Remember the old adage about the salesman who was so good at his job that he could sell refrigerators to Eskimos? This cliché makes people shiver—and not just because they are imagining hustling for Maytag in Nome, Alaska. The idea of tricking people into buying something they don’t need, want, or are able to afford has dogged marketers for decades, and somewhat rightfully so.
When I was offered the position of Senior Copywriter here at Hootsuite, my excitement was tinged with hesitation. I was crossing a line I had drawn years ago when I worked as an editor in a traditional publishing house: I was not a marketer, and never would be. We were the honest voices, the storytellers connecting with a willing readership, an intelligent audience that wanted to hear what we had to say. The marketers were the tricksters, using their black magic to sell those refrigerators to an uninformed population.
But here’s the thing: Within the first few weeks working at Hootsuite, it’s become clear that the traditional marketing approaches have shifted and we, the audience and the marketers, are all the better for it. Smart brands (and by extension, the brand managers) can be—and need to be—truth-tellers, information providers, trusted voices in their area of expertise rather than the attention-seeking (m)admen shouting “Look over here!” The line that once separated writers/editors and marketers has blurred, possibly even disappeared.
This is a great time to be in marketing. I mean, content marketing. The distinction is important because it shows that content is getting some long-awaited credibility. And this shift has happened because people demanded it, whether they knew it or not. A well-informed, media-savvy audience that asks questions will ignore the fridge hawker. Marketers are in the position, to create meaningful relationships by creating useful, relevant content that informs and entertains. No trickery required.
When I first started writing professionally (as opposed to just entertaining myself and my imaginary audience with angsty teen fiction) I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could use my own voice, not just a bland corporate one. Seasoned editors encouraged me to be authentic, to tell it how I saw it. Of course, it’s not always so simple. Writers have to be aware of their audience, who they are representing, what the message really is, and how to maintain a voice that is personal and personable, as well as informative. Sometimes it’s best to keep that clever turn of phrase for another time, something that’s obvious to a good editor. Understanding the importance of substantive feedback isn’t just for the magazine or fiction writer, it’s integral for anyone who wants to communicate effectively.
It all goes back to building relationships through conversation. Authenticity, integrity, intelligence, humor—these are the keys to being a great communicator. Today’s audience won’t accept anything less. And as a reader, writer, editor, and member of many digital and non-digital communities, I won’t either. When I was building a career in publishing, I thought that was why I would never be a marketer. Now I’m learning that many of us at Hootsuite once felt the same way. And we’re among lots of other businesses trying to find innovative approaches to communicating ideas with authenticity, integrity, intelligence, humor. We’re learning to tell stories and share information for an audience that knows how to find the truth. That’s why it’s such an exciting time to be a marketer.