People, Not Companies

Marketing for Smart People

Lance Arthur
8 min readFeb 4, 2016
This is a terrible image. On purpose.

The word, and term, “marketing” gets a bad rap. Not “Bakersfield”-level bad, but I am speaking from the position of having had both those terms spoken at me (at different times) with an accompanying sneer so I feel a bit justified comparing them.

I believe that when people sneer at the word “marketing” they are thinking of a bad — or several bad…or all the bad — experiences they have had with what they think marketing is, which I will call “badvertising.” Something that was probably overly-loud, kind of (or very) dumb, possibly even insulting, and definitely unsuccessful.

Badvertising takes shape in lots of different ways and I think you can recognize it and even recall some of your least favorite badvertising experiences as you reached with frantic speed for the TV remote to mute that fucking prescription drug ad.

My qualifications for telling you how to use and perform better marketing are slim and easily dismissed, on the one hand. Have I ever written a compelling marketing campaign and seen the masses tweet their asses off about how clever and funny it is?

I have not.

Do I lead a team of expert, world-class marketers at a professional, Olympic-level ad agency?

I do not.

I was, at one time, a Creative Director at an e-mail marketing company (I pause here to add that at one point we spent an entire day discussing whether it was “e-mail” or “email” and it was decided that we would refer to it as “email” over my objections, but since this is my article it’s called “fucking e-mail”) so I know something — in the least important way possible — about which I type.

I have elected to write this treatise based on one small experience that I shall now explain, so feel free to skip to the listicle that occurs somewhat farther down this same page if all you want is the easily-digested bits rather than something to chew on. You will recognize the listicle because it will be bold-texted (it would be bullet-pointed, except for some goddamned reason Medium decided we no longer need bullet points because for fuck’s sake what?) for your easy perusal.

So. I was given an assignment, as part of the marketing team, to write a blog post. The blog post was to be from my unique perspective as a developer (because I am one) rather than the more usual perspective as a marketer (which I also am one, as you can tell from my writing good) and for research purposes I would need to view a video of a presentation at a developer conference by a developer speaking at other developers about developing. Said speaker began with a slide of the title of his presentation, which looked fairly ugly and was worded particularly poorly, and with the following joke as he gestured at this slide: “Marketing helped me with the title.”

The audience guffawed because, yes, isn’t marketing awful? Don’t you hate those people who force you at gunpoint to make an awful slide with an awful title, only they don’t and they didn’t but everyone gets the joke because golly marketing sucks?

Thing is, I understood exactly why that joke went over with the crowd. Because marketing is a joke. In the world of tech, every other department holds esteem in the eyes of their fellow employees. Engineers appreciate Sales. Finance understand Legal. Security knows how hard HR is working.

Nobody appreciates marketing.

Is it because nobody understands us? Are we going to our bedroom to sulk and write another entry in our diaries about how everyone thinks we stink and nobody likes us and, well, fuck them for being assholes?

Well, yes we are. It just feels good, doesn’t it? Sulky, sulky, sulky.

But then we’re going to open up that bedroom door and walk back to our desk and sit down and decide to do marketing right.

Which is like so:

I know. It’s terrible, isn’t it? You want to do trust-falling right now. Admit it.

STEP ONE: Treat your customers like people, and not like companies.

I’ve heard the phrase “we need to get more logos in our portfolio” said as if that were an honest goal worth accomplishing.

Logos are things. You’ re not trying to make things happier with your product or service. Things don’t care. Things have no feelings. You’re actually trying to make people happier. No, I’m not bullshitting you. The goal of every product or service or business is to increase their customers’ happiness. Making things easier makes people happy. Making things prettier makes people happier. Making things better makes people happier. Making people happier also makes people happier.

If someone near you opens their mouth and asks how the logo farming is going, sort of grimace like you’re passing a particularly painful fart and shake your head as if an uncomfortably grimy Santa wants you to sit on his oddly-soiled lap.

People. Not logos.

I know, right? Where the fuck is this, Walt Disney Business Hell? Bonus points for thumb ring.

STEP TWO: Aim for smarter, not stupider.

There comes a time in every marketer’s life when you just can’t. You’ve been sitting in brainstorming sessions (and so help me God I’ve heard of brainstorming sessions about brainstorming sessions) where everyone agrees that “no idea is too stupid” and inside your head you whisper “almost every idea is too stupid. That’s why there are so many of them.”

There are tons of stupid people in the world. You and I both know that. I mean, holy hell, look at the state of the presidential race and tell me there aren’t. But you aren’t one of them, and neither are the people you want to spend more money with you.

No, no! Don’t even start that shit with me! They are not dumb people. They are smart people.

Pretend you are they. Or them. Sorry, pronouns, right? What a nuisance! Anyway, how do you want to be spoken to? Or at?

Not down to, surely. Not like a child (except when the product is delicious, delicious S’mores and OMG, gimme!). You want to be spoken to like a grown-up, and a smart grown-up, and a smart grown-up with money.

If an idea sounds stupid, it is stupid. You be the judge. Be Judge Judy. She don’t take no shit. You don’t take no shit, either — especially from your own damned self.

“That’s the creative bit. Riiiiiiight… there!”

STEP THREE: Allow creative people to be creative people.

Don’t call your creative staff “Creatives.” That sounds like an evil alien race in one of the worser Star Trek: Voyager episodes where Janeway is a lizard having sex with Chakotay or whatever, I mean, what the fuck, did that just happen?

Feel free to call them ‘creative people,’ or better yet, Steve, Darcy, Mel, Jennifer, and Sanjay. I mean, assuming those are their actual names, of course. I’m not being literal here, use your imagination.

Creative people absofuckinglutely love being creative. Creativity requires, and I hate typing this as much as you hate reading this, some outside-the-box thinking. Or outside-the-lines. Or drunken. Anyway, thinking that is not entirely walled-in with things like, oh, “we can’t do that,” or “but that’s too haaaaaaaard,” or “I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in Alabama.”

Lots of marketing time is spent figuring out how much something costs and how much something made. We measure “all the things,” and if I were measuring the use of the phrase “all the things” I think I could confidently report that its sell-by date expired last year. But creative people couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be bothered with this particular aspect. It’s nice to hear that something was a financial success, but that isn’t the yardstick creative people give a flying bloody fuck about.

Yes, I stand by my ‘be smarter not stupider’ edict here and maintain that some ideas are, like people who set their own farts on fire, too stupid to live. But don’t confuse ‘stupid’ with ‘outlandish.’

Outlandish, for those who don’t want to click their Dictionary icon or Google that shit, means “looking or sounding bizarre or unfamiliar.”

If something strikes you as funny, or smart, or entertaining, or let’s go back to funny one more time, then stop and smell the freshly-roasted coffee (because I find roses cloying and matronly). Pause and admire the fucking audacity of that idea.

And then pursue it like the best looking pair of shoes at Barney’s.

“Hi! We like you! Do you like you? It’s not weird, don’t worry. Nancy brought baklava!”

STEP FOUR: Trust yourself.

We are, lots of times, waiting for someone else to validate us. Validate our taste in clothes, validate our taste in music, validate our taste in…taste.

I say unto you now as your friend and colleague (yeah, I’m neither of those things, really, but pretend it’s true if it helps you believe what I say next) that you need to, to a certain extent, fuck those people in the a-hole.

Stop worrying so much about consensus and group-think, and stop using the word group-think! In fact, come up with your own, newer, better terms like ‘fun-stigation’ or ‘poorly-considered haircut’! Start to eat your own goldfish flakes! They’re salty and crunchy! Yum!

Goldfish flakes.

Let me be serious for a moment and…okay, done. Thank god that moment passed. What I really want is for you to be thinking about how your company makes people happier, and how you can convey that sensation using words and pictures and puppet shows, but not ever no never painting shit on sidewalks cuz that is fucked up stupid.

Pretend you’re in charge. Are you pretending that? Did you put on a fun pretend hat? Is it at a jaunty angle? Do you like saying jaunty?

Now that you’re in charge, pretend that you’re mapping out a new brand campaign that’ll convey how much happier your customers and potential customers and, oh hell, let’s just say everyone in the world will be at the end of it.

Do it. Write it down, your idea. Make little pictures in the margins. Figure out how it’ll translate to banner ads. Everyone hates them, right? How are yours gonna be not-hated? Will you send out e-mails? Will they be funny? How will they be funny? Why will people enjoy them so much they’ll forward them instead of angrily scrolling to the bottom and immediately unsubscribing? What about a video campaign? What about t-shirts? What about billboards? What would a Super Bowl ad look like? Who cares if you don’t have $3 million, what would it look like?

Now go show it to your boss. Sell the jaunty hat out of that idea. Be smart. Be confident. Be you.