28 Apr What is Marketing?
As someone who always loved the arts and graduated from art school, I grew up with almost complete ignorance and simultaneous disdain for all things marketing. Now that I work in marketing, I find the same attitude and beliefs among the very people I want to work with and support. Artists, non-profit founders, social entrepreneurs, people whose main passion is to do good, and who are working hard to change the current way we do business often say they “hate” marketing themselves, or their projects.
How did I come around? And why do I now work in marketing?
It all happened while making my documentary film on student debt. My team and I believed strongly in the need to make the subject mainstream; we started the project in 2007 and at the time the idea that student loans might be bad for students was almost never mentioned. The mainstream narrative was all about “good debt” – the belief that borrowing money to go to college was different than any other type of debt: it was not irresponsible or risky, it was good. We had in front of us an uphill battle to influence the public discourse with no money and few volunteers. In other words, we had to become very very good at marketing. And that’s when I realized that I could not change anything unless I spoke up about what my team was out to accomplish.
What is marketing exactly?
If when someone mentions marketing you think of sleazy ad men, ubiquitous campaigns bombarding you with messages to buy more stuff – possibly of the kind that will give you diabetes or cancer – click-bait posts on social media designed to waste your time and attention, and unscrupulous people whose mission is to trick you into giving your money away, you are not alone. Alas, marketing can be all that. But that’s just how some people and companies choose to do their marketing. It doesn’t have to be.
Marketing is telling the right people what you do, in a way that invites them to take action – this can be buying your product, adopting a new belief, sharing your message, watching your movie, or something else entirely. That’s it.
Remember when you applied to college? You told specific colleges you liked – and that you thought might like to have you – what you were capable of, so that they would accept you as a student. That was marketing.
Applying for a job and going through the interview process? That’s marketing as well – you are marketing yourself as a capable professional, and your prospective employer is marketing its company and the position as good choices for your career.
Marketing doesn’t inherently have to be sleazy, gimmicky, dishonest. On the contrary: the most powerful marketing is to tell someone who needs your help exactly how you can solve their problem, giving them a chance to hire you (or to buy your product, stay in touch, etc.).
If you have a good solution or product, and you want to change the world, your community, or the way we do business, it is your duty to tell us about it.
If you run a non profit and you are feeling ashamed of asking for money, or of working on your marketing, consider that the more people know about you and get a chance to help you, the more you’ll be able to fulfill your mission. There are people out there who are looking for a good cause to get behind, they are looking for an organization to donate money to. Your job is not to trick or harass people into giving you money, but it is to connect with those who want to use their money for good and to give them an opportunity to do so.
If you have founded an alternative place to buy goods, a company that is socially responsible and pays its employees fairly, plenty of consumers want to hear from you, so they can give their money to a team who shares their values, instead of some corporation they don’t even like.
And if you are a marketer, or are studying marketing in school, you have a choice: you can decide what companies to market, whose message to spread, and how. You can take responsibility for your role in the world we are all co creating, and you can be proud of what you do. No sleaziness required.
Want to stay in touch? Sign up for our monthly newsletter here.