A Look in the Marketing Mirror

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I was about to say that the melancholy has set in, and I’m sure it’s not just me.

But then I checked my thesaurus. I expected to find:

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melancholy: a mix of emotions, not all doom and gloom, a little bittersweet, as in ‘how one tends to feel as another year draws to a close.’

Wrong. Instead, I see:

downhearted, miserable, dismal, glum, and gloomy

Nothing bittersweet about it. All this time, I was wrong about December. I’m not really melancholy at all.

I must be reflective. Yes, that’s how I feel. Reflective. A look back and a glance ahead. Thoughtfully gauging lessons learned, losses and gains, hopes and goals. Check that:

Reflective: weighty, philosophical, deep, brooding, wistful, pensive

Closer, but still a bit heavy.

mirrorInteresting, too, that the act of being reflective speaks to a deep, absorbed seriousness, while in reflecting (the verb) we mirror, we reveal, we redirect light.

Segue to one of my favorite topics: marketing. Call it what you like, but this is what I do. So anytime I have the opportunity to put in a plug for the often-misunderstood place of marketing in the world, I am happy to take up the cause. In this case, our word association game (see my first post) goes like this: I hear the word “reflect” and I think “marketing.” How so? “Marketing” covers a lot of ground. In fact, it never fails to amaze me, the number of definitions. Nearly everyone I’ve ever worked with sees marketing through a different lens. It is not all black and white.

It is, though, a reflection. Marketing is a reflection of those who decide which strategy, tool or program is the best fit. It is a reflection of the resources invested — we’re talking time, dollars, know-how, and not necessarily in that order. Most important, marketing needs to be a genuine reflection of the brand: an honest, well-crafted, clearly articulated story which differentiates each from the other.

At its finest, when taken seriously and done right, marketing, in fact, does “mirror, reveal, and redirect light” not as a one-directional message but as a multidimensional give-and-take. Like an impression of sidewalk life reflected in a storefront window, or one’s own image gazing back from a bathroom mirror or the sky appearing to float on the surface of the sea, marketing reflects it all — the good, the bad, the ugly.

A look in the marketing mirror tells all. Details — right down to word choice — matter. Consider “jargon.” As a communicator, I’m familiar with that one. We use it all the time, as in “stay away from…” So how can “jargon” be a synonym for “vocabulary”? We go from the lovely synonyms “expression, language and lexis” to “jargon,” an ugly stepsister of a word. Its definers are “nonsense, guff, gobbledygook, and mumbo jumbo.” How can that be? One degree of separation, and we go from “language” to “gobbledygook.”

Now there’s a topic that could fill a book.

Philosophically, it’s good to remember that we’re not supposed to suppose when it comes to defining things. Are we wired to think that everything is open to interpretation — an idea, a performance, a poem, a piece of art? So, too, can’t we flex our vocabulary? Where are the gray areas?

Last month in The Mix, I spoke about my work building non-traditional audiences for the arts and other experience-based “products.” This concept I call “crossing over” (or as the Italians so beautifully say, attraversiamo) has everything to do with flexing the defined. In fact, we might begin a discussion about reaching new audiences by tossing out the thesaurus, the dictionary and any other convention of communicating. Instead, we use sticky notes and white boards (or their virtual replacements) to harvest free thoughts and to break preconceived notions. We let go of assumptions, we ask questions, and we seek that elusive gray area. New audiences are out there. They are the undefined. Before we ask them to embrace us, we need to learn how to embrace them. If we ask our audience to re-think, reimagine, engage or re-engage, we first need to do that ourselves. Conversion comes with time, but “crossing over” can be a daily exercise in the process of our work and in its outcome, a reflection of how we think and where we want to go.

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Leslie Cargill
Leslie Cargill is a “smarketer” and communicator, privileged to work with leading brands like Boston Ballet, United Way, the Museum of Science and the Boston Red Sox. From baseball to ballet, she advances experience-based programs in the arts, tourism, education, entertainment, healthcare, fitness and sports. While the goal is to retain and grow an existing base of business, the trick is in developing new or "non-traditional" audiences. She was Director of Marketing and Communications with Boston Ballet before returning to her consulting practice where she serves as advisor, project manager and interim CMO for her clients. She believes in a good mix of marketing basics, a campaign approach, and both program and institutional strategies in branding, positioning, messaging and communicating. A dyed-in-the wool New Englander, she splits her time between Boston and her family home on the coast of Maine. She can be reached at leslie@cargillboston.com. Or call Leslie at 617.913.9000.