Monday, August 10, 2009

Marketing: A Matter of Life and Death?

Marketing goes far beyond selling shoes and filling theater seats. It dramatically affects people's lives and livelihoods, even alters the directions of nations. "Army Strong," anyone? How about "USO: Until Every One Comes Home"? Harry and Louise? Slogans and characters like these are parts of marketing campaigns for intangibles like services, charities, and political opinions. They want something from you, but in these cases it's often not money; it's your opinion, your vote, your actions, or your time.

The same principles apply in the political world as in the commercial: you have to make what you're selling visible and appealing to enough "consumers" that they give you what you need to succeed, whether it's profit or votes, cash or cachet. It's not for nothing that we talk about President Obama "selling" his health care plan and the public deciding whether to "buy" it.

Marketing can influence segments of the American public to support or oppose any big societal change. Remember when President Bush wanted to privatize Social Security? The idea seemed to align with the nation's capitalist, anti-big-government plurarity. Yet a large majority of the public wouldn't buy it.

But Americans didn't reject that plan purely on its merits. They rejected it, in part, because the President didn't sell it well. The plan was seen as threatening an entitlement to which the public had become accustomed. Only a very stong, sharp marketing plan could have made such a change seem wise, or even palatable, and President Bush did not have one.

Now a Democratic President wants to introduce a new public option into the health care system. Ideologically, this move leans in the opposite direction from Bush's Social Security plan. Yet President Obama is having almost as hard a time selling his leftish plan as Bush had with his rightish one. Why? Ineffective marketing on Obama's part, which has left the field open for strong marketing from his opponents.

And their disruptive and provocative tactics are working. In addition to placing emphasis on the Republicans' talking points about deficits, they divert attention away from the issues and towards the political theatrics. The result: polls find more Americans expressing caution and suspicion about health care reform. To counter this, the Democrats must find good marketing strategies of their own: painting the Republicans as do-nothings (a cynical tactic but potentially effective), or suggesting their pockets are being lined by big, private insurance companies.

To do battle, the two sides arm themselves with time-honored marketing techniques: appealing to the heart over the head, saturating the media, simplifying the message, and so on. In cases like this, however, the better marketers will earn something other than bigger profits (although drug companies, insurance providers, and the like are certainly stakeholders too). They will earn the power to determine the well-being of the citizenry.

A bit more important than selling shoes, wouldn't you say?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Entrepreneurship: It’s All About a Can-Do Attitude

This week's post is by Elisa Peimer.

Marketing isn't just about positioning your products for maximum positive exposure. It's also about positioning your company to be seen in a positive light. And if you're an entrepreneur of any kind, your company is you.

If you don't believe what you offer is valuable, you can't expect clients and customers to believe it. Yet of all the things I’ve learned about getting your own business in gear and being successful, maintaining this positive attitude is often the most difficult thing, even if it seems the most basic.

A positive attitude means saying and believing that, even in the midst of a recession, with no clients, and being a start-up, you’re going to make your business work. For a glass-half-empty kind of person, adopting that mindset can be a real challenge. But it’s imperative. If you’re going to convince people that your services are valuable, the first person who has to believe it is you.

This really hit home for me recently after speaking to a couple of friends, both of whom have run their own businesses for their entire professional careers. They’re in completely different fields, but they have two things in common. The first is that their companies have had moments of both real success and real challenges. The second is that they never seem to doubt that they can succeed moving forward. What I find admirable about that is that they maintain that positive attitude despite the fact that their businesses have not followed a straight uphill trajectory. It isn't an unbroken string of success that has made them impervious to negative thinking, it's their own internal energy and drive. The fact that sometimes they stumble doesn’t make them doubt their ability to succeed.

Try this simple, refreshing, eye-opening exercise:

Write down all the reasons why someone should hire you.

That's it.

These could include all kinds of different facets of you and your business. Maybe you have many years of experience in your field. Or you’re really good at follow-through. You're good with people. You've got a network of contacts that makes you more valuable. You're a great idea-person. You’re a fantastic proofreader, consultant, financial advisor, writer, designer, developer – whatever it is. You know what your skills are, and where your strengths lie. Make sure you remember those facts. Keep them in mind and use them to feel confident and valuable when you’re looking for business or working with a client.

Of course, that's often easier said than done. But it's essential. As you forge ahead in your business – and in your life – remember that your biggest fan is you. It’s much easier to focus on your failures and shortcomings, and we all have those. But it’s more pleasant – and lucrative – to concentrate on what makes us valuable to our clients, our friends, and ourselves.