Great Marketing Takes Courage

I look around the room at the faces of my students and I see a mix of feelings. Four weeks ago, they were all terrified beginners. Now, some look excited, others are more trepidatious, but all have the look of determination that makes me confident they will succeed. This is why I do this work, shoving aside my own Imposter Syndrome to show others what I’ve learned and tell them that despite the myriad of challenges they will face in their marketing practice: You. Can. Do This.

And they can, with a bit of know-how and a lot of courage.

The Courage to Solve Other People’s Problems

At its heart, marketing is about problem-solving. Your company has an offer and their potential customer has a problem. Some of those problems are tangible, others not so much. But they all exist. Marketing is the mix of creative and methodical tactics you use to find the people with the problems and show them that your offer will help them.

When customers have a tangible, obvious problem and companies have a corresponding offer, customers can generally find the thing they need without the need for marketing. It’s when the problem or offer is less tangible that we really come into our own.

The story of the Cowardly Lion is an important lesson for marketers: Confidence is vital to our work. Only by thinking we can be brave do we become brave.

For a crass example, a customer looking for a status boost might go looking for a fancy watch or a fast car. Our marketing helps them understand the exclusivity and cachet of that product, for which they pay much more than the sum of its parts. Marketers can see the chasm between what the product is and what they need their customers it to be. Bridging that gap takes courage.

The Courage to Believe Your Own Bullshit

Remember the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz? Despite being the King of the Beasts, this poor fella had a nervous disposition until the Wiz gave him a placebo elixir and told him that it would help him perform feats of bravery (sorry, spoilers). The lion accepts the ruse and transforms into the brave beast he longed to be. By thinking he could be brave, he became brave.

Ignoring the fact that selling someone a lie to improve their self-esteem might not be a great way to make new friends, the story of the Cowardly Lion is an important lesson for marketers: Confidence is vital to our work. Only by thinking we can be brave do we become brave.

The Flipside: Fear Kills Good Marketing

Not only does courage make for good marketing but fear makes for bad, which is why I have zero time for haters. We have enough challenges and should not put up with people sniping from the sidelines about how it can’t be done. Operating from a place of fear stifles the attributes that good marketing needs to survive: enthusiasm, innovation, risk-taking, and joy.

At the start of every team brainstorming session, my former boss Andrew Hattori would issue what would become his catchphrase: No bad ideas. That’s not to say that there were not frequently ideas that came from our group that would not work, rather that the room needed to be a safe space for creativity to flow.

The concept is also the basis of improv: In saying “yes, and,” participants accept the idea given to them, however absurd or difficult it is. Marketers need this space to thrive and should fiercely guard it against people who would steal the oxygen you need for your ideas to survive.

Marketing is tough. It involves both sides of your brain in equal measure, huge amounts of knowledge, great empathy for your customers, a data-driven mindset, an unflinching conviction in your company’s mission, the flexibility to adapt to new environments quickly, constant creativity under pressure, and a collaborative spirit. And it takes the courage to put yourself out there, day after day, pushing the edges of what is possible.

Be brave. You can do this.

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