Manipulation in Marketing: How It’s Used, and How to Use It Ethically

There are clear advantages to an in-house marketing team. You own the data, you own the message, and you know the culture.

And then there are the challenges.

How do you keep ideas fresh? How do you maintain focus? How do you continue to learn?

Just as in nature we can’t “make” anything grow but only create the conditions where this occurs naturally, so it is with our teams. A garden’s growth is naturally increased with the right amounts of fertilizer, sunlight, water, and tending. A team’s growth is accelerated with the proper proportions of support and challenge and with the attitudes, strategies, and resources that enable it to reach and continually expand its potential.

In more than a decade of partnering with in-house teams to unlock their potential, my own team and I have learned some valuable lessons. Here are the essentials.
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Promote diversity.

While this might sound cliche, diversity is perhaps the very foundation of accelerating a team’s growth. With so much focus on digital analytics, content marketing, visual storytelling, and demand generation, your team simply can’t grow or successfully compete without the generative “friction” of a wide range of specialized roles and complementary skill sets. In short, you just can’t do without a diversity of people on both the creative and analytics side.

But diversity is about much more than a multiplicity of specialized roles or skill sets or even visible differences or lifestyles. It’s about a diversity of thought, or about bringing different and often opposing perspectives together in the service of solving a problem or discovering a new approach. No matter how different team members may look and behave on the outside, if they’re all showing up with similar perspectives and approaches, you don’t have the kind of diversity that promotes your team members’ personal and professional growth or that drives your company’s innovation.

If you’re serious about the kind of diversity that accelerates your team’s and company’s growth, you’ll have to be serious about walking your talk. As leaders, if we can’t hack the demands of diversity, why would we expect our teams to? To promote genuine diversity on our teams, leaders need to model three mindset shifts: First, we need to become aware of and able to question our own biases. Second, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. (We need to actively expect, accept, and embrace perspectives that are not only different from our own but which personally unsettle us.) Last, we need to create a culture where intense “push-back” between teams members as well as between team members and leaders is not viewed as necessarily negative. Opposing perspectives and even outright conflict should not be with met suppression or reprisal but with interest and humility.

Become expert bridge builders.

Treating marketing as an activity that happens independently from other departments is a way to foreclose much of your team’s growth potential. Just as an individual’s growth is promoted by having to contend with different ways of thinking, the same holds true for your marketing team as a whole. Marketing teams need to be integrated with and “stretched” by other departments and dimensions of the business.

Without this kind of integration, it’s not unusual that sales messages won’t align with the company’s value proposition, that a product won’t be positioned right for its intended demographic, or that a product development plan won’t highlight the features that market research has identified as the most attractive to users.

The best marketing is flexible, interdisciplinary, and involves bridge-building with salespeople, graphic designers, engineers, accountants, and “anti-agencies” in ways that inspire trust, collaboration, and mutual value-creation.

At Zen Media, our teams have made it their mission to become bridge builders with companies who are increasingly moving their marketing activities in house. We understand that not every brand wants an agency as the gatekeeper of their digital message, but neither do they want to go it alone.

For this reason, we’ve become expert educators, partners, and trusted advisors who are just as enthusiastic about project work and one-offs as about long-term relationships. By understanding that our clients aren’t looking for traditional, cookie-cutter, pre-packaged services but rather strategic intervention, project-specific support, and flexible, as-needed collaboration, we’re leading the charge of the anti-agency.

Be creative-centric but data-informed.

Right now, data is viewed as king. The problem is that data doesn’t win the hearts and minds of consumers, and contrary to the term “data-driven,” it doesn’t drive compelling messaging or campaigns (though of course it plays an important role). When data is the primary driver and creative is relegated to the backseat, there’s a high risk that your team will get it backward and stall your company’s growth.

Don’t let your team be seduced by data or become obsessed with numbers for number’s sake. Continually encourage them to drill down into the data to determine what their audience cares about and what’s motivating consumer behavior. Demand that team members explore and identify why consumers are doing what they’re doing before they get fixated on manipulating metrics without knowing the meaning behind them.

What drives killer campaigns is a team that understands the meaning behind the metrics and how this relates to engaging an audience. Because disruptive innovation is driven not by data but by creative risk, teams need to shift their focus from data-driven approaches to “creative-centric” ones.

In conclusion.

By promoting diversity, building bridges, and being creative-centric but data-informed, you’ll create the conditions for accelerating your team’s growth, tapping its potential, and inspiring the peak performance that is the key to your company’s success.

To hear about three more of the valuable lessons I’ve learned in partnering with in-house teams to unlock their potential, look for Part 2 of this article next week.

Shama Hyder is a visionary strategist for the digital age. A web and TV personality, a bestselling author, and the award-winning CEO of Zen Media, she has aptly been dubbed the “Zen Master of Marketing” by Entrepreneur Magazine and the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by …
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