For every profession there is a stereotype. Farmers are complainers. Mechanics rip you off. Builders cut corners. Landscapers are Dutch (oh wait, that is actually true). Roofers smoke dope. Military folks don’t think. Artists are airheads. Musicians are full of themselves. Pastors are impractical. Used car salesmen… shall I go on?
It’s like we’re all looking for someone to blame. Aren’t the world’s problems really the fault of the entertainment industry anyway? Or the media? Or the government? Or our education system? Isn’t everything really marketing’s fault?
I get a little annoyed with these kinds of comments but I get particularly peeved when such misguided declarations are levelled at marketing. There is no shortage either. I’ve heard marketing denounced from the pulpit on Sundays. I’ve heard marketers demeaned in after-dinner conversations. I’ve noticed the cynicism towards marketing from guys wearing Budweiser t-shirts, Caterpillar ball caps and Oakley sunglasses no less.
Truth be told, the reason I’m particularly sensitive toward the narrow-minded condemnation of marketing is because marketing is what I do for a living. I’m a marketer by trade and I love what I do. There I said it. That doesn’t make me better than anyone. It also doesn’t make me worse. Marketing is, after all, storytelling and as such it’s everyone’s business. There’s no escaping it. Even if we don’t use words or images, we do all participate in the market. Our choices, our actions, indeed our very lives tell a story.
The problem isn’t so much that we as humans are busy telling stories and participating in a market. The problem is whether or not our lives testify to beauty and truth! It’s true; stories can be told to mislead or entice us into making bad decisions, but stories can also be told to help us to get on better in our world and make something good of it. Both con-men and care-givers are skilled persuaders.
While we used to rely more on writers, poets, artists and publishers to tell us stories, increasingly it’s marketers that are telling the stories of our day. That can frighten us. A knee jerk reaction might be to ban all marketing (if that were even possible). Or we can choose to redeem marketing. Demand more from our storytellers. Applaud them when they do it truthfully and artfully, and vote them down when they manipulate us or lie to us or tell us stories that encourage negative stereotypes.
How about you? Do you care about helping others? Are you skilled? Do you enjoy your work? Have you discovered a better way to do something? Do you think deeply about what you do, how you do it, and why you do it? Then we encourage you to tell us about it. In fact it’s your responsibility to market your company, your products and services, or your cause. However, I challenge you to do it well. Don’t follow principles any different than those one would aspire to personally.
- Tell the Truth. The truth will set you free.
- Tell it artfully. Choose your words [and pictures] with care for your intended audience.
- Find your audience. Speak to them directly. (If a tagline falls in the forest…)
- Use your own voice. Don’t try to sound like everyone else. Play your part.
- Listen from time to time. Communication is a two-way street.
- Stay Curious. Explore. Discover. Share what you find.
- Be innovative. Try something new.
- Don’t say one thing and do another. Actions still speak louder than words.
Marketers have a huge responsibility and our profession has a lot to answer for when we take that responsibility lightly. But the world’s problems are not simply the fault of the marketing profession. In fact, rather than being a cause of major problems marketing can, in the hands of ethical people be a powerful tool to lead mankind to better places.
Written by Jason Bouwman, RGD
July 15, 2014