As a writer, my obsession is words.
Where did words come from? What ideas do they represent?
They don’t have just one meaning, these words. They are three-dimensional characters with their nuances and connotations. They have shades, highlights and tones to paint the full picture in the mind of the reader.
What frames the painting made of words?
The frame isn’t merely the rules of a particular language. It is the context in which a string of words is presented to their reader.
A word I’ve been pondering since starting my writers’ group has been “marketing”. When we first started the writers’ group, the hypothesis was that every one of us has stories to tell, we tell them just as well as any published author and the only thing we’re missing is a systematic way to market our writing.
So the writers’ group attracted two other marketers besides me. These ladies were familiar with systematic marketing, marketing channels such as social media and were also writers.
So we came around a roundtable to hear each other’s stories and promote them using social media.
There was one problem.
The stories were one-dimensional and as a result boring.
I had no idea what was wrong but knew that I got bored listening to them. I stuck to my end of the bargain regardless and promoted them by sharing on social media.
Then as I grew in awareness as a writer, I came to realise there’s a classic story structure. I experimented with plugging in characters to a formula but again the stories which came out of me were not memorable.
Thinking back, the missing ingredient was putting aside my ego and telling the truth no matter how painful, difficult or vulnerable I had to be. In my stories, if I were to be the hero, I had to recognise my shortcomings and embark on a journey of transformation. But nope, I was convinced I was the hero because my views were accurate whereas everyone who challenged me was delusional and had to be set straight.
I was the antagonist posing as the protagonist.
The marketer ladies were on the same boat. There was little self-awareness in their actions and stories.
But Marketers are Gifted Storytellers, Aren’t They?
Sure. In fact, you buy many of the things marketers sell. We all do. They recognise we are missing out on enjoying life if we don’t buy into the latest trend and communicate this ad-nauseam.
We bite, then hook, line, sinker…Buyer’s remorse sets in, or we go back to feeling average, that is, till the next trend comes along.
And marketing isn’t just limited to the sale of products. As Scott Jeffrey and Seth Godin both point out, movements in human history, even wars, were the result of ideas shaped, shared and amplified (through media participation) by clever marketers.
Yes, historical figures who changed the course of history were marketers. This includes Hitler, who used an ingenious propaganda to sell his worldview. The list of noteworthy marketers boasts self-help gurus like Tony Robbins and everyone we hold up on a pedestal, be they leaders, business people, athletes, film stars, musicians, artists and other cultural icons.
So why were the marketers in my group, with all this power of influence at their fingertips, bringing yawn-inducing writing?
Marketing, which as a profession has its roots in American optimism is largely one dimensional. It follows one plotline that goes like this:
You, as a human being, are limited, my friend. You’re unable to enjoy life without these wonderful products developed for you. If you own the next shiny thing, you will become popular with your friends, your life will improve and this is the true meaning of life. Why don’t you buy?
Seth Godin uses this plotline to sell his workshops to people perfectly capable of connecting the dots for themselves to tap into their own creativity in a way that will connect them with other people who can support their business ventures.
Furthermore, he creates a separation, or a market segment of people who perceive themselves as “people like us, do things like this”…
This distinction of self from others is precisely where my marketer/writers lost me. Their stories and also mine was not being told from a place of wanting to connect with the audience but rather proving our view of the world as the right view. Again, this is something Seth Godin is starting to do, without any qualifications in education, he’s pointing out all that’s wrong with education and offering remedies in the form of scalable tech platforms.
A marketer’s understanding is superficial and with boundless enthusiasm and optimism, they fail to see nuances in people as they aim for bigger and bigger. For example, with good intentions, FB tries to connect all of the world’s people, failing to see that this may be the road to privacy infringement hell. All people have dark sides and marketers trying to get everyone on board with the next best thing do a huge injustice to people’s growth and maturation process.
Marketers still have many followers around the world, sure, but I’m no longer one as what I look for above all has shifted to meaningful connections where the person I’m talking to is considering my view of the world as much as I’m considering his.
I realise that I can’t develop meaningful connections among thousands of people “connected” through technology on social media or a training platform.
Life is an Illusion and Marketers Illusionists…
I don’t mean to get philosophical but let’s consider for a minute that your reality is unique to you. Nobody else but you is in your head, standing precisely where you are, to see the physical objects and then interpret them through the filter of your own life’s experiences. As empathetic as you might think yourself to be, you will never see completely eye to eye with someone else.
Given the level of complexity of human beings and our unique view of the world, marketers accomplish one remarkable thing. They get many people, thousands or even millions to agree on a product or service, buy it, share it and have a resounding positive opinion of it.
It’s done through smoke and mirrors. The reason many illusionists get away with tricking the eye is that no one is 100% focused on what’s going on on the stage. Their energy is sucked by things like a fight they may have at work or home, what they’re going to have for dinner, who’s seen their latest social media post and the like.
Like illusionists, marketers showcase the desirable aspect of what they’re selling. They spend no time in getting to know the individual, heck, even the individual they’re selling to, has no real time to get to know him/herself and identify their core values, key behaviours and what products and services would truly benefit them in attaining true fulfilment out of life.
Marketers do not encourage people to have a long hard think about what’s essential to them. They don’t tell them to go meditate or sleep on it. They rush them into making a decision.
Seth Godin mentions that he will never buy anything from someone pressuring him to a time-limited offer. Yet, this is the tactic he uses to get people to sign up to his workshops. They’re cheaper the sooner you join them.
Everyone who identifies with the word “marketer” is a trickster. This is the nature of the profession and the word.
Let me clarify one thing. I personally see nothing wrong with illusionists, tricksters or thieves. They are archetypes as powerful and necessary as the Hero, Magician, Mother, Child, Virgin and all that we perceive as honourable.
They, like all others, are a part of ourselves and serve to teach us valuable lessons.
You can’t call yourself a marketer and deny that you’re the embodiment of a thief some of the time.
The True Meaning of the Word “Marketing”
Mercury, the Roman God of traders, travellers and thieves is where the word “market” comes to us. The market, be it the farmers’ market, money markets, meat market, the job market, is a place of transformation. The illusionists, marketers, are at work to put magic spells, (through words, the arrangement of a stall, positioning, their dress and manner and various different methods) on their own brand of goodies to attract the most attention so they can be valued higher than everyone else’s.
That’s the game.
That’s the thievery that takes place. All products and services, being similar, the marketers’ abracadabra coming from their optimism inflates their price. It’s a game of precision though. If the price gets inflated too high, the marketer becomes too egotistical, people start losing interest and the price plummets.
What goes up must come down in the end.
So, yes, marketers must work hard to keep their ego in check. But that’s hard to do when there are people pushing their way through to throw money at them.
Fortune and fame, they are illusions and not the solutions they promise to be, to paraphrase Evita the musical.
If you identify with the word “marketer” you must own that you will be a thief at least some of the time. You must be comfortable with being a thief because there will be times you will be overvalued. Your past valuation will go to your head and you will produce and market useless crap in your unaware state. People will buy your junk and then feel ripped off, bringing you back to the reality of your humanity.
This is inevitable and of course, there will be times, because people felt you robbed them, no one will look at you and they will unsubscribe from your newsletters and podcasts.
Such is life.
During these times, you must remember you were always the same person but it was the people who treated you differently and it’s your own perception of yourself that matters, not anyone else’s and not the money they threw at you or withheld from you.
The outer score isn’t what you’re after anyway.
You’ve Had the Power All Along
I personally don’t enjoy illusionist acts and don’t get very much out of talking about my own skills, productivity or the value I provide to those around me. I don’t do the work to get credit. The work is its own reward.
I feel whatever I bring to the table should be appreciated by the thirteen people at my own table, my nearest and dearest.
If other people invite me to their table to share my gift, that’s the biggest reward for me. Actions of acceptance speak louder than words.
As for my words, they will be used to construct stories of flawed heroes because that’s all we are. I will never place the writer as the hero of her own story. That would be as cringe-worthy as marketers positioning marketers as noble and misunderstood heroes in the journey of humanity.
My work is to show that you don’t need anything.
You, the reader, are whole.
Remember “The Wizard of Oz”? All the journey proved was that the power was within Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow and the Tin Man all along. The Wizard of Oz had nothing of value to give to them. He was simply a humbug, a man who put all his efforts into appearing bigger than he really was.
Why he deprived himself of living a true life, I don’t know.
That’s not my intention with my life.
Over to You…
Do you feel that who you truly are and your professional title are in alignment? Do you embody the full meaning of the words that define your profession?