It’s afternoon and rush hour traffic has arrived with a vengeance. The kiddos, strapped into their various safety seats, want ice cream. You want—oh, I don’t know—maybe two(??) full minutes of quiet so you can picture the inside of the refrigerator and remember whether you needed to pick up eggs on the way home for that dinner recipe you planned to make.
The backseat chorus has not gotten the memo.
“Mom! Mom! Mom!”
Focus. On. The refrigerator. Oh, and driving.
“We want ice cream!”
Believe it or not, I’ve just described one of your biggest marketing problems.
Let’s break it down.
Marketers Are Parents—Even If You Don’t Have Kids
We may not have birthed our audiences, but it’s our job to nurture and guide them when their paths overlap our own.
To do so requires a delicate balance imparting our own wisdom and being receptive to theirs.
We are the subject-matter experts. We know our offerings inside and out and spend our days immersed in our niche space. Here at Kapost, for example, we marketers spend all day, every day, steeped in the ins and outs of B2B content strategy. We read the books, author the studies, and conduct the experiments so that our voice of authority feels as authentic to us as it hopefully does to you.
But I’ve given a clue to the other part of our job in list item number two. We undertake research into the state of marketing because it’s our job to listen just as much as it is to preach. The only way we can truly guide marketing thought is to get out and talk to marketers.
That’s because the two fundamental aspects of how to be a good marketer are:
Consider the Best Parent You Know
Good parenting is nothing short of a miracle, as far as I can tell. But there are some people who just seem to nail it.
What makes them so good?
The most effective parents seem to blend discipline and kindness into an awe-inspiring hybrid of respect (earned) and respect (given). Their kids have boundaries but also have fun. They are given a voice in discussions and decision-making but don’t direct the conversation.
Our aim should be similar.
Conquering the Urge to Lead without Listening
A.k.a., How to Avoid Being the Unreasonable Parent
Talking is easy for us. The DNA of most marketers is made up of primarily strong opinions and a penchant for sharing them.
But in the rush to position ourselves and our brands as thought leaders, we risk talking over the very people we’re trying to talk to.
If you ignore your child’s interests—don’t show up to a single recital, say, or fail to ask them about their days—you’ll eventually lose their respect. After all, every last one of us wants at our core to be heard. If someone doesn’t listen, we’ll eventually move on.
To be a good marketer, this means that we must have two-sided conversations. Get out and talk to your customers and engage with your audiences online. Ask them questions and really understand what makes them tick.
Don’t just guess at what they want to know or hypothesize about what their biggest pain points might be. Ask them. They can teach you more than you might think.
Now, I’d like to take a moment to confirm that this absolutely does not mean that I endorse abandoning your thought leadership efforts. Quite the contrary.
As the front line representing your company to the public, it’s your duty to push the conversation into uncharted waters—to upend the status quo and ask the big questions others are too busy or too scared to address.
But as you do so, make it clear that you appreciate the effect of your words.
Conquering the Urge to Please without Challenging
A.k.a., How to Avoid Raising a Spoiled Brat
Also in the DNA of a marketer is the desire to be liked. We want to say things that make the other kids on the playground say, “Wow, that’s so true.”
As a marketer, it’s not hard to be liked by your audience. All you have to do is tell them they’re right.
But what if you did that to your kid?
Well, if Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is anything to go off of, you’ll end up watching them fall down a chute.
That’s why the best parents—and marketers—lay down the law when they need to. Not out self-importance, but out of love.
Acknowledging the pain and opinions of your audience doesn’t mean being an echo chamber. Sure, doing so might earn you a fan base, but you’ll never provide those fans anything of actual value.
To earn real respect, you’ll need to lead the way. To lead the way, you’ll have to tell people some things they don’t like. Because ultimately, we aren’t marketing a financial software or professional consulting: We’re selling change. Implicit in telling someone to change? What you’re doing now isn’t good enough.
When spoiled kids confront the real world, they’re entirely unprepared. You’ll do the same thing to your customers if you pass them along to sales before they understand what’s at stake.
How to Be a Good Marketer: Raise the Perfect Customer
We’re all excited to talk about how to be a good marketer: about where to put our CTAs, how to write a killer subject line, and which workflows work best. But our efforts to optimize our production and distribution mean very little if we haven’t first taken the time to listen.
So, what does the marketer tell the kids in the back seat?
“I hear you, and I know that you want ice cream. Ice cream is great. But if you only eat ice cream, you’ll die. So right now, we need to go pick up some eggs.”