Marketing is one of those jobs that you can’t do while sleeping. (Well, you might be able to, but your results probably won’t be as good.) You have to constantly think up fresh ideas, stay relevant, and convince people who don’t want to be marketed to that it’s in their best interests to listen to you, love you, and buy from you. So how can you keep the amazing ideas and strategies and results coming, day in and day out, year in and year out?
If you want to be the best marketer you can be, there are lots of things you can do on the job, of course. Follow industry blogs. Learn from a mentor. Join webinars, go to conferences and seminars, read industry articles and books…the list goes on.
But what about when you’re not working? Are there things you can do that won’t feel like work (since who wants to work 24/7? You need a break sometimes!)? I’m not talking about just eating well. (Sugar has significant negative impacts on the function of your brain, you know!…That’s why I’m putting down this piece of chocolate after just…a few…more…bites…) I’m not just talking about exercising (it helps you stay alert and focused), or getting the right amounts of sleep (for obvious reasons). Yes, do all those things. But also check out this list of ideas to try. Promise, they won’t be too much work, and you could even have fun!
1. Examine the marketing that’s all around you.
It seems everything you own, everything you do, and everywhere you look you’re being marketed to. It happens so much that we’re turning a blind eye to it. Years and years ago I actually got into the habit of muting commercials while I was watching TV–I wanted to sit back and enjoy watching Californication, so I happily invited David Duchovny into my living room once a week. I did not invite Mr Clean, or banks, or car companies, etc etc etc.
But you can still become a better marketer even as you’re kicking back watching your favorite shows and eating yummy chocolatey snacks (I mean, no, chocolate is bad for you….sigh). Watching commercials, reading store signs, flyers, or any other advertising (and I mean actively ingesting it, not just tuning out and treating it like white noise) can actually help you develop fresh ideas. You can think about what’s working and what doesn’t work. For example, the marketing of financial institutions always seemed a bit dry and boring to me. But it’s about money! Who doesn’t like money and want more of it? The problem was the approach. That’s why recently I’ve been a lot more thrilled than I probably should be about financial marketing:
These recent commercials by Wealthsimple and Tangerine are…wow. Is it wrong to use ‘bank’ and ‘inspirational’ in the same sentence? Because I sure want to! They actually pull their viewers into a story, and make them feel connected to the brand on a personal, relatable level. Suddenly I care about this stuff way more than I ever did. (And let’s not even get me started on this new Meridian commercial. It may be a bit of a dirty trick, but man, who doesn’t fall for puppies! I mean, PUPPIES!!! Okay, I’m done now.)
Not only commercials but YouTube is a great place to get some video marketing inspiration. (Yay, now you have a good reason to spend hours aimlessly watching YouTube videos!) Want a few ideas of ones we thought were great? Check out this post, this one, and this one, too.
But you don’t have to love something to be inspired by it. Taking a look at something and trying to figure out if or how you could improve upon it just keeps those creative juices flowing all the time, which means you’re more revved up and excited when it’s time to apply that creative thinking at work.
For example, on my drive in to work, I pass a bakery with a sign that says: “Stressed? That’s just desserts spelled backwards!” Being the copywriting geek that I am, I spent the next 15 minutes of my drive thinking about the pros and cons of the sign, and if and why I would change it. It was simple, it was direct and easy to understand, it was clever and memorable. But what if there was a wording tweak or two that could develop the idea and make it even stronger? The current language suggested a link between stress and dessert, which isn’t a great thing. So what if it was revised to: “Stressed? That’s the opposite of desserts!” The small tweak juxtaposes stress and dessert more clearly, suggesting that one relieves the other, instead of simply correlating with the other. Okay, so this was a 15-minute game on my commute to work, and maybe I couldn’t improve on the sign–but simply the exercise of considering, analyzing, and trying to improve upon an idea is a great way to strengthen your creative marketer powers.
2. Ask why.
Remember when you wanted to know why? Why is the sky blue, why are vegetables good for you, why is the saying that it’s raining “cats and dogs”? Asking “why” about everything is a great way to look at the world and the people in it with a fresh perspective. It gets us out of accepting old patterns of thinking, and jolts us into new thoughts and ideas.
A number of years ago when I was tutoring some ESL college students, one of my students asked during a session, “What does ‘I feel blue’ mean?” I told her what it meant, and that it was a slightly dated idiom. She accepted the definition and left the session feeling happy that she had mastered a bit more of the tricky English language, but I was left wondering, why does a color equal an emotion? There are so many instances where we just accept things because we are used to them, but seeing it from someone else’s perspective can really make you stop and think.
I make it a habit to question language, specifically cliches. What does it mean to ‘unleash the power’ of something? And if it’s good to unleash it, why do we then hear the opposing cliche of ‘harnessing the power’ of something? Do we want to let it go or tie it up?! I’m so confused!!! Why do we say these things, and what do they truly mean? Is there a better way to say it that has more power and meaning? A way that will actually resonate and be remembered? (Because cliches are NOT memorable!)
Don’t just ask why when it comes to language, but also why people think the way they do. The next time someone says they don’t like something, ask them why. If they love something, or if they don’t understand something, why? It’s useful asking these questions of someone who doesn’t think in the same way you do, so that you’re shown a fresh perspective and a new way of thinking. If you’re a creative marketer like a writer or designer, talk to a product developer or product marketer, who are used to seeing something in a much different light than you are. Understanding these perspectives can help you market better and deeper to a broad audience.
3. Argue with people (yourself, included).
I can just hear my Dad’s voice saying, “I think you mean discuss. Don’t argue.” I think parents everywhere try to smother the desire to argue out of their kids. While that may be a good thing when it comes to my sister and I bickering over who gets to sit where during family get-togethers, in this instance I actually mean argue. Bring back the fire and the passion! Now, I don’t mean this is your golden excuse for walking around and whispering mean nothings in people’s ear just to piss them off. I mean argue in terms of a healthy, well-considered debate.
When an idea is presented to you, try to poke holes in it. And here’s the thing: take the opposing stance to an idea you actually agree with. There is evidence that being a devil’s advocate helps you develop critical thinking skills; you’re seeing something from a different perspective, instead of jumping to the answer that is most comfortable to you. It jolts you out of being a yes-man or yes-woman, and being able to arrive at the best solution (which may or may not be the answer you preferred in the beginning). And don’t just argue with everyone else; argue with yourself, too! The next time you come up with a thought or idea, try to argue yourself out of it and see how far you get. It might sound like a weird thing to do, but it’s a great exercise in honing your own point of view and strategies.
I have found arguing a really great way to polish my ability to see the other perspective, which as a marketer, helps me better address my audience’s pain points. Instead of simply saying “Yeah, this is an awesome product, you should definitely use it”, you can think about their needs and desires (which aren’t always rational!), and speak to them accordingly.
Disclaimer: Just remember, this tip can be a little bit tricky. Don’t put it into practice all the time, like when your spouse wants to know what you want for dinner and you go on a 20-minute tirade on the pros and cons of chicken or fish. Just don’t be an a**.
4. Learn something.
Learn anything. Why? Because it makes your brain smarter, and strengthens your memory. Sort of like “you are what you eat”, you’re also what you think: studies have shown that your brain develops more the more you develop it (no, kidding, right?). Let me explain: one study showed that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus because this region of the brain is used for using complex spatial information–like navigating through a city’s streets! People who are bilingual have a larger left inferior parietal cortex than people who are monolingual, and the list goes on.
So, when you aren’t watching commercials and analyzing them, learn about a new topic, try a new skill, do something you’re interested in to keep that brain of yours growing stronger and smarter! In no time that can only lead to a promotion and raise, right?
5. Don’t Google.
Did your head just explode? What would you do without the Google? (I hope you didn’t just say “Use Bing.”) I understand the fear, I Google everything. But there are side effects to using the internet so profusely: studies are showing that we are no longer as capable or likely to remember something we learn. Instead, we remember where we found it, so that we can just pull it up again if we need to reference the information.
There are also implications for our problem-solving skills: no longer do we try to solve something ourselves when we know that the answer is only a few buttons away. As marketers, we need to have knowledge at our fingertips (and in our brains, not just stored on a computer) to be able to critically think about how to create and communicate the best solution for our audiences.
It’s not just Google though. Tech in general, our computers and our oh-so-ubiquitous phones are affecting how we interact so much that they’re changing how easily and effectively we understand each other’s emotions and develop empathy. In a recent study, after five days without phones or tablets, a group of kids were able to read facial emotions significantly better than a control group. Why? Because they talked to each other and paid attention.
As marketers, we need to understand what makes people tick, and how to create an inspiring, powerful, funny, etc., story or message. It’s the human quality of companies that helps forge relationships with customers. Now I’m not going to tell you to never use your phone again except for phone calls, but maybe try creating a “no-phones” block of time each day, whether the ban lasts for an hour or however long you can sustain it. You might notice a difference of how you relate to people and vice versa. That can only make you a stronger marketer in the end.
6. Read books.
We’ve all probably heard a thousand times over that goldfish now have a longer attention span than we do. Crazy, isn’t it? The first time I read that stat I thought come on, that’s just insane. I can focus my attention for longer than–squirrel! Wait, what was I talking about?
The great thing about reading books is, not only do you enjoy yourself, learn something, and save your eyes from staring at a phone or screen, you actually help your brain focus. There are no commercials to interrupt the story, no ads flashing in your face. Focusing on reading a book may feel like a feat at first, but it helps your brain absorb detail, in contrast to how we read on the internet. You know what I mean: you just scan web pages, read the headlines, check out a few bullet points, and see if anything else catches your attention. (I will try not to take it personally that you’re probably just skimming this right now.) Force your brain out of the habits you’ve gotten yourself into, because the powers of imagination and focus will do you well as a marketer.
Another tip? Read (or watch) different genres. It’ll give you a chance to learn about something you wouldn’t otherwise have discovered, or experience different styles of humor or drama, giving you some fresh inspiration for your own work.
7. Play video games.
It’s true, there are benefits to playing video games. And not just Wii Sports because it gets you up and off the couch. Some studies suggest that video games can enhance your perception, attention, and cognition! You’re focused on something fun, looking for details in a game, setting goals to achieve, working under deadlines, and more. Who knew?! Yes, I’ll wait while you show this to your mother.
Do I need to say more? Fine, fine. Have you heard that more and more schools are bringing puppies on campus during exam periods to help students relieve stress? It isn’t just a new, fuzzy, silly trend. Tons of information like this and this (I’d tell you to Google it, but don’t) shows that people can actually experience less stress when they have their pets with them than when a friend or spouse is with them! Even nursing homes are beginning to use therapy dogs. Puppies and other pets can reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and help lift your mood. You know what that means? You feel better, more rested, happier, and better able to get down to work and achieve your best results. So there you have it. Puppies make you a better marketer. Go adopt one today!
Try some of these tips and let us know how they work for you, or share some of your own exercises that help you become a better marketer!