By Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster

While working with a client recently, she delighted us with the following statement:

“I love working with you because I hate traditional marketing,” she intoned, her green-gold eyes sparkling as she leaned in to emphasize each word.

What made this especially delicious was that she is the head of marketing for her organization!

“Us too!” we answered, both veterans of branding and marketing on both the agency and client side.

While both endearing and amusing, it also reveals a bit of gallows humor. After all, when your job is marketing, then hating the stuff you are asked to do should be cause for alarm. The mess that is a lot of marketing today is from two sides: 1) executives who treat their marketing team like 20th century order takers and 2) heads of marketing who don’t speak up and say “no.”

Three pervasive 20th century marketing habits that just don’t seem to go away are:

  1. Linear thinking: In a recent meeting, someone proclaimed that marketing is simply matching what we do with what the “target market” needs without any attention to heartfelt message. She vehemently insisted if you add A (what you do) to B (target market needs), you always get C (profits rolling through the door). We listened, grimaced and gently explained no audience wishes to be targeted and no audience is anxiously sitting waiting to receive some sort of marketing call to action for an offer. Linear thinking is most often found in left-brain messages or sloganeering – which don’t work in the spherical world we live in of social, stories and being actual humans.
  2. Slogans + Tag-lines: Speaking of slogans … what are the slogans for Apple, Whole Foods, Google, Starbucks or other contemporary brands? They don’t have one because they don’t need one. Yet the idea that a slogan or tagline will solve a lack (of awareness, clarity, results) seems to stick around begging for relevance like your cousin Troy’s mullet. And just like your cousin’s mullet, a slogan no longer makes you cool. Knowing what your brand stands for and believes in makes you cool.
  3. Paying for Attention: As Andy Sernovitz once said “Advertising is the price you pay for being boring.” Yet for every “how do we get our message in front of people” and “how do we get our story out” is a herd of media buyers waiting to take your money and pretend you are interesting. If paying for attention worked, Jeb Bush would be the GOP nominee. We are not saying advertising does not work — we are saying be boring does not work. Having no message doesn’t work. What works is being interesting at the root level by being brave enough to look inward to your beliefs and translating them through a message that speaks to people’s’ hearts.

If our client’s comment made you laugh, good. Now, pause and consider. Have you taken ownership, either as a leader or a marketing exec, to, at the very least, push back against these ideas? Have you introduced another way of achieving the marketing goals to your leadership? Have you educated your leadership about beliefs-based branding? Have you fought back against naysayers that claim that heart-based branding is “frou frou” or “touchy feely”?

If you want help with this, download our “How to Be Brave” handbook. Not really. That’s marketing. If you want help, just reach out. We love chopping off people’s mullets.

Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.

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