When I took those first few steps onto my college campus, I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t much care if I became the fan-fiction, best seller or corporate copywriter variety. Foresight warned me that being a “writer” was not going to be an easy undertaking in the world of social media and digital connectedness. I needed a unique approach. Stepping up to the registrars, pen-in-shaky-hand, I skipped the creative writing and signed up for a helping of the social sciences, the humanities and, of course, marketing. Looking back, it was these formative years that ultimately taught me how to be a successful marketer and business consultant.

My good fortune landed me in a marketing course with a spitfire, British veteran of the industry. He swung for big names, Mars and Heineken; and set foot in far off places, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. It was in his classroom that I learned two valuable business lessons. First, the world is diverse and you need to respect and leverage that fact. Second, to be a good (traditional or social media) marketer, you must know and respect the product you are selling.

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Still lodged between classes in my junior year, I took on a paid internship in the sales department of a insurance company specializing in importers and exporters. While, I never quite got the hang of making sales-calls, I did see talented salespeople in action. One older man always came to work dressed in full cowboy attire, with a smartphone in holster. He was relaxed when calling and took his time, never blurting out a memorized speech. Most surprising was the content of his conversations. They often strayed far from transportation insurance, mostly toward fishing. I soon realized that people prefer buying from a person, who has a story and hobbies and a personality. However, you need to know who you are, before you can tell people about who you are.

As a newly minted college graduate, my first business gig was performing Internet, SEO and “social media” marketing tasks for a small software company. It was a humble beginning, but it was here that I learned the most important lesson of all: people often want more than a product, they want a story too. As I finished up with a statistics degree, they saw my role in the company as a data jockey – market segmentation and soliciting feedback – which I enjoyed. On one particular survey, when asked how we could improve our service, the customer replied, “send me brownies.” At first, this seemed like a prime example of bad data: the customer hadn’t taken the questions seriously and I should throw out all of their responses. My supervisor saw it differently. She decided it was best to send them brownies, which we did the next day. Some might cringe at the thought of calculating the ROI of that move, but rest assured, that is a happy person, and they will probably tell that story for the rest of their lives.

While, humans come in many varieties – and companies often forget this – it is also true that: most of us want to be respected for who we are, we don’t want to be sold a shoddy product, we often prefer a warm smile to faceless automation, and we want to tell and be apart of compelling stories. A brand is successful when people willingly make it part of their lives; it becomes part of their identity. In order to be that brand, you need to know: your customers, your products, yourself and your story. You also need to respect all of the above. I have taken this toolbox of simple rules around the world, doing my best to help small businesses get off the ground and develop successfully. And it’s been a wild ride. I may not be able to call myself a best-selling author, but I’ve had the good fortune to tell a few stories and be apart of dozens more – and that’s why I became a marketer.

Written by Tom for themarketinglizard.com

Know Your Story, and 3 Other Marketing Rules I Learned in My 20s

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