The true story of why I choked up in front of my college class

college class

I’ve had the honor of teaching a college class in digital marketing for the Rutgers Mini MBA program for 10 years now. I’ve taught dozens of classes in front of hundreds of students but last week for the first time, I became so emotional it was hard for me to speak.

It was unexpected, and I thought it would make an interesting story for you today.

All things human

In my undergraduate college classes at West Virginia University, I majored in journalism. I had always liked to write but it was the people of the journalism school that compelled me to choose this major. They wanted to work in a world that was seeking truth and I wanted to be part of that.

But in my junior year, I took a required class in marketing. I literally fell in love at first sight.

When I cracked open my textbook, the classic Principles of Marketing by Dr. Philip Kotler, I saw that he described marketing as the intersection of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. What an interesting combination!

Marketing was all things human!  Who wouldn’t want to work in a career like that?

I was hooked for life.

Marketing in decline

Certainly, most of my career was focused on this human-centered approach to marketing. You couldn’t really obtain customer insights in a large B2B manufacturing company by hanging out on social media. Marketing in that environment meant getting into your customer’s shoes and walking around their plants.

But today, marketing is lost. We’re preoccupied with technology and dashboards. We’re spamming people, breaching their trust, conning them with robo-calls. We have to do better.

… Even vulnerable

Back to my college classes.

I was talking about this problem — how we need to challenge ourselves to get back to the roots of our marketing basics and focus on these constant human needs.

I mentioned that Dr. Kotler — the man who inspired me to get into marketing — is still alive and teaching. And I told this story of how he still inspires me …

On the one-hundredth episode of Douglas Burdett’s exceptional Marketing Book podcast, the legendary Dr. Kotler, now 87 years old, said in his interview:

“What consumers are missing in our high-tech world is high touch. They’re missing the satisfaction of real relationships and knowing that other people care.

“There’s a hunger in our world for real intimacy and experience. Brands need to be more human and authentic. They should stop trying to be perfect. Human-centric brands should treat customers as friends, becoming an integral part of their lifestyle. Brands should be more like humans. Approachable. Likable. Even vulnerable.”


I just hung on that word. It seems so far away from where we need to be. “Vulnerability is the home of emotion,” I said “And that’s what’s missing in marketing today.”

The words got caught in my throat. “Vulnerability is the home of emotion.” It just seemed like my nearly four decades in marketing came together in one moment. It started with Kotler and here I am, still fighting alongside him to elevate our profession.

I can’t explain it completely, but with the word “vulnerable,” I became vulnerable. Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere.

I’ve had a great career and it all seemed to come together in that one moment!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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