An invitation to slow down and connect
I have been doing a lot of reading this summer about the latest trends in the marketing industry. I have been working as a social media marketing strategist, manager and consultant since 2010 — managing social strategy and content for clients; running social media workshops for individual business owners and for larger organizations and groups, and helping clients to develop and launch social media campaigns. I worked for a media company until January 2015 when I left to start my own social media marketing business. Going independent has given me the flexibility to choose which clients I work with and the types of projects I support. Over the last six years I have worked with a diversity of clients. I have worked with award-winning small family businesses, national non-profits, culinary and tourism organizations, local governments and large corporations. Many of these clients hired me to manage their social media for them instead of training them or one of their employees to manage their social media themselves. As you can imagine, being the person managing the day to day posts; responding to customer complaints and questions, running ad campaigns and dealing with technical problems and glitches has taught me A LOT about what works, what doesn’t, how to develop a thriving consistent presence across a diversity of social platforms and what types of skills are essential in a successful social media marketing manager (this will be the topic of another blog post!).
The longer I work in the marketing industry the more deeply I reflect upon the values and culture that I am perpetuating and cultivating through the messages I am putting out into the world. There are a lot of books out there about the triggers that get people to make a purchase. They are useful tools because for the most part they accomplish the ultimate goal which is financial profit. The more profit I can help my clients to make the more in demand I am as a marketer. This may seem obvious. What is not as obvious is that there are underlying assumptions about human potential that are being affected by the types of messages I upload to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. I know, for example, that alarm is a social trigger. When utilized in the right way I can use my knowledge of the effect that alarm has on potential customers to convince them to make a purchase which is turn means more money in the bank for my client. The question I have starting asking myself however is whether using the alarm trigger to manipulate people into making a purchase is actually contributing to true prosperity and the realization of human potential? (and by prosperity, I am not referring solely to financial success).
The thing that attracted me to social media marketing is that it is a tool to build connections. Connections between people all over the world; connections that have the potential to overcome religious, cultural and linguistic differences. Connections between people who may never otherwise meet. Connections between people and the natural world. Connections between diverse socio-economic, age and gender groups. I have always been a connector. Without seeking out opportunities to connect people I always seem to be introducing people whose work seems mutually supportive–connecting a writer to an editor; a university researcher to a research project that needs direction or a farmer to a community that would like fresh local produce. Being a connector offline it turns out has also made me skilled at connecting people to each other or to products and brands online. Put simply — I am really good at building relationships and helping others to build relationships too, whether on or offline.
The thing about relationships however is that strong relationships — the ones that last a lifetime or even longer in the case of multiple generations continuing to trust and purchase from a particular brand — are built upon qualities like trust, consistency, quality, transparency and authenticity. Businesses that are not a flash in the pan success but remain successful over time are those that take the time and invest energy and considerable thought into how they build their relationships with their customers. They invest wisely, build gradually and make a product whose value speaks for itself.
The trend of using triggers like lust, alarm and power to accomplish particular goals is not new in marketing. And in truth there are some ways that these triggers can be used to empower and nurture positive change. But so often I see companies using these triggers to touch nerves that impel people to purchase something that is not, in fact, going to enrich their lives, and often accomplishes exactly the opposite. An example of this is placing a time or quantity limitation on something (or indeed simply giving the impression of a time or quantity limitation) not because the item needs to be sold immediately or because there is truly only a handful left but simply because the company wants to sell as many of the item or service as they can as quickly as possible. Making people feel insecure about missing an opportunity is a form of manipulation that it seems serves no other purpose other than short term gain over long-term success for the company. Another tactic that I often see utilized is using messages that trigger insecurities about how physically attractive people are. Since there are very few of us with no insecurities at all about our physical appearance, this is a pretty guaranteed way of making a profit.
All of this to say that although I do think triggers can be used in positive ways they are more often than not used to manipulate and induce impulsive purchases, or purchases made for the wrong reasons (driving a sports car, for example, will not make you any more sexy than driving a family car — branding may have successfully convinced both those who drive sports cars and everyone else that driving one is sexy, but the reality is that this is simply successful branding that has in turn shaped our perception of reality, but is not in fact reality).
I do not share all of this to criticize. My aim here is to introduce the idea of marketing that is based upon values that empower and add value to the world and to people’s lives rather than disempowering and impoverishing through manipulation. This does not mean that profit is not important. Without profit I would be out of work. Making a profit is a necessary and important part of running a successful business, and as such it needs to be important to me as a marketer. What I am proposing is that perhaps making a profit needs to be seen as one of many goals of a successful business rather than the only goal. That perhaps nurturing positive social change; empowering youth; building community; supporting healthy family life; encouraging education and community service; taking care of the natural environment, etc. are also essential goals that hold value independently of whether or not they increase a company’s bottom line. A company whose marketing strategy is empowering and socially oriented can also be a company that is financially successful. Values and financial success are not mutually exclusive.
In this spirit I started writing down some of the things that come to mind when I imagine an approach to marketing that is more in line with the values that I hold in the rest of my life. The photo below captures some of my initial ideas, but I have more every day.
I would love to hear your thoughts on an approach to marketing that is shaped by values rather than solely by the guarantee of profit. I know that there are many companies that have taken this approach–more and more every day. But the vast majority unfortunately are still utilizing fear, uncertainty and insecurity to impel people to make purchases.
Have you come across companies whose social media marketing strategies empower, inspire confidence and build community? I would love to hear about them so I can check them out. Leave me a comment below this post if you have any suggestions or would just like to share your own reflections. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!