Mastering Marketing Skills – 10,000 Hours or 10 Days

Should mastering marketing skills be timed with a stopwatch or calendar?
The 10,000 hour rule popularized by Malcolm Galdwell’s book Outliers suggests that expertise takes 10,000 hours of practice in addition to natural talent. The foundation of this premise comes from a paper published in 1973 by Herbert Simon and William Chase. That issue of American Scientist launched extensive research that expanded on Simon and Chase’s observation.

Extensive debate about the validity of the 10,000 hour rule continues to surround Galdwell’s book. One article suggests that we aim for ten minutes instead of 10,000 hours. Research and debate aside, there is not one magic number that applies to everyone seeking expertise and success. Centuries before anyone tried to study the issue, Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do.” It is my belief little bit of talent can be molded into greatness with deliberate practice and study.

The proliferation of content promoting marketing mastery in minimal time is dismaying. Marketing is a skill that is part art and science. It is relatively simple to learn but hard to master. I can’t think of a single person who has mastered all of the nuances involved in creating marketing that moves people to act. The addition of new channels adds to the challenge but it is not the real reason that mastery is illusive. Marketing is communication with people. Until we know exactly how the brain works, we will never be able to fully master marketing. Personally, I hope we never reach that day.

That hope doesn’t keep me from studying research and testing strategies to find better ways for our clients to connect with customers and prospects. Because, you see, I believe in the 10,000 plus hour rule. Perhaps it is the fact that I have the experience to know that a good marketing strategy that carefully targets the right people at the right time can go south in a heartbeat that makes me believe.

Or, maybe I should say “in a gunshot” instead of heartbeat.

We had a direct marketing campaign that launched in early January 1991. Everything was carefully planned from delivery of catalogs to fulfillment of orders. The first order to arrive is the start of a projected response curve that is used to plan activities from cash flow to staffing. Our curve was right on track and moving into the peak period. When I arrived at the office one day in mid-January, I immediately knew that something was wrong. There was an eerie silence in the building. Walking into the customer service department was like walking into a funeral. There were a few hushed whispers, but mostly it was quiet.

The manager looked up from her desk and said, “We have a problem. There are no calls.” We had a new telephone system. I thought that it had malfunctioned so I called our 800 number. It worked fine. I reasoned that maybe people were still asleep or on their way to work. After all, it was very early in the morning. A few minutes later, our warehouse manager popped her head into my office to ask if I had heard that we were at war. Desert Storm had begun in the night.

Our customers were not interested in anything but the war. Sales for that marketing campaign were down 40% when the final numbers were tallied. When people ask me about a magic marketing bullet, I have one to offer. It isn’t the one they want because this bullet can bankrupt a company.

External factors can derail the best marketing plans. Mastering marketing skills is more than knowing how to use a platform or design circulation plans. A master knows how to plan for things going south and what needs to happen if a plan gets completely derailed. This requires a combination of extensive knowledge and experience that cannot be acquired in a few days.

People naturally want the easy way to success. This is why titles like “How to Master Facebook Marketing in 10 Days” are popular. If well done, they can start the path to mastery but completion requires much more. The low entry threshold to new marketing channels has led people to think that this is an easy way to a new career. They hang out their shingle claiming expertise in marketing without realizing they need a background in business. The training for minimal marketing skills doesn’t include bottom line responsibility or risk management. It can’t. There isn’t time.

I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the brightest and best marketers at various stages in their careers. They have one thing in common – they are always seeking new knowledge and better ways to improve their skill. I’ve also had the challenge of hiring marketers and have come to this conclusion: I would rather have an aspiring marketer with a willingness to put in the hard work to learn more than most recognized marketing superstars. Things change. People evolve. Channels appear. And, marketers have to continue to learn and adapt while watching the bottom line.

For more information email Debra at

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