa writes.

In their book, Never Be Closing: How to sell better without screwing your clients, your colleagues, or yourself, Tim Hurson and Tim Dunne recommend that you should “always be useful.”

“User experience will subsume much of what currently counts as digital marketing,” Kristin Low writes for ClickZ. The future is about being useful. Before the Web it was very hard to measure the effectiveness of marketing and communications. The Web and Big Data shine a brutal light on that which is not useful. Your organization may not yet have installed the right measurement system to allow that light to be shone. But pretty soon it will. Be ready. Be useful.