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. [Read more…]