I hated marketing as a kid. Now I’m a marketing strategist.
I remember seeing commercials for Doritos and Mountain Dew in the 90’s. They got me so pumped up with all their intense images and cool people.
But when I would eat Doritos and drink Mountain Dew, I felt like crap. I didn’t really like the products. I felt betrayed. I was disappointed in my susceptibility to TV commercials.
My mentality became narrower as I got older. I realized how much money was spent on marketing, and I realized that I, the consumer, was paying for it in the end price.
So I felt like marketing was deceptive and expensive. To make this worse, I started doing copy writing for a marketing department after college, only to find out that the company committed fraudulent practices.
It was actually the military that changed my mentality on marketing. Let me tell you how.
I enlisted in 2009 and started Psychological Operations training in 2011. I wanted to influence people for the better and use what writing and communication skills I could for good rather than marketing.
Ironically, the training was based largely on marketing principles. However, we were trained in ideal values to strive for in our messaging, marketing or otherwise:
- Always start by confirming the objective your marketing will serve.
- Tell the truth because you’ll eventually be held accountable.
- Publish your message in a way the audience will enjoy.
A big part of the reason for teaching the first two points was because of the military setting. Psychological Operations as a field is under constant scrutiny by journalists, lawmakers, and commanders, so it’s vital for teams to always support a mission and to be honest. They can’t afford to do otherwise.
The third point exists because it’s the only way to create lasting effectiveness. Psychological Operations doesn’t have the luxury of choosing what “product” it sells, and often the product is selling global politics to foreign locals. Teams can only choose the content for promoting it and the method of delivery. That means, logically, that the marketing better be really darn good.
Coca-Cola sells units even when the marketing stinks because it’s already popular, ubiquitous, cheap, delicious, and addictive. Coke marketing can fail at the content and delivery of the message and still have a record-breaking quarter.
The military was special because marketing played by a harder set of rules there. But after I returned to the civilian sector, I realized that these three cardinal rules fixed a lot of the challenges I had in marketing prior to the military.
Always start by confirming the objective your marketing will serve.
If you start with the objective of what you’re going to serve, you’ll do a better job at making your boss or client happy. You can prove that marketing helped because you can measure good goals.
However, this point runs even deeper. If you have the freedom, always seek out products and services to market that you really believe in. If you’re indifferent about what the marketing is selling, then another objective to serve is the culture, people, and structure of the company. You might be selling screws, but the company really takes care of its people, and you can get behind that.
Not only will this make you happier, but it will help defeat one of the issues I had with marketing: deception. If the product is good, you can justify saying the good things you’re expected to say about it. This even makes marketing a noble cause: Good marketers have an obligation to help good companies thrive and be found by the good people who need their good products. Marketing serves a real need to lift up the best in a noisy marketplace.
And I get it. Sometimes you just work for a crappy company and you can’t leave. Just make sure that, when you can, even in that crappy company, you keep your objective in sight for you marketing.
Tell the truth because you’ll eventually be held accountable.
One great way of explaining this was The Continuum of Influence.
All that means, in a nutshell, is that the more coercion or trickery you have to use to change someone’s mind, the more you jeopardize the relationship. Your audience is more likely to break the relationship altogether at some point, or at least cast doubt on your message after the illusion wears off.
On the other hand, this reduces deception and inefficiency. The more truth you have in your message, the less time is wasted delivering lies. So while lies or distractions may move units of your product in the short term, it’s inefficient for everyone in the long term.
Publish your message in a way the audience will enjoy.
This is the fun one.
If you focus on your audience’s experience, you can be clearer with your message (more honest) because less will be lost in translation. You’ll also be more efficient. You’ll also be way more likely to just sell your product, which will probably make you happier at your job or get you a raise.
But you’ll also get to make marketing that is intrinsically valuable. If your marketing is crafted specially for your audience, the design, writing, acting, production, whatever, can have a unique art or worth to it. Consuming your marketing will be enjoyable or educational for the audience even if they are not moved to consume your product.
You don’t have to join the Army to apply these marketing principles, although I suppose you could if you have five extra years of life just lying around. I hope that, by reading this, you find a way to apply what I’ve learned to your own journey. Good luck.