There I was. Sitting in a client’s office thinking, “Oh man. This is never going to work.”
But I (and we) did it anyway. We let a client pay us to pretend we were them, market to their tiny audience of next to nil and promote something that very few people cared about. Ugh. But we did it, anyway. And not just once. We did it over and over again.
It was my very first marketing job, and I phoned a slightly elder and more experienced friend after one of many really bad days. I’ll never forget what she said to me. “When we work, sometimes we learn what we want to do. But it’s just as important to learn what we never ever want to do in our career ever again.”
As a marketer, I’ve messed up. A lot.
I’ve botched campaigns and missed targets. I’ve screwed up launches and said yes to really bad ideas. Once, I even climbed into a mailbox to rescue a stack of mailers after realizing (almost too late) that they had a major mistake on them.
The truth is that every marketer has horror stories.
If you’re a marketer, here’s where you likely failed.
1. You got all lovey dovey over your numbers.
If you’ve ever interviewed a marketer trying to land a job, he or she will tell you all about their passion for metrics. How they measure page views, page rank and unique visitors until their eyes are crossed. For many marketers, metrics appear to be the holy grail of this field in which art and communication can (to a point) be measured.
However, if you become obsessed with metrics, you may have a tendency to forget about the people that make up those metrics. Even though you studied social media and connectivity, the numbers sometimes make you totally forget how to engage people and make others (the ones that are already visiting your place in the universe) care about your business just a little bit more.
So rather than engaging people that are already coming and treating them like the humans they actually are, you got yourself into a numeric trap where you suddenly wanted to do just about anything to capture percentages and grow numbers.
As a marketer, there is nothing you can do to extinguish an audience quicker than treat them like a number and fail to dedicate serious time engaging with them. As Chris Guillebeau recommends, follow the philosophy of dividing your time equally between creating (or marketing) and connecting with readers and visitors.
2. You totally forgot who you were talking to.
If you’ve ever worked at a software company or marketed one as part of your job, you’ll definitely be able to relate to me here. It’s true that this marketing fault spans beyond just techno-babblers, but for some reason software companies are the biggest offenders.
Many marketers enjoy throwing around the words “target market” like Willy Wonka doles out candy on Halloween. But then, in all the marketing, you totally forget to talk in terms that the people reading / watching / listening can understand.
It’s not intentional. It just sort of happens.
Software companies are the worst at this. Most cannot, simply cannot, bring the thing they offer down to a level by which the people they so desperately want as customers can understand.
To combat this after many years of doing it the wrong way, I finally grabbed a pen and sticky note and wrote the name of my own ideal customer and stuck it to the edge of my monitor. Now I know that whenever I’m writing anything, I’m writing it to Steve. And if I catch myself writing something that I’m not sure Steve will get, I back up and rework it until, again, I’m writing it to Steve in a way I’m certain he’ll understand.
3. You did some marketing that made you feel good.
Fixing marketing that isn’t working is fabulous. It’s the trial and error part of the job that is essential for every single marketer.
But you aren’t a true marketer if you’ve never done anything in your career because it just felt good. Perhaps it was redesigning a website because you just got bored of it or advertising in a fancy place somewhere. Somewhere along the lines you spent money or effort to do marketing that you thought looked (and felt) good.
I’m sure, just like me, you realize how dumb that is. That marketing for the sake of making us feel good (unless it’s for a true charity, of course) isn’t worth while.
4. You told a designer to make a logo bigger.
When you get a marketing degree or take a marketing job, you’re required to sign a paper that says you’ll piss off a designer. I know you signed that puppy.
At one point in your marketing career, you thought white space was the devil and that all logos, website addresses and phone numbers had to be “a font size or two bigger.”
Now that we’re in a day and age of content meaning much more than flashy ad campaigns, subtlety, honesty and coolness are the only appropriate factors to consider. By now you know that larger, shinier and louder isn’t what scores big wins anymore. Gut wrenching honesty and “hey, it’s here if you want it, but if not that’s totally cool” rules the marketing world today.
5. You thought an MBA would be meaningful.
When the pace of change in the world of marketing took years to happen, undergraduate and graduate level classes could keep up. Now, academic curriculums are having a difficult time keeping up with the pace of tweets, social platform launches and new means of communication.
Today’s marketing challenges everything that academia once knew as relevant and meaningful. The four P’s and SWOT analyses just aren’t what you sit in your office thinking about anymore.
Now, your street cred and connections mean more than any term paper, product launch study or class presentation ever could.
6. And lastly, you thought marketing was sexy.
When you first realized you wanted to be a marketer, you pictured yourself schmoozing clients over alcoholic drinks and getting to glance through Fortune Magazine to see all the amazing ad campaigns you worked on.
Now, you’re in an age where the playing field is leveled, a social platform is your form of a cocktail party and marketers that don’t know much about marketing at all are the ones placing the flashy ads.
You did some dumb stuff, but that’s cool.
I did, too.
You probably think that this current time period we’re living in is just as exciting, if not more exciting, than you ever envisioned possible. Your business idol is just a mere tweet away from becoming a connection of yours. Your target market consists of people that love you for who you are (finally). And your marketing just got much more challenging, exciting and exhilarating, practically overnight.
When you learn from your past mistakes, laugh a little as you recall your own silly antics and grow into a more meaningful marketer, marketing suddenly shifts from being something you do to simply being who you are.
Angela Pointon is a marketer and motivational educator for the creative community at Steel Toe Images. She authored two books (focused on marketing for photographers) and most recently shared a business planning template for photographers at a name-your-price rate. Get more from her on Twitter.