Marketing is Improving the Human Race

Wow, amazing how six weeks can fly by and still feel like an eternity- for better or for worse.  You’ve probably noticed I’ve been rather neglectful of this project; a main part of my job now is blogging every day so by the time I get home I’m a bit tired of staring at a computer putting thoughts together.  If you’re a marketing/technology/new media type, you may find my company’s blog interesting; if you’re not, I apologise for the shameless plug 😉

Anyway, I was thinking about my job recently, as one is prone to do when spending 40+ hours a week in any given place, and I was trying to reason with myself about working in marketing.  As someone who routinely goes through phases of moderate asceticism and hates mindless consumption, trying to convince people that they need to go out and buy things isn’t really aligned with my values.  But then I realised that marketing really isn’t about that anymore-yes, I know this sounds like denial- but bear with me.

There was a time when marketing and advertising was about reaching everyone and trying to attract the masses to your product and brand a la Mad Men.  But that’s simply not the state of the world anymore- now, consumers and people in general want to be understood.  We’re not loyal to brands the way our parents and grandparents were; we don’t necessarily buy things because everyone else has them or they’re the most expensive or we see a compelling advertisement on television.  We consume to express who we are.  We want to be courted by brands that identify with our values, to find products that align with our personalities.  With the prevalence of social media, we are all our own brand and we take care to project ourselves in a specific way.  How many times have you been in a situation and thought very carefully about how best to tweet about it?  How many times have you taken a photograph with the express purpose of putting it on Facebook?  Whether consciously or not, we all run very careful PR for ourselves- from each Facebook status to the beverages we consume.  If I drink Starbucks, what does that say about me as opposed to someone who drinks organic fair-trade green tea?

I know this sounds like a bit of a departure from my usual “leave all your worldly possessions and live in a tree eating berries and nuts” ranting.  It is- and rest assured, there is still nothing I would love more than to leave all my worldly possessions and live in a tree eating berries and nuts- but that’s not the world we live in today.  People who do that eventually get in trouble for tax evasion.  I maintain that it’s important to stay in touch with nature and journey on your individual path to enlightenment, but it’s also irresponsible to forget that the earth is an ecosystem full of people.  You’re here for a reason, and if you don’t participate in the massive world around you it’s going to be mighty difficult for you to figure out what your dharma is.

But I digress.  Anyway, identity is the type of thing that marketers think of these days.  We’re not trying to reach everyone- we’re trying to reach the correct people.  Because of the colossal amount of data available to us- through traditional demographics as well as digital media- we can target better than ever so rather than being bombarded by noise, you’re only found by the people you want to be found by.  Rather than going out and consuming mindlessly, we’re learning to consume in a way that identifies who we are- for example, instead of going and buying a brand of toilet paper simply because I saw a nationally run commercial for it, I would choose a lesser known but more eco-friendly brand because by placing their message in the correct outlet for their target audience (me) to see it, they made me aware that theirs is a more relevant product to my lifestyle.

I’m not saying that all marketers understand this- obviously we all still get junk mail.  But at the same time, have you noticed that after researching which new car to buy, your banner ads now feature used models for sale in your area?  Have you recently bought a new yoga mat on Amazon and subsequently noticed a lot more advertisements for local yoga studios?  I even got tweeted at by @fiatnow after mentioning that I was shopping for a Mini Cooper, one of their major competitors.

It’s a bit disconcerting to hear that people are gaining such a comprehensive understanding of each other- but in a twisted, bizarre sort of way, it means we’re making great strides as a human race.  We may still be trashing the environment and waging wars against each other, but I like to think that perhaps we’re inching closer to a world of compassion where people identify with each other and create useful things to benefit one other.  And sure, it can be frightening to see just how much marketers know about you- but if it means that I get relevant information about new blends of organic tea on sale at Whole Foods instead of spammy offers to enlarge anatomy I don’t possess, sign me up!

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I’m back!

Hello!  First of all, my apologies for just taking off.  I do that sometimes, particularly when faced with major life changes like finishing university. Perhaps my last post about travelling foreshadowed that it was about to happen again, but it was a fairly spur of the moment decision.  Anyway, I am back now.  In case anyone is interested, I thought I’d include a brief update on my life before I resume my usual blogging habits.

Graduation photo

Yes, I graduated barefoot.

First, I finished up my last coursework and graduated from Syracuse!  I now have a music degree with focus on voice and piano, a minor in marketing, and a minor in IT.  Managed to scrape by Magna cum Laude as well!

Right after graduating I moved out of my place, donated about half of my belongings to charity, and send the rest back to New Jersey with my family.  Two days later, I got on a plane to England.  I stayed with some family before taking off for Prague, Croatia, Switzerland, and making another stop in England, and then I made it back stateside.

Twelve hours after landing in Newark, I began my full time position at Marketsmith.  I was there last summer and they offered me a full-time position- having a job waiting for me was a major factor in my decision to finish school a year early.  I manage social media for the company as well as the charity we sponsor, help out with creative and web design, and write many a blog post.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to say the least.  I will write more about my travels once things have settled down-this is the first time I’ve been home for longer than two weeks since last summer, so it’s a bit of an adjustment!  I still haven’t quite unpacked…might just give the rest of my things away and call it a day.  We have too many objects anyway.

Other than that, I’m just trying to keep up my music (anyone need a cocktail pianist or jazz singer?), getting started on some reading for yoga teacher training, enjoying time with my family, and trying to spend some time in the sunshine.  Decompressing after a long few years, deciding where I want my life to go.

Namaste, friends!

A Technological Diet

On a note not entirely unrelated to my recent hiatus from all things internet, today’s post is about the damaging effect of excessive technology.  I haven’t been on the internet much for the last two weeks- the first was because the week before spring break is always hectic at school, and the second was because I took a spur of the moment trip to the Dominican Republic and there wasn’t much internet access.

Since essentially my entire job is based on the internet, I spent lots of time on my computer reading articles, tweeting, blogging, facebooking, and interacting with other organisations.  I obsessively read newsletters, try to keep up with all of the blogs that I follow, and bookmark interesting things to research and write about.  These aren’t the healthiest of things, but I still manage to set myself a limit (albeit a high one) of how much time I spend online.  I noticed a huge shift in my general well-being when I resolved to spend more time not staring at a computer screen.

I also noticed, however, that the amount of time spent around technology isn’t my only problem.  One effect of my self-imposed technology limit was that I was trying to cram everything I usually do into less time.  I was trying to rush through everything and absorb it all in far too little time.  I can control the quantity of my internet usage, but how efficiently I was using it proved much more difficult.  I think that technology itself isn’t what’s really to blame, but how we utilise it.  Instant communication and nearly unlimited information- how could it be a bad thing?  In reality, the availability of information is something that we don’t know how to deal with.  As humans, we just aren’t capable of processing all of the information we throw at ourselves.  Trying to keep track of hundreds of Facebook friends, reading cluttered Twitter feeds, watching viral videos and giggling at memes- though it all seems like mindless procrastination, it still takes brainpower.  Even right now you are processing information as you read this post about how damaging excessive information is.  Ironic.

Our technology is evolving faster than we are.  We’re a species with increasing health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, twitching eyelids, and rapidly increasing ADD diagnoses.  We think this “progress” is helping us, but we’re not really sure how to deal with the information overload.  We’re losing analytical skills because we can look anything up instantly, our conversational abilities are diminishing with each tweet that we send, our memories are disintegrating, and interacting face-to-face is getting more and more difficult.

It’s a losing battle, and not one that we can just walk away from.  After my four days with basically no internet, I came back to 297 emails.  Nothing catastrophic had happened while I was gone, but there were also dozens of things that required immediate attention and that I couldn’t just ignore.  We are all involved in the technological world and there’s really no way to avoid it entirely.

I’ve been mostly successful in preventing a complete media overload by avoiding live television and trying to stay away from overly commercial locations like shopping malls.  Keeping myself sane while working on my own computer has proven to be a lot more difficult though, especially given my current job as a content and social media manager.  I still feel the need to read everything that could possibly be relevant to my life or job and stay somewhat involved with online communities, and I do check Facebook more than I would care to admit.

I’m pretty good at problem-solving, but this one continues to confound me.  How do you avoid a technology overload?  Do you just learn to cope?

Yes and No

I have always taken every opportunity that life has thrown at me.  This has led to some awesome experiences (getting great gigs, learning to ride a motorcycle through the Himalayas) and some less awesome experiences (not having time to sleep, being unprepared).  There is a delicate line between taking on too little and trying to do too much, and I have definitely spent most of my more recent years jumping back and forth over it.  I’m not afraid of much, but I am terrified of missed opportunities so I often say yes to things that I perhaps shouldn’t.  I’ve found myself taking 27 credits (more than twice a normal courseload) while working three jobs, holding e-board positions in organisations, and finding time to exercise and practice my instruments while still coping, but there have also been times when I’ve taken on a lot less and still felt overwhelmed.

At the same time, it is always important to seize new opportunities when appropriate.  Many people want things but don’t think that they deserve them or are qualified, and they really miss out.  My rule is that you are always capable of more than you think.  I have tried so many different things that I would never have thought myself able to do or enjoy, and I have very rarely regretted it.  As a freshman, I took on the task of accompanying an entire choir (usually a graduate piano major’s job) despite not having had a piano lesson in over six years.  It kicked my ass, but I learned so much from the experience and I’ve been working with the choir since.  This past summer I took a job at a marketing firm as an intern just to make some money.  I said “yes” to any task they asked me to do even if I had no clue how to do it, so I sometimes had to teach myself random things-like designing, slicing and coding an email blast or writing a press release-in an hour.  It was stressful, but I realised that I actually liked working there and had a knack for it, so now I’m graduating school a year early with a job already lined up.  In both of these cases, I was grossly underqualified for the positions, but simply because I took the opportunities that arose, I benefitted immensely.  I often accept opportunities before thinking about whether or not I am capable of them, and even if it blows up in my face (like one time when I offered to fill in for a gig despite having a 104 degree fever) I end up learning a lot more from it.

It’s really difficult to know when it’s a good idea to take something on and when it’s not, not only for time reasons but also just for general wellbeing.  All it is is another way of prioritising, though.  Is the opportunity something you want to do?  Is it something only you can do, or can someone else do it better or enjoy it more than you?  Will this opportunity come by again?  How much of a time commitment is it really, and are you willing to make other sacrifices?  Is it something you will enjoy, or will it stress you out?  Will you be able to make this commitment, or are you spreading yourself too thin?  Will this experience set you apart in terms of your career or other life goals?  Thinking about things like this before you decide whether or not to take a chance or opportunity can be very clarifying, because when you know what your motivation is for making a decision, you will be far more at peace with it and probably also more organised in how you approach it.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Making time

One balance that I find particularly difficult in life is that of time.  I’m always running around trying to get stuff done and I very rarely have time to relax.  I know the importance of just mellowing out every so often, but life is so short and there is so much to do that I often take the “sleep is for the dead” approach.  Many people prefer to take life more slowly and take on less obligations, and that’s fine- but they can benefit from stretching their perception of time too.

The trick in finding your balance is knowing what’s negotiable and what’s not in order to alter your perception of time.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that my only real “pet peeve” is hearing someone say “I don’t have time.”  Nobody magically “has” time.  Successful people create time, because if something is important you must find the time for it.  End of story.  I find it incredibly important to go to the gym every day, so I make time for it no matter what.  I’ll sleep less, I’ll scarf a meal faster than I should (I’m the master of the four-minute lunch), I’ll be a few minutes late to the practice room- I even schedule my classes and rehearsals around gym time.  I’m not joking.  To me, it is a major priority (possibly a major addiction but hey, it’s better than crack).

When you grasp the idea of priorities, your day will magically start to get longer.  Seriously- you will begin to do things more efficiently because you have incentive, and your perception of time will just expand to fill it.  It’s proven:  Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time you have to do them.  Well, Fiona’s Law states that tasks also shrink to fill the time you have to do them.  Haven’t you ever noticed that the busiest people have the most time?

It’s all about priorities and give and take.  If it is a priority for you to go for a run before breakfast twice a week, make it happen no matter what.  Go to bed earlier the night before, arrange your schedule at work a bit differently, stash breakfast at your office- whatever it takes.  When you start to sort out one priority at a time, soon you won’t even think about scheduling anymore.  It becomes second nature to figure out what’s the most efficient way of getting things done so that you can make more time for your priorities.  Here are a few quick tips to help you start prioritising and finding more time:

  • Start small.  Suddenly trying to find four hours every day to practice painting will not happen.  Start with an extra half an hour, and slowly find more when the opportunities arise.
  • Small bits of time add up.  Say you have six classes in a day.  If you wait around for fifteen minutes before each of those classes, that’s 90 minutes right there.  Do something small during those 90 minutes that you would usually have to do at another time, like reading or checking emails.
  • Move quickly.  Seriously, people waste so much time walking slowly.  Get some exercise and get places faster- two birds with one stone!  Also, walking quickly alters your entire mindset- you’ll be much more productive.
  • Multitask.  Research shows that those who multitask don’t do as well with each task.  That may be true, but now much effort does it really take to do the dishes while the water is boiling for dinner?  Or to stop at the post office on the way to the bank instead of making two trips?  Pay bills online while you’re on hold with customer service?
  • Sort your tasks.  Sort of like multitasking: check your emails, facebook, twitter, pay online bills, do anything that needs your computer- at the same time.  If you do similar tasks at the same time, you can move from one to the next much faster than if you were running back and forth all over the place.
  • Say no.  I’m all for taking awesome opportunities and saying “yes” all the time.  But if you’re really in a time crunch and someone asks you to do something that you know someone else is available to do, don’t feel pressured to say yes.
  • Schedule.  I’m a very spontaneous person, but I do keep a schedule.  If you have a schedule of what you need to do in some sort of chronological order (nothing formal, just something loose like “go to the gym for 2 hours in the morning, lunch, go to the bank, then practice for 3 hours, etc.) then you can know exactly how much flexibility you have when something inevitably gets thrown off, you know when you can take a 20-minute coffee break, and you won’t get stressed if you fall a wee bit behind.
  • Organised to-do lists.  Sort of like a schedule, but more long-term.  I keep a list of all my assignments with things that need to get done ASAP and things that have dates way off in the future.  Prioritise things that are due soon, but let yourself slack a little bit with things that are further off in the future.
  • Manage your media.  We live in such a cluttered world.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, commercials, TV…these things are all huge time sucks.  How easy is it to creep on your friends for an hour when you just meant to shoot a quick message, or watch four episodes of Modern Family because they’re all on Hulu?  I’m not saying to go crazy and delete all your accounts, but at be conscious of how much time you spend “plugged in.”  Not only does it physically take time, but it also adds stress and overstimulation to your life.
  • Sleep less.  In a healthy way, not in a miserable caffeine-dependent way.
  • Don’t be a slave.  The idea isn’t the whip yourself to misery.  The point is, by slowly making adjustments to how you perceive time you will naturally become a more efficient person.  Sometimes you just need to park it on the sofa and sit still for awhile, and that’s totally fine.
May you all bask in more free time!

Slacking off is productive!

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of being unproductive: trying to get stuff done when you’re not into it, and not getting stuff done when you’re on a roll.

There are times when I am so productive that I have cancelled plans (super lame, I know) to keep working.  I’ve blasted through tons of things on my to-do list and toiled for hours and felt really good about it.  I’m talking writing five-page papers in 45 minutes, learning a movement of a concerto in a few hours, and cleaning the entire kitchen with a smile on my face.

Conversely, there are times when I have had so much to do but I just couldn’t get into it.  I’ve sat and watched twelve episodes of How I Met Your Mother the night before a term paper was due, avoided the practice room at all costs during the weekend of a concert, and sat on Stumbleupon while I was supposed to be paying bills.

This works, however, because they balance out.  There’s an equilibrium between doing nothing and doing too much.  It’s important to define which is happening, though.  It has to do with honouring your body’s natural cycles– sometimes you have tons of productive energy, and sometimes you just need to mellow out.  If you dishonour this, it’s entirely counter-productive.  I know that if I’m trying to read for class and I keep reading the same sentence over and over again, I’m just going to have to do it again later.  I’ll sit and get stressed about how I can’t focus, and that is entirely counter-productive.  If I’m trying to learn a new piano piece and I can’t make the fingerings come naturally, I’m just going to have to un-do all of the incorrect practicing I do later anyway, which is even harder than starting fresh.  At the same time, sitting playing Portal when I’ve got loads of energy is a waste of time as well.  I could be getting ahead in my work so that later when my energy dips or my friends want to hang out, I can just relax.

Of course, if you’re constantly in a rut you need to make a lifestyle change to get more energy but if you plan ahead and work as much as you can when you can, slacking off is an important part of being productive.  It’s just another one of the dichotomies that life throws at us.  Point is, work hard when you can so that you’re able to play hard when you can’t.