Photo by Brad Montgomery via Flickr
Today I walked by a homeless lady on the street. She was leaning over a notebook, writing something. She had a shopping cart covered in plastic next to her. She was young like me and she was a writer like me.
How is it that we tolerate homelessness as a rampant social phenomenon? Basically, nobody has sold the masses on the idea that people living on the street is wrong.
This leads me to believe that the wrong people are in charge of marketing. We ought to be selling ideas that make people’s lives better. Not things they don’t need, don’t want, that just make them sicker and fatter and progressively more addicted to legal but unhealthy things.
I work for the government, where traditionally the words “let’s try some marketing techniques” go over just about as well as “let’s join a Satanic devil-worshiping ring and learn the techniques of occult magic.”
I can understand the resistance. Too often marketing is done by dirty people to make a dirty dollar. And so it provokes that sentiment.
But the truth is that marketing is an agnostic discipline. It’s communication aimed at selling things consistently and you can use it to sell anything. Anyone.
Marketing is also brilliant. There are eons of stories that teach us what to do and what is a waste of time. Without marketing you start from square one all the time, no matter how noble your cause.
I hate greed. I’m a peace-and-Woodstock kind of hippie at heart. But I understand survival and marketing is essential to that. To be effective you have to communicate so well that people would pay money in exchange for whatever it is you’re communicating about.
If you are effective you can answer the marketer’s questions: Is your audience aware? Interested? Loyal?
Above all, did you convert them into buyers?
Marketing can be a force for good. I like it because it keeps society democratic. If you believe that people have a mind over and above Madison Avenue manipulation, buying habits tell us what real people want – not the powerful elites.
If the masses could not vote with their wallets, how would they get past the hollering of the self-righteous?
The problem is that marketers are too often unfettered. That our goals are too narrowly materialistic. That left to our own devices, and our greed, we take shortcuts – manipulate the people, make inferior products, cheat.
If you count the number of possible scams and multiply it by the gullible you end up with infinity.
But if you can look past the real and potential abuses, marketing in the right hands is art and a science that promotes a free and robust society. We compete against one another to sell goods, services, causes, organizations, and yes, political candidates. We can sell ideas. We can take the world to a better place.
Marketing techniques are like a bow and arrow in the hand of an archer: They make us sharp, quick, useful.
“To everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven,” King Solomon said, and I love that song too.
Marketing is not a profession to apologize for. It’s a profession to elevate.
Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!