Marketing Sucks

Great Marketing sucks

I know this sounds like click baiting but I have been in the marketing space long enough to know that any impactful marketing will suck, at least to you as the marketer. Our philosophy is that advertising is not marketing. Marketing is about solving real life problems for a small group of people and making money in the process. This is what fundamentally makes marketing difficult, and only a few brands get it right. This makes it hard to put in the work because if you are not careful, the vision might be blurry at best. Let me break it down for you

Marketing is about serving others, not yourself

According to Philip Kotler, a marketing expert, has said that marketing is “the art of creating genuine customer value” and “the art of helping your customer become better off”. It on this foundation that that Seth Godin says in his book This is Marketing where he believes marketers don’t just make noise; they make the world better and that truly powerful marketing is grounded in generosity, empathy, and emotional labour.

Marketing demands that you show up consistently, for that smallest viable audience and serving them selflessly even though what you want may not be the same as what they want (most often than not, your personal needs and wants as a brand/marketer will never be the same as those of the people you want to serve). This difference might bring internal friction within you as the brand marketer but you should always remind yourself that it is about them, not about you.

It is your responsibility as a marketer to immerse yourself into the life and experiences of your customers. In theory this sounds easy but I assure you, it is more difficult to pull it ff than you may imagine. Once you start it, you will realize that it requires constant empathy and adaptation and this can be intellectually, mentally and emotionally draining.

The Emotional labour of Great Marketing

There is the emotional labour involved in putting your brand out there, being vulnerable, and facing rejection. In the words of the Father of Permission Marketing, emotional labour is the work of doing what we don’t feel like doing. It’s about showing up with a smile when we’re wincing inside, or resisting the urge to chew someone out because you know that engaging with him will make a bigger difference.

It takes a small amount of energy and guts to be authentic. Think about the waitress who served you last time you went to your favourite hotel. Was she smiling at you because she was genuinely happy to see you, or was she smiling because that is what she has been taught, and she is simply doing her job? When you were being served, did you stop to think that maybe she was having a bad day? Maybe she is heartbroken or something like that, but she had to put up a smile, because that is her job? Well, at the end, you probably felt great, even tipped her for the impeccable service because she showed up for you.

Great marketing demands that you be present. That you show up every day for that small audience that you set out to serve, irrespective of whether or not you feel like doing the work. That you remain resilient in the quest to make things better for your customers. That you constantly iterate, basing on the feedback and criticism you receive. And this ladies and gentlemen takes toll on you, emotionally.

Authentic stories

Stories are inseparable from human beings. we are constantly telling themselves stories, and we are brought together when we share in a story. This is why ads that have mini-stories perform comparatively well. I know, we are talking about marketing, not advertising so let me make my point before you stop reading.
Stories are the medium for spreading ideas. As a result, effective marketing involves telling a compelling, authentic story that resonates with your audience’s worldview. Either you’re going to tell stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant.

The hard part is creating a brand story that resonates with your customers, whom Seth Godin calls the minimum viable audience. There is the issue of communicating that story as well. The best way of communicating a brand story is to make it subtle. Be intentional about the story, but communicate it covertly. Do not deny your audience the satisfaction that comes with figuring it out themselves, because when they do, they will definitely spread the word. Once again, this story is not for you as the brand marketer, it is for a small number of people that are your customers. Maintaining this authentic narrative that aligns with other people but you can be very draining, and you might give up midway.


Building Trust and Credibility

I know you don’t trust me.
No one trusts anyone. Consumers don’t trust the beautiful women ordering vodka at the corner bar (they’re getting paid by the liquor company). Consumers don’t trust the spokespeople on commercials and the companies that make pharmaceuticals. As a result, as a brand marketer, you can only succeed after you have gained the trust of your audience. Stories are your currency for trust. This success is thus pegged on you earning the credibility to tell that story.

How do you earn the credibility to tell that story? I hav an answer for you. Tears, blood and sweat. You will have to consistently put in the work, show up everyday sometimes for ages before the market can trust you. It will take tons of effort and patience to build and maintain trust with your audience and this process is nowhere near glamorous.

The minimum viable audience

Godin teaches that great marketing is about finding and serving a small, specific audience rather than trying to appeal to everyone. As a brand marketer you are in the business of making change happen. This change, however, can only be for a defined group of people. By choosing who you are going to serve, you also choose who not to serve.

The minimum viable audience is the smallest number of people that can sustain your business. Can you define them? What do they like? Where do they hang out? What are they passionate about?
Defining your minimum viable audience includes both demographics and psychographics. Create elaborate buyer personas and genuinely tailor your product/service to make life better for that persona. If you do it right with one customer, they will tell that story and create affiliations. People like us

I bet you have already thought of how painstaking it would be to customize your product or service to one person. It is even harder to define who that person is and have the courage to say no to every other person. It seems counterintuitive, almost like you are throwing part of the business away. The intensity of work required to meet the needs of specific niche market that you truly understand sucks to say the list. But this is the only way your story will spread.

Authenticity vs Persuasion

All marketers are liars. But hold on, let me change my stand before you cancel me. All customers are liars. There, feel better now? As a marketer, you need to understand that your customers are already telling themselves stories. You have probably heard that all purchases we make are emotional first, we apply reason to justify our decision to buy. Who is the liar?

Our success us marketers depends on how well our stories are aligned with those that our minimum viable audience is telling themselves. That gives us authenticity. But then, there is a fine line between telling a compelling brand story and manipulating the truth. It is possible to confuse authenticity for the boring truth, the facts. Authenticity, at least as far as marketing is concerned is the credibility to tell a marketing story. It is not about the features/specs of your product or service. The moment you start talking about these (features and specs) you might be tempted to manipulate the truth in order to persuade your customers.

This is a very difficult concept in practice. Choosing to be ethical in the messaging of your brand story as far as balancing authenticity and persuasion. Do you think this is easy to pull off? I will let you be the judge.

The Invisible Work Behind the Scenes

Much of great marketing involves a great deal of unseen work like market research, customer feedback and continuous iteration. Your entire business is founded on market. You exist to serve a specific need in the market. Asking for feedback is both foolish and brave. When we seek feedback, we’re doing something brave and foolish. We’re asking to be proven wrong. To have people say “You thought you made something great, but you didn’t.” This may hurt, but feedback tells us how to make things better for our smallest viable audience. Be careful not to confuse feedback and criticism for advice. Advise will lead you to change so as to fit in and fitting in should not be what you are after.

Great marketing is well thought out, authentic and relatable because it resonates with your target audience. It resonates because it dials in the stories that your audience is already telling itself. And this has to be backed by analytics. Numbers don’t lie. Analytics give you the feedback on the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, where to double down and where to improve

This continuous feedback-iteration loop is so demanding, and that is why it is worth every penny that insulate ourselves from the resultant raw emotional onslaught. If this was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Final thoughts

Great marketing indeed “sucks” because it demands relentless effort, empathy, and adaptability from marketers, making it a challenging and often exhausting endeavor. It demands that you read long pieces of text such as this one and more. It demands that you remain selfless in your quest to make things better, and sometimes make better things. And better in the eyes of your minimum viable audience. Great marketing demands that you seek credibility and authenticity. And this wont be a walk in the park. However, the impact and satisfaction of effectively serving and connecting with your audience make it worthwhile.


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