Friday, April 09, 2010

Aging mutant ninja marketer

I was going to post today on the West Virginia mine disaster, but what is there really to say, other than that it is a sad reminder that there remain, even in our technologically advanced society, some jobs that are horrifically dangerous. (If it comes out that the mine owners were shortcutting safety measures, I’ll have more to say. ‘Til then…)

But there’s actual fun to be had with a WSJ article on the rising use of the term “ninja” as a word to characterize your work.

Move over “evangelist,” take a back seat, “guru”. Ninja’s on the move.

In 2009, the growth of "ninja" as a new job description far outpaced the growth of other trendy titles, according to LinkedIn Corp., a Web site that provides networking for more than 65 million professionals. While the numbers are still small on LinkedIn—some 800 current or former ninjas have public profiles on the site—their growth has skyrocketed past other fashionable careers such as "gurus" and "evangelists," says Monica Rogati, a scientist at LinkedIn who finds patterns in jobs data.

I’m afraid that my career has been singular devoid of trendy, fashionable titles.

I’ve been a babysitter, tutor, collection-counter at church, combat boot polisher, grill cook, waitress, store clerk, admin, Kelly Girl, research assistant, data gatherer, consultant, product manager, senior product manager, director of marketing, VP of marketing, free-lance product marketer, researcher, writer.

While I’ve never wanted to be considered an evangelist – other than for St. Francis House and, to a lesser degree, for the Writers Room of Boston – I may have, on one or two occasions, referred to myself, or been referred to as, a marketing guru. But never more than once of twice. And never in writing.

I actually don’t think that evangelist is that bad a title. Since it’s been used in technology for, what?, the last twenty years or so, it’s fairly clear to me what an evangelist does: tub thumping for a company/product. But it’s knowledge- and reality-based tub thumping, or, to me at least, you’re not a true evangelist. You’re, hmmmmm, I don’t want to say marketer here, but sometimes that is, indeed, the shoe that fits.

Guru has a fuzzier definition: someone who knows a lot about something, and is willing to impart what they know to others. But it’s way over used. In the marketing world, I’d reserve it for someone like Seth Godin, who knows a lot about marketing, is willing to impart what he knows to others (i.e., everyone with an Internet connection), and – for added attraction – is willing and able to evangelize himself.

(This is not a reflection on Seth Godin, who is, actually, exceptionally knowledgeable, interesting, and informative in his writings, but there’s a great quote from Peter Drucker in the article:

"We are using the word 'guru' only because 'charlatan' is too long to fit into a headline."

Again, I don’t apply this to Seth. But I can think of plenty of other “business gurus” where it fits perfectly.)

Personally, if I had to pick a word to describe my own professional skill set, it would be product marketing maven – a moniker that doesn’t even merit a mention from the WSJ.  If guru is so Web 1.0, maven must be so dialup to a mainframe.

But ninja? Ninja?

Now I have to worry about some marketing ninja usurping my business?

Just the idea of the ninja-ing of any profession makes my head hurt.

Stealthy, ruthless, anything goes, working under cover of darkness. Oh, yeah, and wearing black pajamas, kinda/sorta like the Viet Cong.

Well, despite it’s murky connotations, “Ninja has become one of the fastest growing job titles of the Great Recession.”

Okay. I guess it beats the fastest growing job titles of the Great Depression: apple seller, pencil vendor, hobo, vagrant, Okie.

And, of course, it’s perfect for the quick-draw, short-hand young folks who don’t have time to be bothered by cranky, whining, old-fart questions like ‘but what do you really mean.’

Hey, it doesn’t have to mean anything, bub. It just is.

"The concept of a ninja is metaphorical. It's about confidence," says Alex Schliker, who has been advertising to hire one for his San Francisco business software start-up, CureCRM. It's "an easy way to say you need to be good at learning anything new I throw at you," he says.

Well, metaphorical or not, this doesn’t help define ninja any better for me. Pretty much sounds like a requirement for every job I ever had, starting with babysitting and moving on down the line.

So, I will not be calling myself a ninja anything, anytime soon.

But I’m always on the lookout for a good title.

Recently, I saw an article on the make-up biz, and a couple of people quoted in it held the title “Vice President of Beauty.”

Now, that one wouldn’t be all that interesting to me.

But “Vice President of Truth”?

Now you’re talking.


Alice Van-Weed said...

the title vice-president of something connotes only being second best of something...oh well..i like the "vice-president of truth"

AlexS said...

Nice post. I don't call myself a ninja, but can appreciate those who do.

James said...

Don't agree, that's not so easy to have the title vice-president, so, should respect that.