A couple of years ago there was a saying going around. “You are a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made of stardust. What do you have to be afraid of?”
When you put anything in that context, the everyday decisions we make as marketers seem insignificant. Yet they mean everything to us in our day to day lives. It’s easy to get mired in petty choices and forget the bigger picture. It’s equally easy to see the world on a universe scale and decide that our day to day isn’t relevant. The challenge to all of us is deciding what the level is that we can work on every day of our lives, without fear of our decisions. We are responsible for our own campaigns, our own platforms, our own careers. That can extend to a team, a client, an agency. What levels do we look at when we make each choice, big or small, every day?
Our responsibilities as marketers are growing heavier as well. Just like the real universe, the one made of stars, the universe of data we have chosen to live and work in is constantly expanding. There are incessant streams of new data to look at, and new ways to tie together each individual human profile. It’s infinite data that becomes overwhelming, even when we try to look at it on a persona basis. How do we account for fractured data, walled gardens, locked sources? How do we reconcile with anonymity in a way that makes a customer’s experience meaningful? How do we do all this in a non-invasive, ethical way? The expanding universe of choices makes decisions even more challenging to streamline into logic for ourselves, much less to convey to clients.
We have new ethics to face as well, the challenges of digital advertising. As evidence comes to light on how addictive the social media platforms are, do we have to take responsibility as advertisers for fueling that? As we learn the impact of fake ads and rumormongering on the 2016 election, do we have to take responsibility for funding those platforms? Do we have a responsibility to our clients to advise them whether their ad dollars are being used to fund sites perpetuating hate speech? As the digital universe has expanded into something so different than the print or television universes, we are faced with new ethics challenges that no marketer had to face in the past century and a half since advertising became a thing.
When we look at all of this, it’s easy to be paralyzed by fear, to say we will do the minimum as we execute campaigns, build platforms, engage customers, sell product. And yet – we are all made of stars, the same stuff as stardust. Each of us has been gifted in a way that allows us to transcend our petty fears and decide how we engage with the world around us, whether in great or small things. Perhaps marketing campaigns are not what we always think of as great things, but they are what we practice doing, every day. Perhaps to make them greater, we need to take those risks, lose that fear, remember that we are visionary creatures who are capable of irrational decisions. Sometimes, it is the less rational decision, to go against a traditional KPI or ROI metric, to leverage a new technology or a new format, to take extra time to produce a blog post or video, that makes the difference for the actual, real humans who make the decisions to buy, somewhere on the other side of the screen.
After all, it may not be long before an AI program comes along who can make all the logical decisions necessary on a day to day basis. Only a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust – a human like you – will be capable of making the extraordinary decisions that transform a campaign. You, as a marketer, must engage your fellow humans, and help them transcend their own fear of decisions on the other side of all this digital data, all these connections, all these electronics. You must be human if you are to convince your or your clients’ equally human customer to be bold and commit to a purchase of any scale. After all, what do you have to really be afraid of?