Beyond Ego – A Key Marketing Teaching

Our culture drinks heavily of the Cartesian Kool-aid, “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, we identify with our thoughts.

This identification solidifies further in professions which reward us for thinking. Over time, we increasingly value our thoughts, which is reinforced as our employers and customers reward us for them. And yet, just as our sense of self becomes ever more heavily invested in our thoughts, research continues to validate the idea that creating some space between ourselves and our thoughts — in other words, separating the self concept from the thought of the moment — can lead to more skillful navigation of professional and personal landscapes.

Believing others will feel the same way we do is one of marketing’s cardinal sins.

I first learned about this in my early 20s when I read Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, a collection of essays including “Relative Realities” by Ram Dass. In that short piece, Dass points how repeated use of the expression “I am” when it comes to emotions (I am happy, frustrated, etc.) galvanizes a mental link between the self and the thought or emotion of the moment. “I am angry” is tantamount to saying “I define myself as angry.” In English at least, we don’t have an expression to communicate that we experience a thought or emotion but don’t identify with it, such as “a part of myself is experiencing anger, but I am much more than the anger.” Each time we express the “I am” concept, whether aloud or in our own minds, we reinforce complete identification with the thought of the moment.

This kind of close relationship between self-concept and thought of the moment is toxic for marketers. As professional communicators, if we identify too strongly with our thoughts or emotions, we become blinded to one of the foundations of effective communication: I am not my target audience. We need awareness of, and distance from, our opinions, emotional reactions, thoughts and even the understandable desire to show off our skills. This way we can focus on the marketer’s critical question, “will this communication strategy work?”

Sadly, most communications “experts” ask a different question: “Do I like this communication strategy?”

These so-called experts believe that their years in communications work give them license to be lazy: they identify 100% with their thoughts and express their own preference. Too often, they are surrounded by people who trust the “expert,” scratch one more item off their list, and move on to the next challenge. “You’re the expert, so you tell me.”And so we see thousands of communications campaigns that aren’t appropriate for the target audiences. Sometimes great ideas, ingenious marketing solutions addressing the wrong problems.

To me, communications work is a bit like meditation: the best practitioners learn to identify their thoughts as worthy of consideration but not necessarily correct. As the introduction of Beyond Ego states, “When awareness is differentiated from objects of awareness such as thoughts or sensations, one is free to put awareness wherever one chooses. The meditator is then able to […] observe the flow of psychological processes and states of mind, to see through perceptual distortions…”

For the marketer, once you create space between yourself and your thoughts, you can understand your perception may have nothing in common with someone else’s. In fact, you learn that target audiences often feel differently than you do, and “liking” something is not indicative of how other people will feel or react. You are suddenly able to ask questions like:

  • What are the intended results from this communication strategy?
  • What makes it likely to succeed or fail?
  • Does it reflect what this audience cares about most?
  • How much do I like it, and how is that impacting my judgement?

Effective communicators learn to ask such questions before forming opinions about the merits of a particular marketing tactic or strategy. Their less skillful counterparts more often come up with statements before they ask questions.  I have heard the following statements at networking events or initial meetings:

  • We can solve that with an advertising campaign (the marketer who loves to get to a solution before understanding the problem).
  • You should really change your logo (the marketer who could not care less about the existing brand equity, and wants to get creative).
  • Your web site is ugly (the marketer who feels he’s been hired for his own artistic sensibility, not to discover who the audience is and what it cares about).
  • I love this tagline (the marketer who doesn’t realize that what she loves is irrelevant).

Next time you’re with a professional communicator, listen for expressions of personal opinion and preference and note the proportion of questions to statements. Ask yourself if this person is able to get beyond his or her own thoughts (beyond his or her own ego). And if the answer is no, find someone else to work with.

And while you’re at it, suggest to this “expert” that a little meditation might go a long way toward creating space between himself and his thoughts.

About Mower Boston

Boston's Mower office is a full-service technology marketing, PR and branding agency. Our B2B stories illustrate projects and campaigns in a variety of markets and media that range from local impact in Boston and New England to global proportions.

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