October 12, 2016
Advertising Week is one of the most interesting gatherings on the calendar for any marketer. It’s jam packed with events for four straight days, filled with learning and even more networking. It can make you feel part of a larger conglomerate of people, mashed together in tiny rooms that are at times “standing room only,” trying to figure out what’s next in our business landscape. One trend that is notable in our world and continuing to pick up momentum is the need for transparency and authenticity in marketing. In late 2015, I wrote a piece on LinkedIn about how important authenticity will be moving forward, as the nature of relationships is changing due to how we position ourselves in both the physical and digital worlds.
So I did something that was antithetical to my authenticity messaging. I went to some sessions and hid my badge to see how people would treat me. I only did this because in the past when people would see my name, job title and Microsoft company affiliation, they immediately would think, “Oh, he or his team must have a big budget. Let’s go after him, grind him down, and land him as a customer!”
Let me tell you, when no one knew who I was, I discovered quite a few things. Here are four lessons I learned about authenticity in marketing by hiding my identity from potential suitors. These can help you enhance your skills when approaching conversations and prospective customers.
1) Titles mean little. Many people who approached me couldn’t care less about my title or where I worked. What were they really after? The solutions I was trying to deliver. Solution selling, rooted in design thinking, is nothing new in marketing. But it’s essential to understand what customers want to solve and how you can provide that, in the form of either consultation or technological tools.
2) Innovation > legacy. A modern organization cannot last if it rests on its laurels or reputation. Every marketer must think beyond simply name or brand recognition. They should be thinking very much like this quote from Bill Gates: “Microsoft is always two years away from failure.” Except now think of it as two months. The speed of business and feedback loops determine whether you are here today, gone tomorrow. Forget about how big your company or its reputation is. There are always new players ready to pounce and disrupt—and their innovation is rewarded more than your tradition.
3) Collaboration is the key to success. Marketers don’t think in terms of siloes like search, social, experiential, out-of-home, television, radio, print, etc. We think in terms of how customers will experience all of it within a moment of their lives, and how it adds value. So it was no surprise that in many of my conversations, people were interested in the larger team I work with, rather than simply what I did. “Can you connect me with that person, please?” Collaboration is a part of any winning business team now, and almost all successful marketers understand this.
4) Screen time can’t replace human connection. While I eventually did tell everyone who I was and where I worked, they were nonetheless eager to speak to me as much as possible: in person and face to face. No matter how much the digital matrix has grown, screen time cannot replace one-to-one face time and human connection.
We are pack animals, after all, and love to be part of the herd. I guess it’s in our DNA—just like honesty. In the end, I simply had to let the cat out of the bag. And I felt great doing so. Most people networking with me were surprised, but understood my approach. The conversations sometimes changed. People may have gotten a little more excited. Or confused about why I was hiding my identity in the first place. The best lesson of all was just be yourself. While authenticity in marketing is of course important, the overarching golden rule is to be open and honest. That’s always the best policy. Both in business and in life.