Marketing Manifesto – #5: You have to do marketing

I recently saw the delightful movie “Up in the Air” (2009), starring George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga. The story line revolves around the firing of employees in the current economic recession. Clooney’s character is hired to go into an organization and fire people, ostensibly because their bosses are too afraid to do the firing themselves.

Anna Kendrick plays the new college graduate who wants to change the firing process – from face-to-face interactions to firings done over the internet by video conferencing. The process of firing is mechanical and can be made a technical exercise, she believes. 80% savings on travel expenses is the payoff, in her view.

Clooney knows that firing people remotely via video conferencing won’t be as effective as doing so in-person. The core value of hiring a “firing professional” is their ability to carefully move a person from complete shock at the news of being fired to some form of stability and ultimately hope – a win for the firing organization and a win for the employee. To do this kind of work requires direct, interpersonal interaction and a very, very careful mixing of tried-and-true script, improvisation, a lot of compassion, and skill gained through practice. Clearly not a mechanical process.

Clooney takes Kendrick on the road to learn this reality. And learn it she does…the hard way.

What has this to do with marketing?

Marketing is often viewed as a science and something that can be studied and learned academically, much like Kendrick thought that firing someone can be made into a mechanical process and still be effective.

But marketing is all about people, who are anything but mechanical. And every marketing campaign is unique, requiring insight, life experience, an understanding of human emotions (Marketing Manifesto Principles 1 and 2), and figuring out the right questions to ask at the right time (Principle 4).

Which of course leads to my next Marketing Manifesto Principle…

A Marketing Manifesto

10 principles and practices of great marketing:

#5: Marketing is a practice. You do marketing.

Like walking or riding a bicycle, the real learning of marketing takes place in the doing of it, not in the talking about or studying of it. If you want to get really good at marketing, practice it.

When my son, Alex, was 8 years old he decided to run a cookie and lemonade stand out front of our home.  His mother bought lots of frozen pink lemonade concentrate and helped him bake a big batch of chocolate chip cookies for sale.

Lemonade Stand
The quintessential lemonade stand: Learning marketing by actually doing it!

Alex set up a table with a sign on the sidewalk in front of our house and began selling.  This was a busy Saturday in the summer and lots of traffic came by. He made a few sales in the first bit of time, but not much. I suggested to Alex that he make a big sign and go up to the street corner and stand there to catch drivers’ attention as they turned the corner and came down our street, giving them time to decide to stop before they drove on past.

Being a true showman and totally enthusiastic about his business, he made up a big sign, skateboarded up to the corner and began directly encouraging drivers to buy his lemonade and cookies by joyfully hollering at them as they turned the corner.

Well, his lemonade and cookie stand was quite a hit. Alex had to hire two friends to work his lemonade table and kept his mother busy with lemonade and cookie production while he went and did the marketing.

3 hours later he closed the business due to lack of supplies.  The result?  He met some new people, felt fabulous about himself, and made money. A few dollars you might think?  Heck no! He grossed $37 from 3 hours of selling lemonade and cookies (prep time excluded).  After paying his mother for the supplies and his employee-friends for their efforts, he walked away with a tidy sum and a big grin on his face.

The lesson?  He did marketing. He went out and made it happen. He didn’t sit behind his table, safely shielded emotionally, waiting for some hidden marketing process to kick in and deliver him sales success. He latched on to the idea that he was the marketing, and went and made it happen with a big sign and his skateboard. Loudly and enthusiastically.

“So, sitting in a classroom, safely behind a desk, with a textbook in hand isn’t really learning to do marketing?”

Most of my students, consulting clients, and job seekers I mentor have never done any marketing. They come to my classes, workshops, and meetings to learn it for the first time.  They come to study marketing, like you would study an instruction manual on how to ride a bicycle.

Do they learn something from my work with them? I hope so, and regularly hear from them that they did. And I hope it is because I insist on making them do marketing. I require my students, for example, to do lots of case studies, create marketing campaigns for real products, and even demand at times that they start a micro-marketing businesses for real, right in the course.That’s right: Actually sell stuff.

Doing marketing is not for everyone.

Being a mix of a goal oriented and relationship oriented kind of person and one who is very visual and kinesthetic, I love getting to the heart of things, understanding how people think, and practicing marketing by creating physical things…preferably with my own hands.  I love sitting in a cafe and observing human behavior, learning how people think and behave. Facilitating a focus group is career nirvana for me. Crafting a creative ad that delivers an emotional message is an exciting challenge for me.

But all these things are not as interesting to most people.  Particularly if they are more process oriented, auditory, and reading kind of people – which is what most students in universities are today. The goal and primarily relationship oriented students get too frustrated and either never start university or leave before they complete their under-graduate degree. The visual-kinesthetic ones never graduate high school. Seriously – typical high schools deliver a process orientation so strongly that the profile of a majority of drop-outs includes “kinesthetic”.

Where does this lead us to?  Well, marketing is a messy, messy business and requires a fully fleshed, well-rounded, eyes-open kind of person who wants to make things happen and is ready to take action to learn marketing by doing it.  Some characteristics of a person who will do well in marketing is someone who..

  • …has a high tolerance for uncertainty.
  • …wants to continually explore human behavior by observing and considering it.
  • …is not afraid of talking to people – better still, enjoys talking to people.
  • …is goal and at least partly relationship oriented (how else will they like talking to people?).
  • …has a high level of self-confidence and a secure self-image.
  • …is able to communicate at a highly skilled level, including very acute listening skills.
  • …learns independently.
  • …is active and proactive and likes making things happen..

I always add to such a list that it is not a prescriptive list.  Many people who are excellent at marketing do not have all the characteristics listed. But most great marketers have many of these characteristics.

In summary, you have to want to do marketing, must develop or already have an active attitude toward achieving goals, and enjoy working and learning from people.

Success Orientations
Success Orientations - one way of considering how people go about achieving success...

(An aside:  I used the terms “goal orientation”, “process orientation”, and “relationship orientation” above. They are from my Success Orientations behavioral model –  I also used “visual”, “auditory”, and “kinesthetic”, which are from the Neuro-Linguistic Programming VAK model. “NLP” was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.)

OK, so I want to learn to do really excellent marketing…how do I start? A lemonade stand?!?!?

Ha, ha!  No, you don’t need to run a lemonade stand to become excellent at marketing. But yes, you need to start doing it on a regular basis – practicing it and getting more and more understanding of the richness and depth of skills and attitudes you need to develop.

There are many easy and fun ways to get started doing marketing.  Some ideas:

  • When students leave university in June they sell their books, furniture, cars, computers and other belongings cheaply. They are desperate to get rid of them at the last minute. Ask around to see which items, specifically, will be in demand later by incoming students.When you find bargains, buy a few of them yourself.  Store these items until August 15th. Then post them for sale at higher prices on bulletin boards, online want-ads such as Craigslist, and through email to incoming students arriving at the end of the summer.This game takes very little money and is a fabulous, low-capital way to do marketing. Learn what advertising works. Learn how people bargain and how to interact with them to close a sale. Learn what is more in demand and what is harder to sell. Practice listening carefully to people and learning how they think. And make a profit doing so.
  • Stuff for sale
    Sell stuff...and practice marketing by doing so!

    Sell off anything you don’t want anymore through similar systems as the first example. Find things at garage sales and sell them for higher prices. Or bundle them together with similar items and charge a much higher price. From this exercise, learn how customers define the “value” of what you are offering. For example, I recently put up for sale on Craigslist a Nintendo Entertainment system, TV, and portable DVD player which my sons no longer needed. I had offers for the whole bundle for $40. Most queries, however, were for the NES system, which we subsequently sold alone for $50. Other calls were for the portable DVD player, which we have yet to sell. The TV may not sell at all. More marketing learning – some bundles work; others do not.

  • When you travel, bring a few things back you think you could sell to people in the area where you live.  Try selling them.
  • As a part-time business, offer some form of service…translation, custom cooking, walking dogs, …anything. Learn how to offer your services to people, how to price effectively, how to invoice people, how to generate word of mouth advertising, and how to close your business down when you have learned all you feel you can learn (and your customers are satisfied, of course!)
  • Volunteer to help a non-profit, charity, or community group with their marketing.  Listen, learn, and do marketing with them. No cost to you or them and lots of side benefits, like making new friends building your network for career reasons.

Get the idea?  It doesn’t take a lot to start practicing marketing.

But it does take a lot of practicing to become really good at marketing.