The Marketing Murmuration

Alison Harris
4 min readJan 11, 2019

It’s easy to be impressed by a lot of marketing gurus on social media. They’ve perfected the clickable headline that promises the inside scoop on how to hack your marketing. Follow a few simple steps and you, too, can have 80 million followers, earn a six-figure income on the speaking circuit, put your SaaS signups on steroids, what have you. But what if we focus instead on marketing murmuration?

A murmuration is a flock of birds that pivot and swoop in unison. A single bird’s flight is delightful; a flock in synchrony is mesmerizing and inspiring. They are so in tune with each other that they predict and collaborate on each other’s movements. How can we replicate that in our world of marketing?

The first step, I believe, is to discount “hacks”. We’ve given too much credence to them as marketing strategies rather than labeling them what they are: short cuts that may or may not work for you. We’re spending too much energy trying to game the system and not enough into building insightful, sustainable, and holistic strategies.

I’m not alone here. In Rand Fishkin’s excellent book, Lost and Founder (go read it — it is super helpful to anyone running a business), he talks about adopting “growth hacks” at SEO firm Moz when access to VC capital dried up after the 2008 financial crisis. They launched an email campaign offering a steep introductory discount to a limited number of people — first come, first serve. It brought in a huge number of new subscribers and revenue, so why does he wish they never did it?

“The email offer didn’t make our product better; it didn’t make our subscription stickier; it didn’t help people do their jobs better. It simply created a short-term boost of attention that led to a lot of complex, long-term problems.”

The discount customers were tough to retain, impacting Moz’s churn for years. The hack set in motion a need for a follow-on hack, and another, and another. The company became addicted. And worst of all, it branded Moz as a company that sells at discount.

Look at it from another angle: When HubSpot announced its content management platform, the company famously said that it would not use PR to market the company. All it needed was its own inbound marketing system — no other marketing tactics need apply. Yes, HubSpot was and remains very successful — it convinced many, many companies to use its website-based platform, Mad Libs-style content templates, and inbound-only ethos.

But the flood of content generated only exacerbated a phenomenon aptly named Content Shock by marketer Mark Schaefer. The premise behind Content Shock is that the exponentially increasing volume of content makes it next to impossible for new pieces to attract attention. Companies have adjusted, including HubSpot. Last year, it made a big splash announcing its support of advertising in the marketing funnel, and of course its platform now incorporates multiple methods from email marketing to CRM.

What I’m trying to say is that inbound is not the answer.

SEO is not the answer.

PR is not the answer.

Influencer marketing is not the answer.

Social media marketing is not the answer.

Video is not the answer.

AdWords, Facebook for Business, and Twitter ads are not the answer.

Email campaigns, trade shows, direct mail, and networking are not the answer.

What is the answer?

In the famous words of improv troupes everywhere, the answer is, “Yes, and…”

Marketing is a strategy designed to meet specific goals, executed using a thoughtfully selected blend of tactics, working together in flight and adjusting as needed. Your marketing murmuration will not always be as graceful as starlings. You will have some headlong crashes and will certainly be grounded from time to time. You will need to test new things, be willing to look objectively at results, and figure out how to pick yourself up and start over from time to time.

Build Your Marketing Murmuration

Yes, you can find a lot of great advice on how to implement tactics. Yes, some hacks can help. But you are not going to hack your way to success with marketing. You need all the things, working together in concert. You can build your marketing murmuration only after doing the hard work of identifying:

  • What your customer needs.
  • How what you do/make helps them succeed.
  • Your goals for marketing
  • How to execute.
  • How to objectively measure results so that you can decide what to do again, and what to jettison.
  • How to keep it fresh and fun.

I’ll still click on headlines offering new hacks; I am all for new ideas and better tactics. But as a virtual CMO who is looking to do better for my clients, I’m going to push back when people want to focus on only one area for marketing. I’ve gotten great results for many, many companies by using a variety of tools, tips, and strategies. Why would you want to limit your options?

And if you’re ready to take flight, reach out. I’d love to fly in your marketing murmuration.

Originally published at on January 11, 2019.



Alison Harris

All things B2B marketing. Former virtual CMO, now in-house bizdev. I founded content calendar software PlanITPDQ. Constantly curious. alisonhms[at]