The 7 Deadly Sins of Marketing: Wrath
While it may be hard to believe, when you work for a marketing agency, it’s easy to forget that you have to also do marketing for your own company. Thus – the cobbler’s son has no shoes. What does that have to do with wrath? Nothing actually. Last year, I started a series on the 7 deadly sins of marketing and had every intention to publish one article a month on the topic until we covered all 7 deadly sins. I even made notes and had a plan! We’ve been blessed at Forum to be so busy with such great clients – but I simply have not had time to get back to it!
Now, let’s discuss wrath. Wrath is frequently used as a strategy to channel outrage. We see it in ads regarding the humane treatment of animals, in politics and even in protest of CEO salaries. But, this series isn’t about how we use the 7 deadly sins to our advantage – it’s quite the contrary.
How is wrath bad in marketing? Wrath can easily cause an organization to become blind to its own faults. Let’s give some real life examples.
I’ve worked with and for a variety of organizations over my 20+ year career. And, in every position I’ve ever been in, there’s always been an enemy. It was typically a competitor and usually because someone on staff had been wronged or outnumbered by that competitor. Now, some part of me gets it. I’ve been in situations caused by a competitor that still make me angry.
In one organization I worked for, staff members left to create a competitive organization. I had only been there for a short period of time and honestly had never seen a real life corporate coup take place. It was a very strange situation – and one that led to a lot of anger. Everyone on staff was angry. How could someone do something so cold-hearted? I know the mantra “it’s just business,” but when you work for a small company, it feels personal.
Eventually, after the shock wore off, but those events still affected us. We went into everything and every customer relationship feeling like there was another shoe to drop. I even had someone on staff claim they couldn’t trust me because I had an MBA – and the person that created the coup had an MBA. It was a very strange atmosphere to work in for a long time.
However, after losing only a handful of clients and finding others along the way, there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. However, other issues became apparent. Issues with trust and outright wantonness to win no matter the cost took hold. Because our organization’s traditional audience had changed over time, we actually created a separate division of our company to target our prior audience and to compete with the organization that was birthed out of that corporate coup. It was a move to ensure that we could still beat “them.” But, it highlighted a blind spot. We wanted to implement a simplified service offering – but because we wanted the best for our customers – we struggled to “dumb down” our services and limit them for small clientele. We ended up offering the exact same services we offered our larger customers but at nearly 1/3 or 1/4 of the cost! And really, we only did it to compete with the other organization and to keep leads so they wouldn’t get them. It was a strategic error because we were blinded by our own wrath.
In the moment – I’d lie if I said I wasn’t onboard. Yes – let’s go after their market. Let’s go beat them. I’m not one to go down without a fight, and that’s exactly how we saw things – a fight. I felt as if we – and I – had been personally disrespected. But now – years later – it’s easy to see the mistake. The corporate visions were different. Goals – different. People – different. Structure – different. It would have been perfectly ok for us to be us and them to be them. We didn’t need to try to be them to beat them. If we simply would have focused on being the best version of ourselves, I’d venture to say that the business could have been incredibly successful.
At this point I have to tell another story – not because it directly relates to “wrath in marketing,” but it does relate to how interpersonal relationships can affect marketing. So we’ll call this “interpersonal wrath in marketing.”
It was my first day on a new job, and one of the other members of the team walked in my office and said “Who are you?” I stated my name and told this person my new role in marketing. He then proceeded to use some colorful language to describe my inadequacies – you didn’t go to a tier 1 school, hadn’t worked in this industry and expressed doubt in the fact that I even knew what I was doing. He finished by saying, “I can’t believe they [leadership] wasted a budget line on you.” Wow. Talk about rolling out the red carpet for a new staff member.
My first inclination was to get mad. And I did. I wouldn’t even look at the guy when he went down the hallway near me. No one had ever spoken to me that way. My pride took a hit for sure, and if he was a bit younger, it might have become a West Side Story showdown.
But, over the course of the next few years, I learned three things. The first was that his anger was pointed at me but was not about me. In this organization, there was an “us versus them” mindset. His anger was pointed at others on staff, and I just so happened to be working on the team he wasn’t on. Number two was that I had a lot of unnecessary pride about what I had done up unto that point in my career. But, I actually think it was in this role that I learned that those things don’t matter. You can have 1,000 awards and articles and publications, but the proof isn’t in pride – but in action. And last, anger nor pride won’t help you do the next right best thing. Sure – sometimes people use anger in constructive ways. But that’s not wrath. Wrath is unbridled anger. It blinds. It humiliates. It is simply dangerous.
So – yes – anger can be powerful in marketing. Anger in and of itself – specifically righteous anger – can be a helpful tool in driving results in advertising. It can get people on board and inform consumers about a given wrong – or a perceived wrong. But, wrath in your overall marketing strategy can cause your blind spots to show as well. You can easily point your brand’s “ship” in the wrong direction to hit an invisible target all based on anger. You forget who you – and your business / organization – truly are. But, I would caution you – don’t do that. Brand, voice, messaging – it’s everything. It differentiates you. Turning the ship out of anger or frustration can make your organization the worst version of itself.Back