On the Road Again

As a marketer, often the best thing you can do to improve your work is talk to customers.

Too often marketers climb up into their Ivory Tower and guess at what prospects are most concerned about.  They make up messaging.  They forget that they’re not the target audience.

You can survive on a diet of second-hand reports from the sales team, of listening in to a few sales calls, of case studies from successful customers, of analyst research on what the market wants.  But there’s no substitute sometimes for standing in a trade show booth, at a larger industry event, talking to every one who comes by to find out what makes them tick, why they’re skeptical about your pitch, and why they won’t buy your stuff.

There’s a certain joy in it, too, because you know you’re getting valuable results from the time you put in — time that many other marketers won’t.  Common sense, not commonly practiced.

Friend, Marketer

One door closes…

An unhealthy number of good people I know are going through unplanned transitions now.  Their jobs were eliminated in a restructuring.  Or, their company finished a project and cut everyone involved.  Or, the new leader of their auditioned chorus did not invite them to stay after their re-audition.

Here’s what I have tried to remind all of them, based on my own experiences:

  • You’re good at what you do. You’ve just gone through a rejection.  You’re going to question your abilities, wonder whether you’re good enough, debate whether you should just chuck it all and do something else with your life instead.  While it’s worth evaluating what you like and don’t like about your career path, don’t let imposter syndrome chase you off of it.
  • It’ll work out.  These are not just idle words. Yes, they’re highly likely to be true — most good people out of work find something, it’s just a matter of time.  But even more importantly, they’re more likely to be true if you believe they’re likely to be true.  Interviewing from a position of confidence and strength, not desperation and worry, makes a huge difference.
  • Find other people to tell you these things. This is perhaps the most important, because no matter how much self-confidence you have, and how convinced you are that it’ll work out… it’s incredibly helpful to get validation from outside your skull.  Surround yourself with supporters.  Check in with colleagues who can reaffirm that they liked working with you, would work with you again, and will put in a good word for you should you need it.

Good luck, my friends.  There’s a joyful next step out there, just keep looking for it.



Copy editing

“You’re gonna come crawling back to the humanities,” said Mrs. Thomas, my 12th grade English teacher, as I headed off to get my engineering degree.

How did she know that years later, I’d take joy one evening in going through a draft of a marketing datasheet, and…

  • Replacing passive voice with active
  • Making sure bullet points follow parallelism
  • Killing unimaginative verbs like leveraging, enabling, and allowing
  • Removing first person
  • Cutting up long sentences into shorter, clearer ones
  • Ditching a comma splice
  • Adjusting product names to comply with trademark guidelines
  • Cutting redundancies like “new and emerging”
  • Fixing hyphens: no in “frequently changing,” yes in “hands-free”

And enjoying it the whole time? Programming in English is something I enjoy doing. Mrs. Thomas knew it but it took me many years to figure it out for myself.


New blood

If only every organization could bring in a new member every few weeks.

The energy and enthusiasm brought by a new hire, early in his or her career, who’s just happy to be there and excited to contribute, could power a small city.  “Eat this brick,” you could say, and the new hire would go NOM NOM NOM and wipe off the brick crumbs and say, “What else you got?” Those people are ready to take on the world and prove themselves.

Better yet, it gives a boost to the rest of the organization.  It reminds everyone why they’re there in the first place.  “Right! If I’m doing it right, this is supposed to be fun — or at least, fulfilling.” As all of us slowly get lost in the mundane, in the ever-growing task list, in the race to the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the quarter… we don’t always remember to poke our heads up and say, why are we here?  Seeing someone define that during that first day, that first week, that first month, serves to help all of us renew our purpose as well.

Human, Marketer

Vacations, not quite unplugged

It’s really nice to take a vacation unplugged.  To leave it all behind… and to know that there’s nothing you can really do to help out with all those responsibilities you left behind.  (Like the responsibility of writing daily blog posts.)

And yet… there are advantages to a vacation that’s not quite unplugged.  When you’ve told everyone who depends on you that you’re available in emergencies, and will be checking just in case.  Then you’re not bottlenecking everyone while you’re gone.

A not-quite-unplugged vacation gives you the best of both worlds.  You’re aware of any work issues.  But you’re not on the hook to respond to each and every urgent incoming message demanding your attention.  Best of all, you can pick and choose the messages to respond to, at your vacation-enabled pace, so that when you do return, you’re not buried in rampant problems.

(As long as there’s not, like, an actual work emergency, because then you’re not enjoying the rest of that vacation…)

Marketer, Musician


In his magnificent book On Writing, Stephen King describes makes the amusingly accurate claim that writing is basically telepathy.  “All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation,” he offers.  As an example, he points out that the book is scheduled to be published in late 2000, and that that makes you the reader

…somewhere downstream on the timeline from me… but you’re quite likely in your own far-seeing place, the one where you go to receive telepathic messages.  […]

So let’s assume that you’re in your favorite receiving place just as I am in the place where I do my best transmitting.  WE’ll have to perform our mentalist routine not just over distance but over time as well, yet that presents no real problem; if we can still read Dickens, Shakespeare, and (with the help of a footnote or two) Herodotus, I think we can manage the gap between 1997 and 2000.  And here we go — actual telepathy in action.  You’ll notice I have nothing up my sleeves and that my lips never move.  Neither, most likely, do yours.

He then goes on to prove it by describing a table covered with a red cloth, and a cage on the table with a white rabbit that has a numeral 8 on its back in blue ink, and then dissects how he’s transmitted this image to your brain, even if we fill in our own details.

But by that point I’m already hooked. Telepathy! Who knew? I’m writing thoughts right now at my desk, and they’re being beamed directly into your brain by whatever Black Mirror has commanded your attention right now.  The time-shift doesn’t matter; you are literally able to read my mind.

Writing, for me, is like music; I’d make a career of it if I could, but economic forces and skills with more powerful earning potential have relegated such pursuits to leisure time hobbies. Still, I continue learning more about how to sing, and about how to write… and the best way to excel at either hobby is the same way to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.  This may not be the few thousand words a day that King advises for the serious writer-in-training, but it doesn’t matter — telepathy is an amazing trick, and one I want to keep trying to master.

Human, Marketer, Musician

“Flipping the Bit”

A few more chorus members have left the chorus I sing in, casualties of trust from the transition. They’ve decided that for them, singing for that conductor in that chorus under these circumstances is just causing them angst. There are enough other musical outlets in the Boston area that they’ll certainly find another chorus to join.

It’s a cause for further grieving, as many of them are friends whom I enjoyed hanging out with during Tanglewood residencies. But at the same time, it might be a reason to congratulate them.

If you’re like me, you’ve been in situations where you look around yourself and say, “What am I doing here?” For me, that’s most often happened in my trailing months at a job. I realized that the work I was doing wasn’t satisfying, or that I was unlikely to advance my career path, or that the people I trusted and built a culture with had drifted away to other parts of the organization.

When that happens, you say to yourself, NOW what? It takes courage to make that assessment. To realize that something you’ve ALWAYS done is no longer giving you joy, and to change it.

Friend and fellow chorister Will Koffel called it “flipping the bit” (as in, moving a two-position switch from OFF to ON).  It’s an expression he picked up at a previous startup company to indicate when someone has irrevocably made the decision to leave. As in, “Foley’s been talking for months about quitting to go to another company, but you can tell he’s ‘flipped the bit’ because he’s stopped pushing for changes.  I think he’s serious this time.” At a certain point, you know you’re done. It’s a bit terrifying, but also liberating. And once you’ve done it, cognitive bias sets in, and no one can convince you it’s worth sticking around. Every smile by your boss is sinister; every good will gesture is viewed cynically; every mistake is further evidence why you should have left a long time ago. But I’ve seen people reach that stage and then quietly suffer, becoming more bitter with each passing day.

You may know the old joke – “Doctor, it hurts when I do that.”  “Don’t do that, then.” Why spend any part of your no-dress-rehearsal life trapped by inertia, doing something you don’t like? There’s joy in taking control of your reality and shaping it the way you want, rather than be a victim to the decisions and work of others. What can you “KonMari” out of your life that doesn’t bring joy?