The existential marketing crisis: What does it all mean?

There’s a curse I believe that comes with trying to do your own thing. As you stick your bum in the wind and try and cut your way through the clutter as you freelance or bring your startup to life, things change. You turn your back on having a regular wage, on all the safety nets of life like regular hours and an office to go to, and you really have to pull upon everything you have.

You have to believe in yourself like no one else really has to.  And at some point (or during quite a few points), your faith in your ambitions will leave you. You’ll start to realise just how much darkness and emptiness stares back at what you do.

I call this the existential marketing crisis

Perhaps because I dined upon the plays of Samuel Beckett and began my adult life working in theatre and studying philosophy, I have been well aware for some time that humans do a lot of things to tell their own story.

But why do we do this? And who is listening?

The reality is a lot of the time, no one is listening, or they are only listening fleetingly. Yet we have this innate desire to create things. We want to produce campaigns, launch businesses, create works, and nurture careers. We’re attached to ideas like having a home of our own or creating a beautiful living space. We grapple with the knowledge that if we shut off all these desires to create, that if we listened to that deep inner voice in our head, we’d realise we only exist for a blink of an eye.

It’s this desire to leave something (anything) behind that drives ambition.

Many of us will simply be names scribed in a family tree with a one liner story. Many of us will not change the world. We won’t revolutionise the way something is done. We won’t solve world hunger. We’ll be lucky if we leave more than debt and a whisper.

And I think this quiet knowledge drives some of us to up the ante and be the next Steve Job, Seth Godin or everybody’s latest cult of personality branding exercise, Russell Brand.

It’s a hard cross to bear.

Most of marketing will encourage this crisis

I try to avoid the whole “my version of social media is better than your version of social media” see-saw wherever possible. The reality of the situation is that marketing only works when marketing works, and it doesn’t come fluffed up and plump from some magic book in the sky.

In fact, I am more inclined to say the more you don’t follow what everyone else does, the more successful you are likely to be. Have a baseline of understanding, sure. Then go off and break some rules. Make the whole marketing experience your own.

Hack the hell out of it.

Be the Pied Piper, not his mice.

Being original is going to get you a lot more followers than doing what everybody else does.

As soon as a concept becomes widely accepted in dialogue, it’ll lose the appeal with the audience. It’s not new or innovative, it’s just what happens when people market.

Yawn, freaking, yawn.

Industry people who run around telling everyone that their marketing ideas are dumb and that theirs are far more superior are missing a very vital part of the equation.

If we all do the same thing and all follow the leader, nobody’s marketing is going to work.

And guess what? I’d estimate 70% or more of what we try to market ourselves and our products won’t stick. More if you decide that “pin the tail on the tired concept” is your favourite game to play.

Doing the same thing all the time is for marketers who don’t understand a client’s budget beyond what it means for their Christmas bonus.

Freelancers, startups, small businesses, micro businesses and the rest simply don’t have that luxury.

The problem is good marketers need to follow the rules and break them at the same time

It’s like putting on your trousers while you’re doing a handstand. You are trying to do what people expect and go to the channels customers look to for information and ideas on what to buy, yet in a way they haven’t seen before. But not in such a way as to seem abrasive, and not outside the lines we expect for marketing to work in.

There’s this fine balance between memorable and try hard- and it’s freaking hard to get right!

The issues don’t end there.

Talking to thin air

Being able to broadcast to people is great- but getting them to become customers is an entirely different thing. And again, you have to balance all those wonderful needs against whether the marketing stands out. Even then, it may be the campaign, not the product that ends up hitting the mark.

And you can measure, scrutinise, test, learn and plan as much as you want- but that doesn’t mean any of it is going to work.

All you can do is have faith in what you do, keep working and reworking the things you do, and hope that someone doesn’t come down with a sword to slice your marketing head off when the budget no longer justifies such indulgent experimentation.

Is marketing useless?

Marketing in itself isn’t useless, but useless marketing is. But how do you know what useless really is?

You have to be places so that customers can notice you.

You do need to keep in mind that your marketing will need to be in a few places before it will actually work on anyone. As customers, we like to see products 5 or 6 times before we choose to engage.

Most consumers will self research, dig into your product and test you. So you need to give them enough to be able to do that, too.

Nor are people always in buying mode. Your product could fall anywhere between now, soon and later in terms of when a customer might choose to even engage with you- and you need to be brave enough to speak to that.

Hell, you have to be smart enough to know when shouting “buy now!” will have customers run screaming from your product while being intuitive enough to give them a little persuasion if they aren’t entirely sure.

The message needs to be clear, relevant and timely to the consumer. Often on the same website, social media channel and/or marketing collateral without alienating, pandering or seemingly like a cheesy sales person.

And even if you do your absolute best, mix up the most wonderful batch of marketing campaigns ever, everything from natural disasters through to political changes or one sarcastic person going rogue on Twitter can completely demolish your hard work quicker than you can say “that’s my entire budget, wasted.”

It’d be easier convincing a turtle to swallow a sword.

But it isn’t impossible and it certainly isn’t all bad.

Marketing is absurd, but so is life

I could give you advice about tracking your reporting and looking at the measurements via Analytics.

But I know myself that the obsession we have with data forgets that we don’t know how to track sky writing, signage at the front of a shop, or really have any chance of measuring what is truly word of mouth or not.

Perhaps I could keep trotting out the same tired idea that by making noise, someone someday will listen. I could tell you if you have what people want, they will eventually find you, buy from you and become loyal right from the beginning.

However you only have to look at history to see how many poets, painters and products that never knew fame in their actual lifetime, only to be found later by the adoring masses to recognise false hope.

What I WILL quite confidently tell you is that if you don’t market your product, people won’t find you.

What you need to look at is what you require and the kinds of customers you have- and then match what kinds of marketing works.

You’ll only know it’s working or failing by doing the marketing in the first place.

Yes folks, the only way to beat the existential marketing crisis is by participating, testing and working out what works for you. Learn by doing, keep your ears open, and try different things.

And keeping at it until you understand your customers and your marketing well enough that they not just exist, but like each other too.

But above all else, be likeable. Be likeable to your customers- and because you have to live with your failures, your successes and (quite frankly) seeing your campaigns float around you until they make you a tad sick of them, make sure you like the marketing that you are doing, too.

Be proud to stand up and say “yes, that’s my social media” or “yes, that’s my guy in the chicken suit on the corner of Pitt and Liverpool” – or stop doing what you are doing and try marketing your idea a different way until you do.

So what are you waiting for? Haven’t you got some marketing to do?

If you need a hand, come and find me. 



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