When people in college told me they were studying marketing, they might as well have told me they studying to make fur hats out of kittens. I thought it was universally acknowledged that marketers were in the same camp as payday loan peddlers, Ponzi schemers and email spammers. I remember wondering if you had to sell your soul in the second or third year, or if that was more of a capstone, a Faustian final project in exchange for your diploma.
Marketing as a zero-sum game
“Marketing” doesn’t have to be dirty business where one side manipulates the other into acting a certain way. What I was reacting against at the time, and I what I still reject, is the kind of marketing that appeals to the lowest desires in a person and causes them to act in a way that is not actually in their best interest. Marketing that flatters, belittles or bullies its audience into a response that only serves the organization’s interest is mere manipulation and a waste of creative energy.
Marketing, and marketers, should not:
- Create a false ”need“
- Appeal to the worst in people (our vanity, our pride, our hatred)
- Prey on people’s vulnerabilities (our insecurities, our fear, our ignorance)
I’m not interested in spending my time to do any of those things. Marketing or advertising that pits itself against the audience creates an adversarial sort of relationship, as in a zero-sum game. (In games like basketball there is no limit to how many times each side can score, and one side’s points don’t alter the number of points their opponent has. In zero-sum games like poker, the winner gains only as much as the other players lose.) But there is a way to “market” that is collaborative — one where both sides win.
So what should marketing do?
Honest marketing should tell the truth about the product, and it should also keep people from believing things that are not true about themselves. Companies have products to sell, and organizations have messages to promote. At the same time, if those products or messages are legitimate, valid and useful, their customers or audiences have a real need to buy those products or hear those messages. In this case, both sides benefit from marketing done well.
Marketing that is legitimate:
- Communicates what a brand is clearly and accurately
- Connects people with products and messages that help them live their lives
- Helps companies or organizations meet their goals
Tell your story well
A few years ago we developed some materials for a cabinet maker and carpenter to help him showcase his work. He’s a craftsman, and his work is beautiful, and in some ways his work speaks for itself. But the fact was that his work couldn’t speak for itself unless his audience and potential customers saw it. We took photographs that showed off his work. We developed a logo and a visual style for his printed material that matched the style of his work and his personality. We helped him create a web presence that was easy to find and to navigate. We “marketed” him and his work, but I think a more accurate way to describe it is that we told his story well. We didn’t try to show him as something he was not, or create false need for his products. We represented him well and people that were looking for products like his began to find him. Everybody wins.