Marketing is a fact of life for small businesses. It’s not something to be approached at best with neutrality, or worse, with dread. Unfortunately that’s how lots of small business people feel about some or all of their marketing. It’s my professional mission to change that so I’ve put together a few ways you can have fun playing when wearing your marketing hat.
Getting messy is mandatory
Being playful is a lot more FUN but also, it turns out, that play is necessary. It has been conclusively proven by science and psychology that play is necessary for children to become normal adults. Play is where kids “figure things out”, create neuropathways for success, and develop relational skills. The research was so compelling that it was extended to adults. Ta dah! Turns out its important for grownups as well. When adults play they are more creative, better problem solvers, and create better relationships. Still often we think of play as either frivolous or as something that we do “after work”. Since we spend so much time at work where problem solving and effective relationships are crucial, it seems to me an obvious place to attempt to bring in play. In marketing, creativity is also crucial so its a great place within the workplace to start.
There’s no time like the present
Although there are many, here are two easy ways to bring play to your marketing efforts.
The first is to consider it as a game, either a strategy game like chess or a sports game. There are a deep well of metaphors from games that can help you. In a game, you have to practice to build your skills, stretch yourself for greater resiliency, create a strategic game plan, engage with your competition, have a great coach or mentor who helps you play better, recruit great teammates for support, and review your plays to increase their efficacy. There’s almost no part of a game that doesn’t apply. Even the idea of a time out to regroup and refine your strategies is apt. Don’t dismiss this idea out of hand, I’ve personally been doing this for the past 9 months and its way more fun than business as usual. It's also increased my productivity while decreasing my stress and tension.
Another way is to bring words or phrases that evoke FUN or PLAY to your meeting, project, or overall marketing approach…joy and laughter are obvious ones. But this can be broadened. What if you brought in desire, spontaneity, or inspiration? How about being light with it, easing up, experimenting, dabbling, trying it on, dressing up, getting messy, for the fun of it, taking a chance, making believe, or playing to win? Anytime you make a conscious intention to bring in one of these attributes to your marketing, you are invoking the sense of play.
Marketing + play create big wins
Here are four reasons that play is particularly suited to marketing.
1) Successful marketing depends on creativity
Luckily creativity is a by product of playing. How often do we hear about or experience a creative moment when we are relaxed or having fun? There you are in the middle of yoga class and bing! The answer to some problem or question appears. That’s the outcome of your mind shifting gears. Inviting play into your marketing meeting or project invites the same shift. Creativity also increases in an environment that tolerates failure. Isn’t “uh-oh” a big part of playing? If you have spent time with children, you know that’s their favorite word for about a year of playing. It leads them to amazing discoveries of what works, what doesn’t, and what causation is. As adults, having permission for “uh-oh”s drastically increases our possibility of creating an innovative solution. When you “suspend disbelief” you also invite in creativity. Remember make believe and magic? Now we call it “having strategic vision” or “bringing in a new perspective” but when we unshackle solutions from reality we often find truly creative approaches coming along. I mean, really, who ever thought that a gecko could sell insurance?
2) Successful marketing depends on experimentation
You don’t know what works until you try it out. I call it “getting messy”. You get in there, do things this way or that, see what you like & don’t like about it, and then try again. Similar to our earlier days with play dough where you create, smoosh back together, and do it again. It’s ok to take your messages and products to market “in progress” and see what works and doesn’t. Good marketing is more of a process than an end game. Big companies test their marketing all the time and often change their strategy because of customer feedback, but often small businesses are scared of this approach.
3) Successful marketing depends on effective problem solving.
When you think about something in a new way, new solutions appear. When you hold something lightly, you actually create space for innovation to appear. When you are open and inquisitive, i.e. naively asking why with wonder and curiosity instead of assuming you know, you are more effective with solutions than when you are worried or controlling. It makes perfect sense, yet somehow we adults believe that being effective requires being serious. Being serious may make you effective in applying a specific known solution but it may miss a bigger picture, novel approach that could prove more effective in the long run.
4) Successful marketing depends on creating trust
Being playful actually causes others to trust you. There’s a great TED talk by Stuart Brown here that demonstrates this perfectly. Turns out that even bloodthirsty animals respond well to each other when the other adopts a playful stance. Its similar with humans. Playing helps build relationships and relationships are the cornerstone of connected marketing. Also, when playing with others, we get the added power of being in a group. The solutions created in a group often have more breadth, creativity, and effectiveness. Also, humor helps people connect with you and your company.
As final note, remember that if you entertain your prospects and they will remember you. If I insert a corny joke here:
There’s a good chance that you might remember the joke more than the rest of this article. But that’s ok, successful marketing also depends on being remembered.
Linda believes that small business owners can step into a better version of their business when they embrace authenticity and become more fully themselves. Her 25-year marketing career has included Kimpton Hotels, Jamba Juice, and Disney helping her clients win awards and placements in publications like The Wall Street Journal and TIME Magazine, as well as on the front cover of WIRED magazine. You can visit her website here: lindabasso.com or join her FB conversation.