A few Sundays ago I reached the tipping point.
It started out as a typical Sunday afternoon. My two sons, inspired by the previous night’s bedtime story of the Avengers, transformed into Iron Man and the “Credible” Hulk to fight evil doers in the basement. My wife was at the store rummaging for milk, school lunches and snacks. We take turns making this weekly run, but never with the boys if we want to avoid Lucky Charms down on aisle five and steely stares from those who aren’t sensitive to the mayhem of shopping with six- and four-year-old boys. So with the Avengers fighting as one, I grabbed my cup of coffee and iPad to catch up on stuff.
Ten minutes in, everything tipped. It wasn’t the coffee cup capsizing when Iron Man decked the Hulk beside me (though it was close). Instead the “tipping” was regarding my ritual of catching up on the score of quadrant four emails from the previous week. I rationalize that most of these emails are educational – alerting me to the latest happenings in PR and marketing. They are from our trades, associations and bloggers that I read to stay ahead, and honestly, to feel guilt-free before the Monday Madness begins again. Those emails that multiply like rabbits – accumulating so rapidly that our ex-Marine IT Czar gets in my face about clogging up the server.
So after those ten minutes, the inspiration to continue reading just wasn’t there. I deleted those emails, powered off the iPad and picked up the New York Times.
Wouldn’t you know it; among the articles I ran across was one by Jenna Wortham: “When Emails Turn From Delight To Deluge.” Was it a sign from above? It was Sunday, after all. That’s my email box, littered with seemingly pertinent, educational information – information that comes in all shapes and forms, from white papers, eBooks, webinars and infographics, by-lined articles and even cartoons – always tactical and cleverly positioned as “best practices.” Emails with subject lines such as:
Oh, and lest I forget the one that pushed me over the edge…
NO! HECK NO!!!
My choice to turn it all off wasn’t because the information wasn’t enlightening or useful. Some of it was. Maybe my frustration had been fueled by an Alfred Tennyson quote that I’d heard the day before:
“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
Sure, Tennyson was talking about religious creeds, but though it was Sunday, it was the PR and marketing creeds (not religion) muddling my inbox that made me question the value of our focus as an industry. It made me doubt that amidst a revolution (really, a repackaging) of the “come and get it” content marketing movement taking place in our industry, we may often lose sight of the strategic and creative side of what we do and how we deliver value. Among the rise of social media platforms that are simply a means to distribute the content, have we become ants marching to the proverbial “this is how you do it?” Are we focused on delivering value or are we just cranking out noise?
We are communicators, engagers and even sometimes, entertainers. But our higher purpose and value to our clients is to do much more than communicate and engage with their audiences. No, what we are in the business of doing is INSPIRING our clients’ audiences. If what we communicate or the ways we engage with our clients’ audiences doesn’t INSPIRE them to an action, well then, it’s just noise. It’s like a status post on Facebook that puts out a plea to like a page in order to reach a milestone of “likes.” If what we do doesn’t inspire or help achieve a business goal (such as to get the public to support a cause, voters to vote for a candidate, employees to be motivated to contribute to their company’s goals, investors to invest in their company, prospects and customers to buy products or services and tell others to do so, etc., etc.), then we have failed.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the noise, and lose sight of the value of inspiration of what we are capable of doing. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as “building mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” along with a set of processes as a management function. The American Marketing Association (AMA) is even more transactional in its definition of marketing as an “activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.” And our industry has gone rabid as well, foaming at the mouth with customer engagement strategies and programs. Some recently even have adopted the ideal of “engage” in their taglines.
The point is that we provide value only when we are able to “fill (our clients’ audiences) with the urge or ability to do or feel something.” That’s the definition of inspiring. I am not talking about getting your client to 1,000 “likes.” Great brands inspire us to do or feel something. Their communications and marketing follows suit – it’s inspirational. It is not simply an exercise of connecting and “engaging.” Inspiration comes through emotion, storytelling, sharing experiences and reminders of our humanity. The best brands make us think and do and dream – all with positive business implications. You don’t have to look far to find those great brands that INSPIRE. They do it with their advertising and content, across their interactions via social media channels and through the customer experiences they create and deliver in-store and online.
The honest doubt I have is that there may be far too much action without inspiration. Our daily media outreach, posts on Facebook and Twitter, mobile marketing and content, may not fill the people with whom we are engaging with the urge or ability to do or feel something. Yes, Seth Godin is correct that we are in the “connection economy,” but without inspiration, our connections are worthless.
We are the professionals who build mutually beneficial relationships with our clients’ audiences. What we have to do is to think beyond the transaction of communicating and engaging, to INSPIRING. We have to switch our mindset from customer engagement to inspirational PR and marketing. PR and marketing that comes in all shapes and forms, but that stirs emotions, rouses spirits and galvanizes conviction. And above all, stimulates action.
So what am I going to do about those emails? I have hope. As one expert noted in the New York Times article, “We might try to keep emails brief, taking inspiration from Twitter’s 140-word character limit.”