When creating a brand, design, or campaign strategy, it's crucial to step out of your own head and remember: you are not your target audience.
It's easy to think, well, this is how I use Facebook and Google; it must be the way other people do, too. It's easy to create an entire business model based off of your values, and not your customers'. It's easy to think that everyone will love the new logo, because you think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But your customers have different aspirations, circumstances, and passions than you do. They don't notice the inconsistencies in the Love's truck stop logo. They don't know what a Twitter hashtag is or have the slightest concept of link bait. When they think advertising, they think Mad Men.
Now, these examples may be quite specific to us at the office, but the point holds true across industries. Plain and simple, if you're working in a marketing department or on a marketing project, your target audience is rarely, if ever, you.
Once upon a time, Netflix users had friends. Users could see how their friends rated movies, read their reviews, and see compatibility scores between current and potential friends. But, right before the Labor Day weekend, Netflix finalized a several month transition away from providing these features.
Well, when you find yourself becoming "The Facebook for Movies" (or the Facebook for anything), it's time to reconsider. The Netflix advantage is product innovation -- things like Instant Watch. Everything else is nice, but also distracting.
Moral of the story? Just because something (e.g. social media) is great, doesn't mean it's for everybody. If it's not going to keep people from switching to the competition, it's superfluous.
When creating content, too many companies fall for the expertise trap. Whether it's a video, a podcast, or a written blog post, it all winds up being about how much the designer knows about designing, the doctor knows about the body, or the woodworker knows about wood. The question is, does anyone really care?
Don't get me wrong -- educating your client base can be a great tactic -- but there's a big difference between teaching your audience things they care about and teaching them everything you know.
For example, if you're an art gallery catering to the middle class (i.e. not super wealthy collectors), your content would probably better serve you by focusing on how a customer should choose art for their home -- lessons in color theory and stories of interior design -- than by focusing on the frontier of modern art or details of art history, things that only collectors and academics care about.
Next time you're creating content, think about your audience. Are they mothers? Are they business owners? Are they cogs in a corporate machine looking for a way out? Instead of ladening your content with jargon, industry references, and minutiae, it's a lot more effective to create content that people will enjoy reading because it's interesting and resonates on an emotional level.
Craftsmanship. It's one of those words you don't hear much in a digital environment. And yet, craftsmanship is just as vital today as it was a thousand years ago. It's analog and pastoral connotations are merely that -- connotations. The pursuit of excellence is just as fitting for the cabinet maker as it is for those of us who spend our working hours in front of a monitor.
Craftsmanship takes practice, observation, and patience. The road is long and paved with repetition, repetition, and more repetition. But, the end result is a product you can stand behind -- something you can point to with pride and say, "I did that."
When you've reached that point, people won't say "Oh, that's neat." or "Hmmm, interesting." The only thing they'll be able to say is "Damn. Good job." And that's the sort of thing that'll put a grin on your face when a lot of other things won't.
About two hours north of our office, in the Chattahoochee National Forest, lies Springer Mountain, a common starting location for Appalachian Trail hikers. At Springer Mountain, hopes are high: a return to nature is afoot. But, it's not uncommon for hope to be spoiled by the unforseen. Many hikers give up only a week into the 6 month journey. The conservancy reports:
"They give up for all kinds of reasons. Starting too early, heavy rains and snow, a schedule that is too ambitious and leads to injury, unexpectedly rugged terrain, overspending a meager budget, poor physical shape, ill-fitting and overly heavy equipment, or a lack of humor—all contribute to an ill-fated expedition."
I could take this paragraph and slice it into a million different metaphors. For clients, for agencies, for life. But what really struck me in the long list of reasons people give up is near the end -- a lack of humor.
Prospering in the face of dreary circumstances requires more than simply skill, or even determination. Sometimes the shit hits the fan and the only thing that will help you move forward is laughing about it.
So if work really has you down, if you don't have any work at all, or if you're just going through hard times, don't give up. Go look for your sense of humor and it will lead the way out.