My Life in Marketing
In the beginning, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or my career, but I knew whatever path I chose would involve connecting with people and sharing stories. Two of my great passions in life are 1. exploring as many forms of self-expression as possible and 2. exchanging ideas with people. The process of listening to someone else and seeing the world from their perspective has always fascinated me and provided me with a challenge to grow and evolve. These passions gave me the motivation I needed to become an effective and successful marketer, promoter, and networker. They are still part of what drives my work today.
Over the years many of the tools, strategies and best practices have shifted in marketing and communications. The pace at which technology changes have also increased, but the push to learn new things every month often makes me feel excited. Since 2003 I can say I have spent no time being bored in my career. There has truly never been a dull moment, and for that, I am forever grateful. The flip side of the coin however is that marketing never slows down. As content creators and promoters, social media managers, webmasters, and more the “to-do list” is never done. I never feel the satisfaction of project completion. There is always room for improvement, experimentation, increased sales, more conversions, or new clients, donors, or customers.
Over time the endless parade of scheduled messages and ROI goals can be exhausting, overwhelming, and empty. Ultimately what you experience is burnout and it can feel as if your creativity has died. When burnout hits me, I know I begin to question my worth, my skills, my knowledge, and my ability to achieve success.
“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions, your soul has departed; you’re a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker.”
– Sam Keen, author
After working in customer service, communications, and marketing my whole career, I know I am not alone. Most of my colleagues, friends, peers, and students are also facing this challenge and asking questions like…
- How do I stay inspired when the grind never ends?
- How do I convince my boss or client that if we want to increase engagement, I have to have the freedom to try new things?
- How do I find new things to say about the same old subjects?
- Can I experiment without endangering the brand?
And the most stressful of all…
- What will I do if I get fed up and decide I can’t handle doing this work anymore?
Well, I believe it’s time for marketing, communications, advertising, and promotions professionals to come together and talk honestly about the PITA (pain in the @$$) problems we confront every day. If we work together we can all learn, grow, and discover solutions. Together we can change our industry and eventually the world.
Common Obstacles to Creativity
Marketing and communications professionals often confront the very same blocks to great campaigns and successful ROI regardless of industry, media, or strategy. We associate failed marketing with a lack of consistency, budget, or skill, but many marketing and advertising strategies fail in the long term because of a failure to listen, empathize, and experiment. Over the last 20 years, I have identified 5 key areas where marketing and communications professionals experience a drop in productivity, passion, and results – all of which can be linked to burnout and creative stagnation.
Obstacle 1: Isolation
It is extremely common for small to medium-size businesses to have a marketing department of just a single professional or a small marketing team where everyone is managing multiple aspects of the management and production of the daily work, as well as the ideation of the campaigns and creative collateral such as photos, videos, written content, and graphics. In larger businesses marketing is often a department on a floor or in a section of the office that has little to no connection to other departments that are essential for marketing success like Sales, Customer Service, Human Resources, and more. Marketing and communications staff are not cross-pollinating ideas, holding regular meetings, or designing integrated promotional workflows even in the biggest companies.
The isolation experienced by marketing professionals over time can create real and difficult blockages when it comes to creative flow and motivation. In order to remove these obstacles, we must take a holistic view of the communications and be sure all members of the business or organization are truly supportive of one another. Most of all we want to make sure the people who sit in offices and conference rooms thinking about campaigns and conversions don’t forget the most important part of their job – to connect with past and potential customers, clients, or donors in a way that makes them act.
#2 Unclear Purpose
Over the years I have heard a variety of stories from my marketing and communications students that all center around the same core issue: no one in leadership has clearly explained what the marketing team’s reason for marketing truly is. This leaves communications professionals with a lack of purpose when it comes to their work and the longer any of us exist in a day-to-day grind of no purpose and no reason the closer we get to burnout and feeling like our work has no definable impact and, in essence, marketing sucks.
To give marketers a purpose that drives them to have fun and generate new ideas it is essential that the founders and executive leaders share the mission, vision, values, and audiences with as much transparency and detail as possible. Purpose must also be given to all different aspects of marketing. Not only do you have the larger purpose of the business or organization to make money, but each one of your channels, mediums, and platforms must have a clear purpose.
#3 Content Fatigue
In my experience, this is one of the hardest to deal with problems. Mostly because, as marketers, we can’t simply go on vacation or take a mental health break and stop generating content. When we do, we lose our authority in the social media news feeds, our competition keeps producing great content and outranks us, or the sales and conversions we rely on to maintain and grow the business stall, slow, or plateau. Radio silence can hurt your marketing results and strategy because we all know marketing is most effective when it is consistent
If you are plagued by content fatigue and sometimes you just want to give up or quit, it is time for some self-care. Self-care can be any number of different things depending on your personality and preferences.
#4 Fear of Experimentation
Fear of experimentation is really fear of risk, and fear of risk is really fear of failure. In my personal digital marketing manifesto (a motivational document I wrote that I have printed out, posted on my desk, and read daily) it says:
“I am not afraid to make mistakes, risk failure, ask questions and learn from others. I strive to grow, not to be perfect.”
As marketers, it is so important that we create a work environment that allows us to experiment. We have to learn by doing to keep up with the industry and the trends. We have to listen to our audiences and then find ways to meet their needs, satisfy their desires, answer their questions, or solve their problems as they go through the “Customer Journey.”
Experiment means to “try out a new procedure, idea, or activity”
In order to try out new ideas, approaches, or perspectives in marketing and promotions you must have courage and be willing to learn. Perfection is not the goal. Being “right” all the time is not the end game. Discovering what people want and need, providing products and services with real value, and make real connections with existing and potential customers, clients, or donors is where you need to focus your talent, energy, and intentions.
I know most marketing and communications staff wish there was a simple formula that guaranteed success, but the truth is that experiments, testing, listening, adapting, and innovating are the key to success in today’s market. This means business owners, founders, C-level leaders, and executive directors must accept and understand what the process of successful marketing truly is and create an environment for marketing and communications teams where creativity, experimentation, and testing are encouraged and supported.
#5 Lack of New Ideas
Another common obstacle to creative flow is a lack of new ideas. Oftentimes I ask marketing students or clients what the most important message they have to say on social media, in email marketing, or on their websites is and why. Inevitably for many people, a few minutes pass and there is no clear answer. It’s because they feel tapped out when it comes to fresh perspectives. They are struggling to say something engaging and they feel as if what they write, record, or create is redundant, unoriginal, and uninteresting. It is because frequently marketing and communications professionals are working in a silo, and this is guaranteed to stifle new ideas and make it difficult to step outside the day-to-day grind. This makes it hard to be inspired by the bigger vision of the brand and innovate.
The reality is that new ways of thinking about your work as a marketer and communicator DO NOT magically appear. Fresh perspectives come from seeking out other opinions and ideas, as well as creating structured workflows that give you time to read, watch, listen, and reach out to other experts or thought leaders in the field. You must take action and make learning from and connecting with others part of every week, maybe even every day.
It’s Time for Change in the World of Marketing
It’s time for RADICAL CHANGE in the world of marketing and communications – not from the outside, but from the inside. There will always be more tools to learn, platforms to explore, markets to open, strategies to test, and secrets to uncover, but all of the technological advances in the world won’t benefit us if we don’t change our working environments and recognize how the process of marketing has shifted and evolved.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― Buckminster Fuller
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Everyone Knows Marketing Sucks!
Marketing is a demanding job that requires a diverse number of skills, the desire and motivation to continuously learn, a creative mind, and empathy and caring for the people you want to reach.
Find out how I fuel my creative fires, stay relevant, and avoid burnout in the field. As professionals, we are all in this together.