Are channel marketers the Mad Men of our era?

This post was originally published by Fast Company

Nobody in Hollywood is lining up to make a “Mad Men” about channel marketing, but just like the iconic ad men were the backbone of their industry in the ’60s, channel marketers are indispensable in marketing today. And who knows, maybe a Netflix series is just around the corner.

If you’re not familiar with channel marketers, it’s because we operate behind the scenes. Think of us as the invisible hands that make it possible for major brands to achieve the marketing holy grail: true collaboration between brands.

Channel marketers work with the largest companies in any given industry, as well as their partners, to develop cobranded campaigns that explain how they are better together. Channel campaigns require the engagement of more stakeholders, as there are multiple companies at the table and more complexity than a typical business-to-business (B2B) campaign.

Channel marketers are in the business of business-with-business-to-business marketing.

This work is not only crucial in today’s complex and layered marketplaces—it’s also fun. Being a successful channel marketer requires a high level of social skill to coordinate and listen to a diverse set of partners. Channel marketers are the creative driving force that unifies that information and determines how best to sell.



Tech is the sector of expertise for my agency, Transcends Marketing. We often work with hyper scalers—such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google—to explain how their technologies, when leveraged by their partners, can help a specific industry solve real challenges.

For example, Microsoft alone cannot solve many of the niche challenges that the healthcare industry faces. While they have a strong cloud foundation with Azure, they need the assistance of partners who have built specific intellectual property on top of Azure to solve the very specific needs of clinicians in a hospital setting.

In addition, Microsoft might further partner with a services implementor to help a particular customer, such as a hospital, implement this solution. And for these three large companies to coordinate a go-to-market plan, it is a lot. This is where channel marketers come in.



There was little to no need for channel marketers in the ‘60s, when legendary ad man George Lois was focused on selling his “Big Idea.” Back then, the ecosystem was small enough that companies could work directly with marketers to deliver messages to their customers.

Today, big companies operate in multiple industries with many layers of complexity and less vertical integration, making it important for them to segment their marketing approaches. At the same time, entrepreneurship is thriving as small startups have more opportunities to go to market with the hyperscalers of the world.

Today, it’s about getting everyone to play together. The job of content marketers is to drive incredibly intelligent people with strong ideas to a common purpose.

My team has been reading “How to Listen” by Oscar Trimboli. Our ability to listen deeply and understand what’s being said—as well as what is not—is one of our most valuable assets when we sit down with our clients.

The idea of conscious connection—being aware of how we act and react towards others—is baked into our company values. We know that every partnership, even those rooted in artificial intelligence technology and the automated world of Big Tech, comes down to human beings connecting to create value.

Because of this, the emotional resonance of our work matters now as much as it did in the Ad-Men era.



As with everything in marketing, channel marketing is evolving quickly.

Jay McBain, chief analyst of channels, partnerships, and ecosystems at Canalys, has written extensively about the tech ecosystem landscape. He has noted that, just as the martech stack was all any marketer was talking about a few years ago, ecosystems will soon be the main structure in marketing. Ecosystems, “measured around value creation, network effects, and co-innovation,” will be mapped to track and leverage the millions of market opportunities for companies, he predicted in 2021.

More recently, he observed that channel marketing is the key to penetrating markets by helping large companies work in partnership with small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). He noted SMBs would drive 44% of all IT spending in 2023, for a total of $2 trillion.

The exciting thing about working in this space is that there is never a dull moment. As Vince Menzione of Ultimate Partner noted on a recent podcast episode, “Partnering with a cloud hyperscaler effectively is about co-marketing, co-selling, and co-innovating… With the rising success of the hyperscaler marketplaces, distributors are evolving to find their place in the ecosystem. They’re learning more and more to service delivery and [be] the ecosystem orchestrators.”

Innovation, creativity, and social skills—the stuff that makes a good channel marketer is based on the same principles George Lois pioneered over 50 years ago.

No child answers the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” by saying, “A channel marketer!” Yet channel marketing, the world where I have landed and launched a thriving business on the cutting edge of our industry, is one of the most creative, gratifying careers in marketing.

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