By the time I got to college, I realized I was very good at three things. This is a huge turning point in my story because this is when I recognized my strengths. One was writing, so naturally, I started selling my services to friends who sucked at it for $25 a page. I quickly learned I could personify the “voices” and values of others by writing from their perspective. Give me a topic, and between Google and me, BOOM you had an expert of all subjects writing your college essay. I could also paint, and I’d sell a painting from time to time. I was a HUSTLER in college! The third thing I learned about myself was that I was Switzerland. I could get along with ANYONE…and I did! So yes, words, ads, design, communication, people skills…all figurative arrows pointing directly to a career in one thing and one thing only: MARKETING.
Fast-forward to my senior year of college. Unfortunately for me, that came during America’s Great Recession - not ideal timing to enter a job market that was attempting to recover from the worst economic downfall since The Great Depression. It was also a time of widespread societal transition. All-new courses were being developed specifically for digital media at Michigan State University. I enrolled in a graphic design course and I STRUGGLED. There was something about creating images on a screen that I felt took all the fun out of authentic hands-on creativity. Don’t get me wrong. Math was probably my favorite subject after art class as a kid, but I saw graphic design as a very technical field that limited real originality (at least back then). I mean, you had to click on like five different tools just to change the color of a stupid triangle that took me an hour to figure out how to make!
After about two days of that class I transferred to a copywriting course. The teacher was TOUGH. He was an old, crabby guy that considered anything less than greatness “absolute garbage.” He challenged me, and he changed me. That class showed me words were so much more than letters on a page. I learned there are few things on this earth more powerful than words. They are how we communicate and how we connect with others. Without words, we would be completely alone – and I don’t think life is about being alone. Life is about connections. Connecting with others is what gives us meaning. Words define life’s meaning, therefore language is bigger than us, and it’s a privilege to know and use.
The summer prior to my senior year, I interned at BBDO Worldwide in Detroit. I LOVED it! I was offered a job upon my graduation in their Department of e-Solutions. Then tragedy struck. BBDO lost their biggest automotive account. Almost 500 people working in their Detroit office lost their job that day – and I lost sight of my dream of working at a big agency.
After earning my degree, I was spat out into the real world and shoved into the epicenter of two colliding universes. There was the world as we knew it, and then there was this emerging new digital world I didn’t quite understand yet. By the time I hit the job market, eCommerce websites were exploding. Looking back, when I was in that moment I never fully realized how unfortunate of a position my graduating class was facing. I was a hustler! Remember? I wanted to get out there and make money and be an independent woman! So I did! I wasn’t concerned with economics or politics. I was ready to get out there and do great things.
When we’re young, society hasn’t had enough time to pollute our outlook. Mental paradigms are still pure and anything is possible. There are a lot fewer people telling you no, or that you can’t do something. Back then, there were much less “what ifs” and “hows” and much more excitement and imagination surrounding what the future would bring. What I’ve learned since, is this child-like imagination is something marketers NEED to hold on to no matter what. This is how great ideas turn into brands that resonate.
Great marketers aren’t afraid to fail. Fear does not exist in the minds of those destined to BIG things. I have shared my story for two very important reasons. One being a call to action for all marketers to simply remember what it feels like to be a kid. This fearless, untainted way of thinking is what leads us to think differently. By thinking differently than everyone else, we can market differently than everyone else. We can emerge from this sea of digital noise and clutter that keeps multiplying at an exponential rate. Today, standing out is EVERYTHING. Modern marketing is about demolishing the status quo and creating something new. We all need to tap into our inner child a little more so that we can be better marketers and think in new ways. These reasons are exactly why I was so drawn to working for Digital Rain. I mean, the first thing you see on the company’s homepage is “WE ARE THE MEDIOCRITY KILLERS.” Done deal! A match made in heaven.
The second thing I hope you take away from this blog is you have to know what your strengths are. Define them, run with them, and don’t let fear get in your way. Change is scary. Failure is possible. But great marketers are professional adapters that never stop learning, growing, and changing. The best brands that have endured and conquered the digital shift are the ones that stay true to their strengths and their original values. “How” is a very dangerous word. If you truly want to accomplish something, take the “how” out of it. Rather than worrying about how you will achieve your goals, just take a step. Take one step in any direction you’d like to go and that is how dreams become reality, whether you are a seasoned marketer or just now entering the game. Just take a step.