Machu Picchu and martech: CMO lessons from the Inca Empire

What can marketers learn from Machu Picchu and the Incas? Contributor Scott Vaughan takes a trip to the ancient citadel and comes away with four lessons we can apply to martech today.


I just returned from a holiday exploring Peru and the “lost city” of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu. If you are a student of history, like to explore or just enjoy good food, I highly recommend you put Peru and Machu Picchu on your list.

I was intrigued by the many tales of this ancient city, the marvels of Inca innovation and their way-before-their-time thinking to build a perfectly situated, planned community nestled in the Andes Mountains.

Most impressive is the way the Incas developed Machu Picchu and creative ways to exploit the many natural resources in this South American land. Nearly 500 years later, we’re still fascinated with this advanced society.

The author at Macchu Pichu.

The author at Machu Picchu

Time away from the office and the day-to-day of my marketing role had me reflecting on what we can learn from the Incas for modern times. Many thoughts popped into my head, including the importance of innovation, the attention to meticulous planning and how to create the right balance for long- and short-term needs. Much like the Incas, marketing is in a golden era, with so much innovation and so many new possibilities being developed to contribute to our business (aka the community).

Inspired by the book, “Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” by Mark Adams, which follows Hiram Bingham’s 1912–1914 discovery of and journeys around Machu Picchu, here are four lessons that we can apply today from the lost city and the mysterious Inca Empire.

  1. Vision is essential. Pachacuti, one of the first rulers of the Incas, had the leadership and savvy to create a more modern, planned society that would meet the needs of the people.
  2. Think differently, take a new path (literally). Cusco (their Peruvian capital) was comfortable and perfectly situated in the Sacred Valley; but, it wasn’t the ultimate spot for a thriving lifestyle for this self-proclaimed elite group.
  3. Apply engineering to power your vision. Capitalizing on the unique Andes mountain topography and tapping into the natural resources required ingenuity.
  4. Creating an empire is hard work, so get to it! The Inca Empire and all that innovation wasn’t dreamed, constructed and organized in a week, a quarter or a single year.

It all starts with vision

As the first ruler of the Inca Empire, Pachacuti is widely credited with developing the vision to build Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains, to protect the Incas and to create a new kind of civilization to keep them safe, practice their language and live their lifestyle.

It’s this foresight and big thinking that’s often missing as CMOs and marketing organizations deal with the hectic pace of today’s marketing mandate to drive revenue and execute in the “now.” Markets are hyper-competitive, and without the big idea and a larger vision, marketing teams can’t catapult their brands and organizations to their potential.

In fact, the challenge is so acute that CMO recruiters are starting to shift hiring criteria from the “demand-oriented” marketing executive to one who’s demonstrated the ability to develop a differentiated, high-value go-to-market strategy that creates new, sustainable market positions.

Think differently, break the mold

The Incas had a good life in Cusco, before settling Machu Picchu. Resources were plentiful, and life was grand. However, the Inca leaders knew that they were vulnerable long term and that they needed to plan and create a better society for their elite warriors and people.

They used a combination of astronomy and geography, among other sciences, to tap into the landscape and natural resources to create their unique place.

There are parallels in marketing. We often default to doing things the way we’ve done them before or following “best practices” of others. We get comfortable. While adopting proven techniques can have an impact, marketers must create new ways, using new ideas to help their business and brand thrive.

Today, progressive marketers are using data, marketing technology and creative storytelling to reimagine their brand. They’re plotting their own path, much like the Incas who blazed new trails to gain an advantage.

Engineer a strong foundation

The Incas had no advanced tools (no wheel, metal or written language, for example), but they had a plan and used the materials and resources in an innovative way to build structures, waterways, protective walls and trails that provided for a functioning and spiritual environment. This impressive feat of engineering and the attention to detail still baffles historians, archeologists and the many tourists who flock to Machu Picchu.

Marketers, take note. In an era of so many “shiny object” marketing tools and technologies, we can overthink and get enamored with the latest “it” thing versus focusing on the fundamental elements needed to drive and support our business. This is especially true for the mid- to long-term health and success of our efforts.

We have many tech and data options available to us today as marketing pros. The best advice is to drown out all that noise, develop a game plan for your business, including a master blueprint, and get to building something lasting and meaningful.

And, hey — one lesson the Inca’s should have heeded — if something like the equivalent of the “wheel” is staring you in the face, use it.

Creating an empire is hard work

Industrious people with the tenacity to build over years, the Incas stayed at it stone by stone until Machu Picchu was not just a functioning society but a flourishing empire. This long view — balanced with the reality of everyday life — helped them create a special civilization.

While CMOs have to live in the moment at times, this can’t become a permanent state of mind. To create a meaningful brand and market-leading business, it takes commitment and work. Yes, vision. But also the willingness to go after big things and to focus on the details to make it happen.

A few examples of goals for us in our role as marketers:

  • Develop a web experience customers love while using analytics to optimize your web performance every day.
  • Use big-idea, thought-leadership content while looking for that two-percent improvement in pipeline conversion.
  • Spend the time to truly understand the future opportunity while competing at a high level today.

All of these require commitment, initiative and diligence.

Machu Picchu and the Inca people are forever etched in my mind as an incredible civilization who over a century applied ingenuity with few advanced tools. Through a vision, charting their own course and building an infrastructure over time, the Incas flourished and accomplished amazing feats.

CMOs and marketers can gain inspiration from this civilization. Maybe the biggest lesson is to draw ideas and inspiration from outside of business and the markets that you serve — things from everyday life or history. And it doesn’t hurt to mix in a little storytelling and mystery to add to the impact of the brand!

[Article on MarTech Today.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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