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3 Things Marketing & Teenagers Have In Common

3 Things Marketing & Teenagers Have In Common

I came across an Inc. article by Abigail Tracy this morning with a brilliant Seth Godin quote in it.

When asked how companies can become more effective at marketing, he said,”Start by understanding that no one cares about them. People care about themselves.

Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are–it is a token, it is a badge.

It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.

I love that. It’s completely, utterly the truth in one perfect little sound bite.

I’m a single parent of two teens. And since my mind is jumping around like a deranged kitten, thanks to only having one cup of coffee so far this morning – this quote instantly made me think of teenagers and their built-in narcissism. If it is true that nobody cares about anything but themselves, perhaps we haven’t come far from our high school days. I don’t think it’s a universal truth about people in general, but it definitely resonates with brands and how people feel about them. They. Just. Don’t. Care.

Your brand means absolutely nothing to anyone. Unless we give them a reason to care.

This morning, just for fun, I’m connecting what marketing and teenagers have in common. It’s hilarious just how similar they are.

1. The world revolves around ME!

My sixteen year old daughter is, in a word, WONDERFUL. But like every teenage girl on the planet, her life is fraught with drama. She thinks nothing of raiding Mom’s wallet for whatever cash might be found, interrupting my workday three times demanding chauffeur service because her live is obviously SO much more important than mine, and “borrowing” everything from my hairspray to that new makeup brush and MAC eyeliner I hadn’t even had a chance to use yet. In a teen, it’s natural… even expected.

Since everything is about her, it’s interruption marketing at its best, but the product is her. 

But this kind of attitude no longer has a place in marketing. If your conversations and strategies don’t revolve around understanding your end customers and target prospects, and THEIR needs, it’s time to graduate from high school and grow up. Separate the “me, me, me” and “us against the world” attitudes, dump them in that circular file and close the lid. 

As marketers, we have been taught over decades to be completely self-centered in our approach. How do we sell product? How can we get them to our website? How can we cram our message down their throats and MAKE them take action? While certain aspects of promotion remain this way, it’s time to let go of making it about the brand, in favor of making it about everyone else. Perhaps this is why some people insist there is a vast chasm between marketing and public relations – as a way to separate which side of the fence they are on.

Me? I don’t care about labels or departments. I care about results and working together to make incredible things happen. But as Seth says, it’s time to realize nobody gives a shit about you UNLESS YOU GIVE THEM REASON.

So how are you giving them a reason to care?

2. Bullies rule the playground.

In middle school and the first year of high school, my daughter had to deal with some horrific bullying and cyber-stalking issues. The things I’ve had to learn are a bit horrifying and the impact on her was monumental.

Surviving high school requires dealing with bullies at school and online. It’s just the sad truth, regardless of all the warm, fuzzy anti-bullying claims shared by our school districts. Unless it happens directly in front of a teacher who notices it when a thousand other things are demanding his/her attention, they can’t do a thing about it.

In some ways, marketing is like the bully in the room. YOU WILL see my ad in front of what you want to read! YOU WILL be forced to watch my video in your Facebook stream until you turn it off. YOU WILL get my emails until you unsubscribe. YOU WILL have to leave through more ads than content in your magazine. You will, you will, you will.

Push marketing is the bully in the room, shoving itself under your nose until you do something to move it out of your way.

I hate push marketing. But I have to say that a certain amount of it in the overall mix can be very effective in capturing attention, if it is done with care, sensitivity and creativity. Especially pop-ups.

Social Media Trolls

But don’t you think it’s a bit like the bully on the playground? We are forcing their attention.

Same goes with social media trolls – they love nothing more than personal attacks and jumping into a conversation to stir the pot. They are also nothing more than bullies on a social media cyber-playground. They need to grow the heck up.

3. Obsession with what other people think.

With the exception of my metal head, bass-playing musician son who beats me hands-down on the stubborn scale and doesn’t give a fig about what he wears, most teenagers revolve almost every decision they make around how they look and what other people will think.

Isn’t that marketing in a nut shell? Image, branding, creative, publicity and PR…. Almost everything we do for marketing is based on the assumption that we want to capture attention, create buzz and sell something.

But unlike teenagers, who are set free once they realize what other people think just doesn’t matter and that they should follow their own path – our success is completely determined by what other people think. It’s called branding.

Our reputation has a massive impact on success.

4. Attack of the clones.  

Like teenagers, many brands are clones of others in their industry. But while teenagers are desperate to fit in, it’s the lazy side of marketing that drives “me, too” similarities. Companies can’t or won’t invest what it takes to understand their customers and their industry, so they look to their competitor and emulate what they are doing. It’s an epidemic. Yuck.

I call this me, too-ness. Yes. I made up my own word. Sue me. 

It would be one thing if they chose to emulate a company doing a GREAT job and effectively creating ROI. But instead, they simply choose who they like. It’s a subjective decision that doesn’t truly move their product or service forward. It’s like going from lame to acceptable, instead of good to great.

You may have noted that I use the number three in the headline, yet there are four items listed. That was intentional.

After all, aren’t teenagers fickle beings who frequently change their mind? And, in their haste to launch and massively overloaded timelines, aren’t marketing pros likely to make mistakes? Eureka, another thing in common.

LOL – I think this point makes this article include FIVE things marketing and teenagers have in common. Did you catch that?

See, marketing and teenagers are frighteningly similar! What do you think?

About Carrie Morgan

Digital PR, social media, search and content marketing consultant. 20+ yrs of agency/corporate experience. Author. Blogger for Convince & Convert, MarketingProfs, PR Daily & Social Media Today. Founder of #PRprochat.

6 comments
Alexandra Petean-Nicola
Alexandra Petean-Nicola

There are things in common but the brands that do marketing well have matured already from some of this perspective. There are many small business out there that do act like spoiled teenagers and just like them don't understand why they don't make it.

Sarah Hills
Sarah Hills

What an amazing article. The comparison between marketing and teens is on canny. I couldn't believe how much alike they are. I will probably use it to explain marketing to my clients. Loved It! Sarah Hills http://www.resome.com

Carrie Morgan
Carrie Morgan

Every brand is at a different level of maturity - excellent point and very true! But I find it can be the biggest brands that make the most epic fails. Chalk it up to lack of agility, no cross-departmental communication, a c-suite that doesn't get it, whatever - there are a handful of stellar ones, a vast assortment of those who are trying to improve, and a few that will simply never get it. The tiny percentage of them that respond to customer complaints on social media is a great example Small business is a bit of a different animal. It is a resources issue. Small business owners and entrepreneurs simply don't have the funds to hire the right kind of expertise, thus they learn as they go. Their level of sophistication is directly related to the amount of learning they invest, how far along in the curve they are, and how much time they can put into wearing the "marketing hat." I think many are so overwhelmed, they simply don't know where to start. Either way - we are in the midst of a marketing revolution and it is utterly fantastic to watch! LIke the adolescence of a new marketing age. =)

Alexandra Petean-Nicola
Alexandra Petean-Nicola

Excellent points. I actually didn't consider all those aspects about the big brands but you are right. I know from collaborating with some multinational departments how rigid they can be and doesn't really work for their market. As for small business, I agree that there are a million aspects that influence their outcome but some teams that in the end fail, do it because they are convinced that their product is the best and that's all that matters. Which is not necessary true.

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