For my penultimate 21 Daring Days challenge, I’m writing ‘something about a fact related to your work or your industry that concerns you’.
For the longest time, I felt uneasy around the word ‘marketing’ — even though it’s plainly what I do.
It’s a word that can never turn up baggage-free: we all have our own definition and a lot of those definitions are less than entirely favourable.
Pushy, sleazy, in your face, obnoxious, dishonest and — the biggie for me — unethical. I’ve heard all these and many more and found it near enough impossible to put together a fully committed rebuttal because the fact is that a lot of marketing is indeed pushy, sleazy, in your face, obnoxious, dishonest and unethical.
As consumers, we’re on the receiving end of more marketing now than at any time in history. Where once — and certainly within my lifetime — there was pretty much just advertising, product promotions, PR, and direct mail, all of them largely passive, now we are being marketed at every single time we go online.
Do a Google search, and up pop the ads before we get near the organic listings. Check Facebook and wherever we look, somebody’s selling us something, click website A and when you move on to website B, there’s an ad for A. And how many marketing emails do you get in a single day?
To be clear, this is our shared reality, there is no going back, and there is nothing inherently dishonest or unethical about any of this.
So here then is the source of my unease.
Marketing is a process and at heart it’s a pretty simple one. You have a widget you want to sell, so first you identify your ideal customer. Next you work out what to say to your customer, and then you work out the best place for you to say it so your customer hears.
But what I see happening more and more is that simple process getting buried as business owners are marketed at by marketers — and pretty relentlessly so. And this is where it starts to get messy as the moving parts of the process become the absolute focus, not the message, and certainly not the customer.
One marketer may be a Google AdWords specialist, the next an expert on Facebook’s algorithm, another says Messenger is the only way to go, another might assure you there’s nothing they don’t know about email marketing, while yet another will claim to be the most compelling copywriter on the planet.
Each has a unique formula that will generate more sales leads than the world has ever seen.
As business owners we are pulled this way and that — and those of us in marketing are not immune! — and we are tempted to jump from one shiny object to the next, hoping that this is the bell or whistle that will make the difference.
But it won’t.
Even if it’s not sleazy, or dishonest, this type of marketing most certainly is in your face, it is pushy, and a lot of it is — from where I’m sitting, anyway — unethical, or close to it.
And because the means are driving the end, success remains a lottery.
Which is why I decided to step away from the marketing mainstream and reposition my own consultancy. I now choose to work only with business owners who also want to keep this simple, people who understand that what truly matters is telling their story openly, authentically and — yes — ethically.
They want to align their marketing with their personal values and beliefs and recognise that to achieve this they need to be honest with themselves first. They need to be 100% comfortable that everyone involved in their business — suppliers, stakeholders, and their own team — shares their ethos and goals.
Only when all this is in place is it possible to use the art of storytelling to start the conversation with customers. Where and how that story gets told depends entirely on who the customer is: with ethical marketing the end always drives the means and never the other way around. No shiny objects here!
And what’s happened since I made this shift?
I no longer get that queasy feeling when someone asks me what I do. I am proud to be an ethical marketing and PR consultant.
Does this sound like something you’d like to find out more about? If it does, I’m inviting you to book a 1-2-1 call with me — absolutely no charge, no agendas (hidden or otherwise), just a chance to start an open and honest conversation.