Stop Shouting. Start Teaching.

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Imagine you are in a classroom. Let’s say a high school classroom. You’re sitting at your desk, listening to your favorite teacher—the one who inspired you, the one who got you excited about that thing you love for the first time.

You’ve stopped taking notes because your body just can’t quite function normally when your mind is being blown. You don’t feel the pen in your hand, or the surface of the desk under your arms. You’re somewhere in between your body and the blackboard. That’s the magic of learning; it’s transportational.

Now, deep breath.

Back to reality.

Perhaps your learning experiences were not like this, but I hope they were. And if they were, did it ever occur to you in those moments that you were being sold something? That the moment was approaching when you’d be asked to sign on the dotted line or open your wallet? When you’d kick yourself for being fooled into thinking that your teacher was offering something to you for free? When you’d learn to stifle the desire and ability to trust someone?

Of course not. What you received came without strings attached; it was a free gift of knowledge to change you, to shape you, to edify you. Not to compel you to buy something.

After all, your teacher wasn’t a marketer.

Right?

Or, was he?

It’s worth asking at this point: What, exactly, is marketing? Here I won’t quote a definition—not just because we’re all capable of looking it up ourselves, but because it really doesn’t matter anymore what the “official” definition of marketing is. Marketing, in its ubiquity, is something we all live and breath. We know what it is, though we may struggle with articulating it with any meaningful precision. In our culture, the distance between marketing and creativity is virtually nonexistent.

Every bit of that space has been filled with the promotional. What were once barely overlapping magisteria have become fully integrated. It’s not enough that we make beautiful things, or have brilliant ideas, or even have powerful experiences anymore; they’re hardly real to the world until they’ve been shared in some digital burst of “Here I am, you should pay attention to me.”

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Life and work has become noisy with marketing. And the noisier it gets, the noisier it gets, because we’ve bought into the lie that nothing cuts through noise better than the right kind of noise. But noisy marketing—of the parade for a naked emperor kind—is cheap; there is no there there, and we all end up feeling cheap for looking, anyway.

There is a better way, of course. But the better way requires that we get as far away from this sort of marketing as possible. In fact, it might be better that we call it something else entirely, because no one ever says, “I want to be a marketer when I grow up.” So, why not call it education? If you ever experienced the free gift of education—whether or not as I dramatized it above—let that be your model for marketing. For your sake; for the sake of all of us.

Inception

Disparaging marketing is easy, isn’t it? What I just wrote came naturally; it flowed out of my experience struggling with my own value for privacy and the frequency with which it is violated, coupled with my job representing a company and the frequency with which I have to market our services. I know the kind of marketing I don’t like, and to do it differently is easier said than done. Frankly, it’s just far easier to do marketing than to have marketing done to you. Yet, there is no Golden Rule for marketing—market unto those as you would have them market unto you. Shouldn’t there be such a rule? There can be.

It starts with doing something good.

Quality

There is nothing wrong with selling things, or even with making lots of money selling things. There is something wrong, though, with selling a product or service that you know is not worth its price. So there are some questions we must ask if we are to follow any “golden rule” of marketing: Do I believe in what I’m selling? Is it good for people? Is it worth what I am asking people to pay for it?

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Could you imagine a teacher answering “No” to any of these questions? “No, I don’t believe in what I teach.” “No, what I teach is not good for people.” “No, what I teach isn’t worth the time my class requires.” Could any teacher with integrity answer no to these questions and still manage to show up for class every Monday morning? I doubt it.

Alan Jacobs, writing for The Atlantic about the role of quality in the shifting sands of business success1, had this to say:

“What goes around comes around; what goes up must come down. Microsoft has been gradually drifting to the margins of our tech consciousness; Google is scrambling to find a way to compete with Facebook. Everything moves faster in a wired world, including the pace of change in business… A decade from now the landscape of the technology business will sure look very different than it does today. Maybe by 2022 Apple and Amazon will be marginal companies once again—underdogs that I can feel good about supporting.”

What shifts the sands of the business landscape isn’t marketing, it’s quality. Apple rose to the top because it made outstanding products, not “just fine” ones with outstanding advertising. Microsoft, on the other hand, stumbled not because its advertising is terrible—though it really is—but because its products weren’t very good, either. And as for Amazon, Amazon rose to the top by offering a level of service that shocked shoppers: an easy to navigate store, with an unfathomably large inventory, and delivery that exceeded anyone’s reasonable expectations for speed. It reset those expectations.

If Amazon fails, it will fail because either someone else comes along who can do better—unlikely as that may be—or because we decide that we don’t feel comfortable with the costs of the level of service they offer. Many right now are already questioning that, whether inexpensive and immediate delivery are worth the working2 conditions3 that make it possible. Marketing will probably try to change our minds. It may even work on some of us, for a little while. But if failure is to be avoided, marketing will have little to do with it.

If you can do something truly good, you won’t have much of a marketing challenge. If you can keep doing something good without something bad subsidizing it, marketing will take care of itself.

Positioning

But what if someone else does exactly the same thing you do? What if you can’t beat their price? What if you can’t outserve them? This is typically where “savvy” marketing comes in. When labels carry claims that either overemphasize a non-differentiator so that it seems like one, or straight up lie.

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Imagine the educational corollary: “The same easy A, now with twice the History!” or “Become a Quantum Physicist, Results Guaranteed!” Preposterous.

It’s a whole lot easier to avoid resorting to manipulation if you don’t have any real competitors. Competitors force each other to make less meaningful but more manipulative distinctions between one another. If you think you’ve got the “good” thing down, consider your positioning. Are you actually different? If not, how will you survive without being sleazy?

Attract, Inform, Engage

So, let’s say you’ve got the quality and positioning stuff worked out. You do something good that nobody else does. Fantastic. That is, assuming people know about you. Taking a Field of Dreams approach—if you build it, they will come—won’t work. If you build it, and they know about it, they will come. But even if they come, you’ve got to make sure they understand what it is that they’re coming for. And then you’ve got to make them want to stick around. This is a three-step process: attracting prospects, properly informing them, engaging with them. That is what marketing should be all about. Attract, inform, engage; not attract, mislead, compel.

If you are well positioned, attraction is much easier. Imagine three hot-dog vendors at a baseball game. Two wander up and down the stands, shouting, “Hot dogs! Get your delicious hot dogs here!” Their success is going to come down to luck—who happens to be closest to the right people. But the third vendor sticks to the low seats. He’s shouting, too, except he’s got different dogs to sell: “Low-fat hot dogs! Eat two for the fat of one!” Now who do you think will have an easier time selling hot dogs? The more specific your audience is, the easier it is to attract them.

If you can attract a specific audience, informing is easy, too. You already know something about them and what they need. If you have a worthy solution to that need, all you have to do is tell them about it. That’s where the teaching comes in: Start generally—Introduction to Your Problem, then Our Solution 101—and be prepared to give them more detail as they need it. Incrementally informing, by the way, will also take care of engagement. Give them some, they’ll want more. Ask any engaged student sitting in Advanced Trigonometry 3 why they are there and you’ll likely hear many similar answers, all having to do with being attracted and informed by someone special back in their beginner days.

Know Your Role

If you make things, it’s difficult to avoid marketing. But if you can do it the good way—attracting, informing, and engaging—to serve that good thing you do, then that thing we’ve wanted to avoid no longer looks so bad. And even then, “marketer” is just one of many roles that people who make things play in some capacity. But it’s a role that should always be subservient to your primary one: making and doing good things. To keep that role connected to the good things we do, I’ve used teaching as a metaphor.

I know it’s abstract, but if there is one single characteristic of good teachers that could stand to make everything we do—as well as how we market it—better, it’s caring. Good teachers care. They care about the material. They care about how they teach it. They care about their students. If we care too—about what we do, how we do it, and who we do it for—then we’ll be OK.

Resisting the Dark Side

That’s the setup, anyway. But caring is hard. Caring requires a commitment to resisting the very things that currently seem to drive the culture of marketing—things like haste, deception, and even your own ego.

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Slow Down

Slow down, please. Not everything needs to be right now. One thing I like to say that usually riles people up is that there are no marketing emergencies. Really. If there are, it’s because somebody screwed up or somebody’s expectations are out of whack.

But that doesn’t change the fact that other people feel differently. Open your email account and watch it fill before your eyes. Open Twitter and watch the nonstop flow of information push down your timeline. It’s incredible how rapid-fire online culture has become, and naturally, how marketing has followed suit. As marketing has become so predominantly digital, speed has become a defining characteristic of the experience. But when your blood pressure rises and you feel the anxiety of falling behind—that you should be blogging more, tweeting more, posting more on Facebook, Pinterest, and the like—ask yourself this: How good can it be if you’re producing so much of it so often?

Honesty

Honesty is the enemy of traditional marketing. It’s sad but true. It’s not because honesty isn’t possible in marketing, but that if companies were completely honest about their products and services—about how they’re made, what they do, their flaws, their shelf life, etc.—fewer people would buy them. That’s why creating illusions is so essential to marketing. But it only takes a tiny crack in the surface to destroy an illusion. As a colleague pointed out to me recently, a supermodel only has to stumble once before the illusions so central to fashion fall away and you are left with just people wearing clothes. If the quality is there, there is nothing to hide.

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That’s the big-picture, but I think most honesty-erosion tends to happen on a smaller scale, where the line between truth and fiction can be pretty blurry. There’s a general impulse toward bending that line intentionally, one often motivated by our desire to bring attention to something we believe deserves it. Whether it’s a product, a service, or even a cause, we might be willing to “sex up the story4” if doing so means bringing greater awareness to it.

This isn’t just a marketing problem, by the way. We do it when we believe the attention garnered by a thing or an idea or an injustice isn’t as big as it should be. Listen to the retraction5 issued by This American Life of Mike Daisy’s account of working conditions in Apple’s factories in China. Pay attention to how uncomfortable you feel. That discomfort is a measure of the distance between truth and fiction.

For the first year after graduating from college, I did freelance design work. I registered a business, created business cards, set up a website, the works. I wasn’t alone, either. Several classmates did the same thing, and we would often compare notes and even help each other get work from time to time. We learned all kinds of things by trial and error back then, but the one thing that left the greatest impression upon me had to do with how honest we were in describing ourselves. Every one of us made heavy use of the word “we” on our websites—though “we” was almost always just one person working from a room in a shared apartment—because we feared we wouldn’t be hired if it was clear that “we” was really “I,” a freelancer flying solo.

We believed that no matter how good our work was, we’d be ignored as individuals. So we created an illusion that we thought looked strong. “I” was just a kid on my laptop at a desk in his bedroom; “We” was a company, confident, experienced, secure. But that, of course, wasn’t true. I learned that there was no point in trying to convince potential clients of something other than that which would quickly become clear to them if they hired me. So, a simple rule: If you’re one person, never refer to yourself as “we.” That’s the kind of small-scale honesty we need to take seriously.

In, but not of

But let’s be realistic. Even if you change, you can’t expect everyone else to change too. It’s certainly possible that if enough people embrace a new way of doing things, the culture might shift overall, but that is unlikely to happen overnight.

The culture of online marketing is unhealthy—the lack of criticism of it is pretty astonishing to me—but the real tragedy is watching the forces of self preservation turn good people with good intentions into obnoxious, self-aggrandizing loudmouths that collect into BS echo chambers. Sometimes what you see accepted or celebrated around you is exactly what you shouldn’t do. I liked how Oliver Reichenstein put it in a post-SXSW tweet6:

“Studied the SXSW talks to find out what not do as a speaker: 1. Don’t think you’re cool 2. Don’t preach 3. Don’t sell. 4. No false modesty.”

Why do we feel that the only way to survive is to do things like everyone else does? There’s no good reason for it. In fact, we’re all waiting for someone to pave the way for us by having the courage we don’t have, the courage to do something different. Why can’t you be one of those people? When it comes to doing the right thing, don’t wait for someone else’s courage to stand in for your own.

Ground control to _____

Remember those clumsy supermodels? They do us a favor when they stumble. They bring us back down to Earth, where we’re all just people wearing clothes. No matter how important we think we are, or how important we think the things we make or do are, we could all stand to stumble down the runway every once in a while. Especially when it comes to marketing.

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A great example of this came in the recent blow-up over “Homeless Hotspots,” a campaign created by BBH7 (a marketing firm) that turned the homeless of Austin into roaming internet access points available to the throngs attending the South by Southwest conference. Needless to say, it was controversial. Plenty has been said about it—both in support and in criticism—but amidst the noise, one comment written by Thomas Wendt8 resonated most for me:

“In the end, everyone is full of shit—supporters and detractors—and it’s all a result of spectacle and denial. The entire system creates such dissonance that we lash out against it. We’re unable to reconcile the differences between image and the real, altruism and self-interest, trust and deception. So we gravitate toward poles: BBH is a charitable company or BBH is a lying capitalist institution. Of course, the truth in somewhere in between, but denial and self-deception keeps us from admitting it.”

Wendt’s post was titled, Staring Down the Spectacle, which really gets at the point: It is the culture—and the spectacle it creates—that is your adversary, not any specific action per se, nor any other person. Yet culture has a profound power to shape each of us, so just as much as we should scrutinize what we observe around us, we should bring equal scrutiny to what we observe within ourselves. When it comes to marketing, the most meaningful question I can ask at any point is, just how full of shit am I?

Guilty as Charged

I wrote this as an act of resistance, as a way of keeping myself from disappearing into the “dark side,” not as a prophet condemning from atop a mountain. I see myself struggling to maintain the integrity of an educational marketing model and I often don’t like what I see. But, I’ve also discovered that we must intentionally learn from examples—both good and bad ones. The bad ones are easy to study. We’re all close enough to them to do it. We’re among them. We may even be one of them. The question is whether we’re willing to do something about it.

(il)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/how-to-be-one-of-the-good-guys/254557/
  2. 2 http://motherjones.com/print/161491
  3. 3 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/20/new-blue-collar-temp-warehouses_n_1158490.html?view=print&comm_ref=false
  4. 4 http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/zunguzungu/the-jimmy-mcnulty-gambit/
  5. 5 http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/460/retraction
  6. 6 https://twitter.com/#!/ia/status/179273216508956672
  7. 7 http://www.bartleboglehegarty.com/
  8. 8 http://www.surroundingsignifiers.com/blog/staring-down-the-spectacle.html

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Christopher Butler is the Chief Operating Officer at Newfangled, a Web development firm specializing in agency partnerships. He has written articles on the the current and future state of the web for Print and HOW magazines, Newfangled.com, and is the author of The Strategic Web Designer. You can follow him on Twitter @chrbutler.

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  1. 1

    I really liked this article. I give Smashing magazine props recently for covering such a wide array of topics. Our world, especially the web world with its accelerating growth, needs some help and motive to not go to the dark side and I think articles like this are a step in the right direction!

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      Christopher Butler

      April 23, 2012 7:14 pm

      Thanks, Stephen!

      I’m with you — Vitaly and his team are raising the bar by pushing for better and better quality of material as well as expanding the scope of topics. I’m honored to be a part of that.

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    Avinash D'Souza

    April 23, 2012 5:42 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to put this down Christopher. Apart from the fact that it’s brilliantly articulated, the points you’ve made are extremely relevant in an age of digital noise. I’m currently trying to do the same thing with a product design. Extremely hard but building something of quality or something that you fully believe is quality is extremely satisfying.

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      Christopher Butler

      April 23, 2012 7:12 pm

      Thanks, Avinash!

      Quality is what it’s all about. The trouble is that our culture and markets move so quickly that it’s tempting to rush what we do in order to keep pace, even when we know that we need time to ensure quality.

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  3. 5

    “you’re teacher?”

    you mean “Your teacher wasn’t a marketer”

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    Michael Holcombe

    April 23, 2012 6:13 pm

    As one reintegrating myself into the freelance market, this article gave me some much needed perspective. In particular, I am now working on my “about” page. Reflecting on the copy I wrote for it last night, I am now rethinking how I present … “us” …e.g. myself.

    I think you did an excellent job of educational marketing with this piece, sir!

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  5. 9

    I like that part with teaching. Teaching can be done using all stuff that are around as and use in good will, like marketing, design and NLP (There are books about NLP for teachers), technics are never good or evil only use of them.

    Take for exaple the person that study commercial advertising like Nike (that hire people from 3rd world countries that works for cents per hour) or McDonalds (that create food that it’s bad for your health – check movie Super Size Me) or tabaco industry (which product kill people) and use thing that he learn to create posters like Konny 2012 or work for organizations that can change things like greenpeace or WWF.

    Or person that use Guerilla Marketing to make people think and try to change things and other person that use the same to sell more hamburgers.

    All those things are tools that can be use for good or evil, and remember that you always can choose which path you want to follow and you always can change sides, and be better person by using things you know in good way.

    You can learn to talk like Steve Jobs in class room and open young people minds, and inspire them to do good things make them more creative (check talk by John Cleese about creativity). Imagine what kind of teacher he could be or what if he talk about Global Warming instead of just another iShit that “his” company made to make more money. (Maybe apple create great products but it’s not the point, we talk about marketing here).

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      Christopher Butler

      April 24, 2012 1:23 pm

      I hear you.

      A childhood friend of mine ended up studying biological engineering at University. He was generally passionate about the sciences and, at that time, felt bio-engineering to be a decent avenue. After graduating, he took a job working for Philip Morris and found himself spending his days in a lab doing tests on animals, most of which, as you can imagine, did not survive them. He thought, “how on Earth did I end up here?” Eventually, he made a decision to leave, but not without learning a serious lesson: for every road you take, there are two lanes — one which can be taken with integrity and the other that is easier taken without it.

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  6. 11

    Thank you for saying “Slow down, please… there are no marketing emergencies.” and “Honesty is the enemy of traditional marketing.”

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    FABULOUS FABULOUS FABULOUS. This article is a breath of fresh air. So many of your points leapt out at me; I’m especially fond of this gem:

    “just how full of shit am i?”

    So often I feel somehow obliged to be a fountain of crap: I’m often tempted to call myself ‘re’ (funny story: my current, very old, about page says that ‘re are

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      Christopher Butler

      April 24, 2012 1:25 pm

      Thanks, Paul.

      If I could get through just one day without having to remind myself to stop being an idiot…

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  8. 15

    Great read.

    Your position from the point of view of marketing actually hints towards society problems on a much bigger scale.
    It’s always a relief to hear from people who aren’t content with the junk we’re given and who show you alternatives with honesty.

    The bottom line of this article is “integrity”, something that seems to be long gone for the most of us.

    Keep on writing ;)

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      Christopher Butler

      April 24, 2012 1:26 pm

      Matthieu,

      Agreed! As you were leaving this comment, I replied to jcubic (above) with a very similar point about integrity. We must have been having some sort of web-induced mind-meld ;-)

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  9. 17

    Outstanding! That’s the kind of input you need every now and then to reconsider what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

    For me, the idea of caring is great here. It really is what makes a teacher special and “successful” (if success is being authentic and doing your job great), but it really makes anyone else just as special: even if you’re not a freelancer or an art director or sales manager, even if you just play a tiny part in any business, that rule applies and makes you “successful”, i.e. a better person in what you’re doing.

    To sum it up: It’s a great “business therapy” and helping a lot, thanks! :)

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      Christopher Butler

      April 24, 2012 7:39 pm

      Agreed.

      I like what you point out that in order to be special (like that teacher), you have to believe that others are special. Not to be overly touchy/feely about it, but that is the truth.

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  10. 19

    Hey Christopher, Thanks a lot for writting such a wonderful article! Really well articulated, had my attention and interest 100%! Keep the good work flowing!

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  11. 21

    Thanks Christopher, excellent article. I’m a Software Engineer and I can’t think of any other resources I look forward to reading more than Smashing Magazine! – Thanks again, great read.

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      Christopher Butler

      April 24, 2012 10:59 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it, Dennis!

      I’m with you — Smashing continues to push for a higher standard when it comes to articles about design, development, and the web. That’s why I’m glad to throw my two-cents in here every now and then ;-)

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  12. 23

    I’m surprised to find such articles in SM…. need to check it out more often.

    “…we’re all waiting for someone to pave the way for us by having the courage we don’t have, the courage to do something different….”
    love this one.

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      Christopher Butler

      April 27, 2012 2:04 pm

      There’s plenty of good stuff to be found here, that’s for sure.

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

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  13. 25

    Christopher, thank you. This article is inspiring. It inspires me to have faith in the products I market. I wonder how fearless I’d have to be to be truly honest in my marketing? I wonder how different that would make the products from the rest of the competition?

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      Christopher Butler

      April 27, 2012 2:09 pm

      So glad to hear that!

      I think if we were all willing to challenge the status quo — especially as that pertains to our own, individual choices and whether they correspond to our values — a bit more often, things on the whole would be better for everyone.

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  14. 27

    Christopher,

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. You have put into words what I have been feeling about marketing, in particular the noise of social media. It seems that when any of my clients hear that they need to be on social media, the message is always the same: shout louder and more often, and maybe you’ll get heard. I sometimes have a hard time helping them see otherwise.

    I am tired of the noise and tired of the shouting. It does seem to lack integrity (as some other commenters have mentioned). I have been using the word authenticity lately, and I know that I need to come back to center–my authentic self–every so often, and it’s important to do it in business as well.

    As a former public school teacher as well, I value a teaching approach too, and I find my greatest successes with clients come from teachable moments. I thank you for pointing that out. It is this engagement that makes the difference.

    You’ve really hit the nail on the head with this article, and I thank you for writing and sharing it.

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      Christopher Butler

      April 27, 2012 2:14 pm

      Adam,

      I’m really glad to hear that this piece spoke to you! I’ve often felt that one of the best things that could happen to our culture would be an overall increase in the value of educators. It’s one thing to value education, whether in terms of a philosophy or even just an outcome, but it’s another to value the people we expect to provide it. As a former teacher, I’m sure you’ve got an opinion about that. But if we truly valued educators, we would treat them differently — have different expectations for their methods and results, pay them more, etc. We would also all aspire to emulate what they do, and feel a responsibility to operate at some level as an educator in what we do.

      Thanks for commenting, and pass it on!

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  15. 29

    [Sigh] As someone who has been in marketing for 20 years (and has taught advertising on the side for 10), there seems to be a regular wish among practitioners to redefine, realign and somehow reshape what marketing “is” or “means.” This often involves disparaging a vague, large swath of what most people would consider a reasonable, reliable, well documented part of doing business in the modern world.

    It’s not that what you’re saying isn’t often true… it’s just not actionable in most cases. To use your analogy: The best educators don’t/can’t educate on a one-to-many basis, and that’s how lots of marketing has to happen. Also, the idea that education teaches a single, irreducible “truth” that will be as useful to every single student isn’t accurate. A truly great education combines ideas and methods from a variety of sources, some of which will not be entirely congruent. On the other hand, as a marketer I have a responsibility to sell my company/client’s product: not provide a holistic view of every possible choice and combination of choices in a sphere of the economy. To be somewhat flip about it: selling Coke means, to some degree, selling the belief that Coke is better in some circumstances. Not selling an education on hydration and refreshment.

    And, let us not forget, that the marketing often provides a benefit above-and-beyond the physical, measurable attributes of a product. Good marketing gives people a feeling of having made a good decision; it reminds them of their own role in a story; it comforts; it advocates; it reinforces. If it didn’t, nobody would pay $4 for coffee at Starbucks. We are participating in the entirety of a commercial experience — which very much includes the marketing — not just exchanging money for a specific good.

    Yes: selling with lies is bad. Selling a product without acknowledging major flaws or issues is bad. Trying to convince people to do something arguable immoral is bad. Selling something that is *only* about the marketing is bad. But what all these essentially boil down to is this: bad marketing is bad.

    But the “traditional” ways of measuring results, understanding an audience, developing brand and promotional advertising, deploying products in a market, providing an attractive and interesting purchase experience — you know… marketing — still works really, really well for thousands of companies.

    Saying that “honesty is the enemy of traditional marketing” is just a gadfly comment. Most terrific advertising from history is deeply honest. The best TV ad ever, the Apple Mac “1984″ spot, was science fiction. It was a story. And one might say, “a lie.” But it was selling a feeling. An honest feeling. The feeling that, yeah… I could do some cool stuff with a computer that’s more friendly.

    There’s a place for doing things differently, sure. As a marketer and educator, I do see the comparison as being somewhat helpful. But poking at “traditional marketing” like this is, I think, a straw man sort of argument for the most part. We’ve got 100+ years of evidence that good marketing works. Even when — especially when — it’s honest.

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    Christopher Butler

    April 27, 2012 11:15 pm

    Andy,

    To be clear, I’m not trying to redefine marketing (nor really even define it at all). What I’m trying to do is define a certain conduct within marketing.

    You’re right that the more students, the more difficult the teaching job. But it’s not always a matter of difficulty. There are types of education that scale well depending upon all sorts of contexts. For example, some teachers are driven relationally, and tend to do well with smaller courses over longer periods of time. Other teachers are driven more by content, and therefore tend to do fine with larger groups (e.g. University lecturers) and shorter periods of time (semesters or less). But anyway, my analogy wasn’t so much about how education gets done, but more about why — hence the quality and caring stuff. However, you bring up another point that I agree with completely — most of what I had to say fits much more naturally with the marketing of services than it does with consumer brands. I think Chris Brogan posted something a few years back about how nobody is interested in reading a blog about hamburgers or candy, no matter how dedicated they might be to a particular hamburger chain or candy brand.

    On my “honesty is the enemy of traditional marketing” comment — I hear you, it’s a blanket statement, and may be somewhat irresponsible. But I’m going to stand by it because what I’m talking about here is that traditional marketing has been about compelling consumer decisions. Yes, it works — in some cases, as you say, really really well — but I’m not as interested in whether marketing works (as measured by sales) as I am in whether culture is moving in a direction that will not only allow for a different approach, but demand it. (This is a hope of mine, but I must admit to a certain cynicism that assumes this won’t happen.)

    This wasn’t meant to be a how-to-do-marketing piece. This was meant to be more of a how-to-be-a-marketer-(in the most general sense)-with-integrity piece. That’s not so much about indicting “traditional” marketing as it is about provoking a question: “Am I doing this in a way that corresponds to my values or not?”

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I actually expected far more that, like yours, challenged my point of view much more directly.

    - Chris

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    Chris — thanks for the friendly and thorough reply. I don’t disagree with a lot that you’re saying; it’s just that I’ve had some experience with folks who want to substitute one kind of marketing for another because one “feels” better. I’ve been involved in both very local, personal, hands-on marketing programs and in large-scale retail advertising. As you say about teachers… different tactics work for different reasons. And I still don’t buy that traditional marketing (read: one-to-many advertising, merchandising, PR, sales support, etc.) always counts as trying to “compel consumer decisions.”

    Sometimes Old Media (OM) does do that, and sometimes OM is evil. A look at some of the mid 20th century Listerine and cigarette advertising can get you to that conclusion pretty quickly. But plenty of OM is fun, funny and engaging. It seeks to create a feeling and/or a story around a product that consumers can enjoy as part of the purchase/use process. It is, essentially, adding meta-product qualities to the economic equation.

    On the other hand, it is just as possible to have evil, high-touch, personal, social marketing. We’ve all known people who use unscrupulous emotional tactics at work or in sales situations. There are people who use guilt or fear or strong-arm tactics in very up-close-and-personal ways that can be very hurtful.

    I think it’s the same thing with OM. It can teach, it can amuse, it can inspire. Or it can browbeat, scare and confuse. Just as with personal interactions, sometimes those can be successful… for awhile. I do agree with you that moral, transparent and honest behavior is better in every case. But that’s kind of like saying, “Being good is good.” It’s kind of a truism.

    We’ve got lots more options for customer communications these days, which is great. And many of the new options will have a better fit and have more opportunities for good relationships. But in many cases, these don’t supersede the Olde Ways. They enhance them.

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      Christopher Butler

      April 30, 2012 4:24 pm

      Andy,

      You’re absolutely right that traditional marketing (as you defined it: one-to-many advertising, merchandising, PR, sales support, etc.) doesn’t have to veer into that over-promising and under-delivering kind of compel strategy. Sometimes all a company has to do is let people know that their product or service exists and/or how it works and that’s enough. What’s even better is when that product or service is, in and of itself, good.

      To me, that is the subtext of this entire conversation: there is the marketing, and then there is the thing that is being marketed. Sometimes, the thing is good but the marketing is evil. Sometimes the thing is bad and the marketing is so light as to feel OK, but, if the thing is bad, can the marketing really ever be OK? The trouble with this line of thought is that it necessarily gets wrapped up in moralizing. To ask if a product or service is good provokes that. To answer the question is even more tricky. What do I mean by good? Is it enough for a product to be well-made, or well-delivered? Here are just a few examples that encapsulate these issues pretty well (in my opinion):

      - Fast food — of just about any kind. It is neither well-made or honestly marketed. A purely visual evidence of this is here, but it can also be reasoned by anyone who hasn’t seen the advertising. Can mass-produced (mostly) fried food offered at such low cost possibly be healthy? The only way for the marketing to be genuine would be for it to carry messages like, “Look, this stuff isn’t good for you. It’s barely even food. But yeah, sometimes it tastes pretty good.”

      - Plastic products — of just about any kind. They’re toxic to produce, to use, and to dispose of. Yet they’re marketed as conveniences and even sometimes as environmental protectors (buy this one water bottle, use it instead of throwaway water bottles… that is, until it the next pretty one comes out).

      - Electronics — The marketing around gadgets tends toward a focus on convenience, connectivity, fun, etc. But it’s guaranteed to not include the truth about planned obsolescence (buy one now, buy the next one two years from now), the economic reality of the supply chain required to produce it, or the environmental toll of creating and consuming these devices at the rate we do. I’m personally pretty disturbed by how many mobile phones I’ve owned in the last 10 years or so (5), but I know many people who think that’s a very low number.

      Anyway, I realize these issues are fraught with difficulty, and obviously begin to push the boundaries of the marketing conversation, but they’re so foundational that not “going there” seems wrong to me, too.

      Thanks for sparking a good conversation. I’m definitely open to sorting through all of this messy stuff with anyone, so keep it comin’.

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    Ilias Chelidonis

    April 30, 2012 5:52 am

    Easy to say but very hard to do, nevertheless, this is the future of marketing, teaching people so they can trust that you can add value to their life. Great tips!

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    Ebo van der Broek

    May 4, 2012 4:08 pm

    Nice article, interesting reading!
    Liked the part on the culture being the adversary. Made me think “Marketing is also Change Management”

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    I’m starting my career at the moment. Still studying but gonna graduate in June. I’ve registered a small side-business for my own but still don’t have a personal website or business-card. I feel kind of lost about the way I’m presenting myself. It’s quite hard to admit being alone.
    Here in Germany it is always better to be a team-player. Thanks for giving me the reminder about honesty. In the end, I can’t lie to customers or myself. I have to inform people about my strength and why I’m working freelance. There are quite some advantages.

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      Just a quick note to you about starting off on your own-do not be afraid to refer to yourself as a business owner, the prime mover of your business-you can of course also refer to your ‘team’ because no doubt you will be using other freelancers to :
      *Build your website
      *Set up SEO
      *Do Graphics
      *Admin assistants from Pakistan/Philippines…or wherever
      And so-forth-very few solo businesses do absolutely everything themselves, so you are being quite honest when you refer to your Team. Best of luck to you, you are on a good road!

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    Yeah… now we’re discussing what’s good/bad. And I think we can all agree that good things are good, and bad things are bad.

    Problem is… sometimes bad things are necessary to get to good things. We might not like a lot of the side effects of modern industry (pollution, consumerism, etc.), but you also get neat stuff like the world’s first truly huge middle class, excess productivity and wealth (in the form of extra food, time, energy) that then flows into research and the arts, and the ability to accomplish national and global tasks (the Web). You can argue (and I won’t disagree) that many of the products of the Industrial Age were, each on its own, crap. And that they were worse for the environment than doing it by hand. But the aggregate value of a worldwide Industrial Age has meant a couple very important things for us (people) as a species: longer lifespans and fewer dead babies.

    I think we’re at the point now where we can think much more broadly about the effects of individual products, supply chains, etc. To do so, though, without an understanding of how the entire economy responds to change is like saying “it’s healthier to be a vegetarian” to someone who only has access to cows and grass. We can’t eat grass, so it’s steak and shakes for us.

    Not arguing in favor of doing bad things. But I also think a lot of “good things” won’t get done unless we look at them through a pretty broad lens of the entire ecosystem.

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    Christopher Butler

    June 28, 2012 4:43 pm

    Andy,

    Good point, and I’m in agreement with you. Sorry I’m just now responding…

    Thanks again for a good conversation around this stuff.

    - Chris

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    I was actually ‘blown away’ by your article – to use a bad marketing expression – Mainly because this is almost precisely the thoughts I have been having about the state of online marketing. The one aspect of Internet marketing that works against itself is exactly this ‘Sprukier’ style that has become normalized. The glamorous seminars costing big bucks to attend -the millions of dollars being raked in by ‘Genius Marketers’. I am often refreshed by the U.K online marketers, these people have evolved a quite unique approach; the best of them manage to convey honesty, gritty home truth-based narratives and realistic marketing objectives. I could mention names, but it is not the point. Scarcity, fear-based marketing seems to have taken hold, and of course hyperbole. I sincerely believe we can promote the education-based marketing approach, and I think audiences really do respond best to this. Bravo to you for raising this, and I salute your intentions; I also plan to follow this genuine, authentic brand of marketing myself as much as possible-Cheers!

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