Let me start by saying that I truly enjoyed my time at INBOUND. I learned a lot and came home with valuable insights. Everything, from acing the SEO game to upcycling content. But there was one tiny, little point that kept nagging at me across various presentations. And the more I thought about it, the more I noticed it kept happening.
And the more I noticed it, the more I realized it wasn't tiny. It was huge. And it needed to be talked about:
We marketers are liars.
Contradiction in Action
The theme of the conference was very clearly the "human element."
Every session and keynote hit hard on how important it is to think about the human on the other end of your content. HubSpot even coined a brand-new term to describe the process: "human enjoyment optimization" or HEO. As in, "HEO is the new SEO," etc.
All of the workshops about content creation pushed attendees to create content for humans instead of machines. And paramount to this process is being honest and authentic.
Of course, I love the idea of human enjoyment optimization... in theory. I have a big bone to pick, however, and I'll start with one very specific session I attended. The session was about strategy and made a big point about creating websites just for your personas.
"Make it about them, not you," was the directive.
The presenter then taught his "color test," which goes something like this:
Read through content you create (like emails, website copy, etc.)
Circle anything where you talk about yourself in red
Circle anything where you talk about your prospect in blue
If you have more red then blue, it is time to go back to the drawing board
Then... the presenter proceeded to talk about nothing but himself for the remainder of the session.
"Let me talk to you about my great business ideas, examples of my success and toot my own horn rather than talk about my clients' businesses and successes."
If that presenter had run his color test on his own presentation, he would have noticed he was not practicing what he was preaching.
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All Marketers Do This
But I realize that, as convenient as it would be, I can't just point the finger at that single presenter. We are all guilty of this.
The example I witnessed in action truly resonated with me as something that I see as "wrong" or a fault about human behavior as a whole. And we, as marketers, are often the biggest offenders. Gary Vaynerchuk said it best during his INBOUND keynote, "Marketers ruin everything."
And this is a case where, I am sad to say, he was spot-on.
We are really good at saying, "Make it about them, not you," but our human nature always shows through. That's not what we really mean; we're paying lip service, and it's time to stop.
Especially if we really are truly concerned with being authentic and honest.
Throughout the conference, I continued to notice more and more examples of our self-delusions. No example was more obvious than in the keynote with Anna Kendrick.
The keynote was meant to be an interview for the audience to learn more about Kendrick. Too bad Randi Zuckerberg, her interviewer, managed to spend the majority of the time trying to talk about herself. She found ways to ask long-winded questions that made sure to interject boasts about her own radio show, background with Facebook and business ventures.
And when you feel like you need to tell an interviewer to "Make it about them, not you," there's a huge problem - they should already know that.
As inbound marketers, we spend a ton of time talking about honesty, authenticity and being human. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and be brutally, completely and unabashedly honest.
What we as marketers - and as humans in general - need to do is start telling the truth.
We need to tell the truth first to ourselves, and then to the world. We aren't here to "make it about them, not us" and we definitely aren't here just to serve others.
What it really, truly is all about is this: How can we both win? How can I do, or create, something for you that serves a need, brings you happiness or makes your life easierand helps me at the same time?
Let's stop pretending like I'm speaking at a conference just to educate, when I'm also trying to expand my business.
Let's stop pretending like I've only agreed to run an interview just to talk about the interviewee, when I'm also trying to get publicity for myself.
Let's stop pretending like I'm creating marketing content just to make you happy, when I'm also doing it to reach potential leads.
Let's be honest and admit that part of my motivation is what I'm gaining from our interaction. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is human nature, it is the reason our species has survived and it is honest.
This rule holds true across all human interactions, both business to personal. Think about your relationships with family and loved ones. You don't maintain those relationships solely to make the other person happy; you maintain them for the love and joy you get as well.
I certainly didn't marry my husband just because I made him happy; I married him because he made me blissfully happy in return. I didn't spend months waking up at all hours of the night to feed my newborn son just to make him happy; I did it because I've never felt as much love and pure happiness as I do when he smiles his toothless grin at me.