Want to feel good about working in marketing in 2020? Get real.

I work for a marketing agency, so you might say I’m in the optimism business. Boil it right down, and marketing says, “Pay for this thing, and things will get better for you”.

Even when marketing looks like pessimism (“You have a problem…”), it invariably turns out to be optimism (“… but there’s a solution!”).

Which is all well and good. People aren’t stupid. They know what marketing is ‘for’.

Plus, I happen to believe that the B2B tech I’m writing about will make things significantly better for businesses.

But still, being in the optimism business in 2020 feels really weird.

Home is where the hmmphhh is

I’ve not seen many of my closest friends or family in months. I’ve lost all sense of time passing.

Around March/April time, I was exercising. I was cooking healthy food. I was putting up shelves. I was turning lemons into lemonade. (No, literally.)

It’s November now (how did that happen?), and my daily exercise regime consists of getting out of bed in the morning, getting into bed in the evening—and carrying pizza boxes out to the recycling.

Some days it seems like even getting out of bed isn’t worth it—let alone getting out of bed to write an upbeat eBook about the ‘future of X,Y,Z’.

Current world events depress me. Forthcoming world events terrify me. And neither variety of event is remotely ignorable.

Admittedly, I’m much better off than many. But I’m not in a ‘good place’. Because I’m in the same boat as everyone else—the boat that appears to be sinking directly into the path of a flaming iceberg. (Yeah, that’s right: it’s on fire, somehow.)

Cast into these doldrums, I desperately want cheering up and reassuring. But what I don’t want is to be lied to. Especially by people who are trying to sell me stuff.

Right now, my bullshit radar is set to maximum sensitivity. I’m on high alert for empty “empathy” and opportunistic “optimism”.

And I can safely assume that this also goes for the people who’ll be reading my copy.

Reader, fellow marketer: are you like me?

Well, it’s time for some reassurance. (This is my ‘Gandalf appearing on the hilltop on his majestic white steed’ moment… do NOT deny me this.)

Because if you, like me, feel that plastering a fake smile on things right now borders on the perverse, I have some good news for you.

Here it is…  

You’re right.

And not just because it’s 2020. But because good marketing is always honest.

And false optimism = bad marketing.

In even the best of times, un-earned optimism can easily come across as naïve, tone-deaf, dishonest, and downright patronising. (As capital M Marketing).

That’s why whatever optimism and enthusiasm you’re putting across in your marketing should be both authentic and appropriate. It should be grounded in reality.

You might be saying, “It’s marketing, people expect us to fake it”. And faking it is an option, of course. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t (usually through self-deception not downright fraud… I hope).

But even if your reader can’t detect bullshit (very unlikely), you can. Which sucks for you, at the very least. You don’t need another reason to feel bad about yourself right now.

Besides that, while a lot of stuff undeniably sucks right now, marketing really doesn’t have to. 

In fact, it needs to be better than ever.

By which I don’t mean more happy-clappy.

I mean more straight-talking. More honestly empathetic. More candid about where we all are right now—and where your brand currently fits into that less-than-perfect picture.

As marketers, we need to be remorselessly clear-eyed about what we can’t control, and (genuinely) enthusiastic about what we can.

Viewed through this lens, you might say that this is actually a pretty great time to be a pessimistic marketer—and that’s surely cause for optimism.

(There’s a place for qualified optimism in marketing. But sometimes what’s called for is outright negativity. Check out Andrew’s blog to learn more.)

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