The 10x Marketer: Marketing Magician or Detrimental Distraction?

Andrea Fryrear on B2C Marketing Strategy

CopywritingIn the 2003 movie Elf, two writers are having trouble coming up with a new kids’ book. They go to their boss and pitch him one last ditch idea: bring in a superstar named Miles Finch who has, “written more classics than Dr. Seuss.”

It becomes clear during his visit that Miles is ridiculously well off, and that his expertise is in constant demand.

Despite some personal foibles, Miles would certainly be classified as a 10x children’s author; he can produce classics seemingly on demand.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were marketers like this?

Who hasn’t wanted to pick up the phone and get the marketing equivalent of Miles Finch to kick-start a lagging campaign?

The 10x Marketing Debate

With roots in the early days of software development, this idea of a 10x employee has been around for a while. Now the concurrent rapid evolution of marketing sophistication and audience demands has led many people to suggest that the age of the 10x marketer is upon us.

Others argue that chasing these unicorns is not only a waste of time but a major distraction from creating the cohesive teams that are actually necessary to achieve marketing dominance in the twenty-first century.

Here we’re going to look at both sides of this debate, because choosing a side may have major ramifications for both marketing teams and individual careers.

Deciding where you fall can impact how individual marketers develop themselves, how managers run their departments, and, ultimately, whether your team finds success or has to call in someone like Miles Finch to save the day.

What it Means to Be a 10x Performer

Fred Brooks, an American computer architect, engineer, and scientist is credited with introducing the idea of the 10x programmer in his book, The Mythical Man Month.

Put simply, Brooks believed that talent was the thing that would drive programming productivity forward. Technological innovations and programming methodologies or languages just couldn’t change the game by a whole order of magnitude.

Since its inception, this concept has been hotly debated in the software world.

Can one person really have such an outsized impact, or does it really take an outstanding team to produce outstanding results?

As startups proliferate and genius programmers create world-altering apps, the idea of 10x programmers continues to circulate. It’s unlikely to be put to rest anytime soon, simply because the idea isn’t empirically verifiable one way or the other.

Arguments for the Rise of the 10x Marketer

Scott Brinker is one of the most vocal proponents of the idea of a 10x marketer, which he also refers to as the “Full Stack Marketer” in his recent book, Hacking Marketing.

For Scott, the rise of 10x marketers doesn’t mean marketers as a group is getting better.

“There’s always been a tremendous amount of talent in marketing,” he says.“But there are two other ingredients that you need to get the 10x effect. You need the opportunity, and you need some sort of leverage.”

The multitude of channels and touchpoints that make up modern digital marketing has created opportunities for marketers who aren’t creative directors or CMOs to make a big impact (and get credit for it).

Social media and search are providing the leverage.

For Scott and others who share his perspective:

Marketers today are at an incredible nexus of multi-disciplinary talent, nearly unlimited opportunities to apply that talent, and the leverage of software in a digital world that can multiply the effects of that talent. This is what enable the potential of 10x marketers and a flexible new breed of ‘full-stack marketers.’

Why Chasing 10x May Be a Harmful Distraction

Coming down on the other side of the 10x debate is Rand Fishkin, along with others who believe that spending time and energy questing after a 10x hire just isn’t worth it.

Even the best people, Rand argues, aren’t going to produce more than 2.5x the output of an average performer. And they often come with big egos and big price tags to match their big impact.

Rand argues convincingly against the 10x concept, particularly as teams grow.

He puts emphasis on finding a good culture fit that you can nurture and mentor, rather than seeking out extraordinary individuals to swoop in and save the day.

In fact, he says that once you’re past hire number three or four, you shouldn’t, “have an unrealistic, dangerous belief that a single individual can (or should) build 10x as much…That person doesn’t exist, and false expectations will lead you down a perilous path.”

Creating a 10x Culture

Whether you think 10x marketers are prized possessions to be hoarded and collected like Beanie Babies in the 90s, or myths on par with the tooth fairy, there’s no harm whatsoever in creating a marketing culture that fosters excellence.

As a matter of fact, by changing your team’s environment you might find that some of them are actually pretty close to 10x, they just weren’t being given the chance to shine.

Seth Godin made a similar point in a January 2016 blog post:

…an organization that isn’t getting 10x marketing needs to begin by blaming itself…10x marketers are made, not born, and half the battle is creating a platform where one can work.

Even if you’re not on board with the 10x theory, if you start running your team on agile principles, create expectations of excellence, and develop your existing employees’ skill sets, you’re setting your organization up for success.

Want to learn more about why you should consider agile? We humbly recommend this series of posts:

Let’s Settle the 10x Marketer Debate

I love this quote from Hubspot co-founder Dharmesh Shah: “when you’re transforming something and making massive change, not everyone is going to understand. The important thing is to be right — and then make the change happen. The best way to convince people that your theory was right is to be right and show them (not tell them) you’re right.”

So, let’s put both sides of this argument to the test.

If you think there are 10x marketers among us, or that you are one yourself, go prove it.

Go consistently produce stuff that is demonstrably many times more awesome than what other people are doing.

If you think 10x marketers are mythical creatures, let’s see you rock it without a rockstar on your team.

Use your team of scrappy, average performers to outproduce the big names in your industry.

The great thing about this contest is that whether you think it’s a 10x marketer who will save the day, or a 10x team of run-of-the-mill marketers, your goal is the right one: do something amazing.

So pick your approach, go make it work, and report back. I can’t wait to hear about your 10x success.