Do the better thing: Mindfulness for marketing
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
There has been a global mainstream interest in mindfulness over the last few years, way before Covid-19, inviting us to be more aware of and present with our feelings, surroundings, decisions and actions to counteract any [potential] outcome that is unaware, thoughtless, meaningless - even hurtful to our Self or others. There has been a drive to embrace what is at the present moment in order to allay the gravity of the challenges we face in everyday life. Every bookstore has dozens of novelty items about mindfulness, there are thousands of podcasts, vlogs, blogs, courses out there. Well, no wonder, because there is an increasing demand to master the skill. Our ego and superego are switched-on by default and mindfulness doesn’t come naturally to us when System 1 thinking is also manifesting itself with every interaction.
If you’re familiar with it, mindfulness requires a conscious effort to find the state of just 'being' and remain in that mindful state - and it requires time and focus (and space if possible). Human beings are looking for some release and peace-of-mind amongst the multi-device digital exposure we are now used to rolling with. I actually find this ongoing effort akin to riding a wild horse. The racing wild horse aka our minds can throw us off any minute.
The unpredictability of the world we live in is reiterated loud and clear with the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve been catapulted into a time of introspection and solitude: a quarantined existence during which we rediscover ourselves and what makes us tick. Since coronavirus has received the global acknowledgement, I’ve been getting requests for commentary on how marketing should navigate this pandemic and the global and collective state-of-mind that it created - and whether there is a space to own, shed light to, participate it in for brand marketing during these unprecedented times... The context of my responses differ, but the long and short of it is “it depends”. Consumers’ psyche is evolving with an introspective and existential agenda - so all non-essentials are dropping off the list of ‘nice-to-haves’ in our daily lives. People are changing and mindfulness is no longer just for individuals to steer these times on an individual level. Mindfulness is for communities, brands, marketers, strategists, researchers - everyone.
Can marketing as a discipline, invented and worked by human beings, really differ in its dynamics from how human beings operate? Especially considering that everything marketing does is aimed for human beings? I personally don’t think so. The same mindfulness journey and endeavour should apply to marketing, in my opinion.
There are prompts everywhere to see, interpret, decide and act quickly, so that the foundations of the world-as-we-know-it aren’t drastically shaken up. It’s always easier to categorise and file away decisions and actions. This doesn’t apply to just the pandemic era we’re going through either. Innocently or not, marketing is accountable for the prompts or triggers that compel us to take action on (X). It has been since the inception of advertising. There’s a responsibility in there though, about how that sense of the world-as-we-know-it aka reality is conveyed and nurtured by marketing.
When it comes to mindfulness on an individual level, what’s keeping us from being mindful is the need to remain within what is familiar, tried and safe. Our egos don’t like change and the superego holds fort on behalf of the status quo - the accepted/expected. That’s why it’s actually effortless and pretty accessible to be on autopilot within the accepted frameworks of interaction - and maybe even be the opposite of mindful - “mindless”, if I may say. This is mirrored in marketing too, the autopilot nature of usual tactical strategies is effortless to showcase, sell and promote. I’m sure there will be a few amongst you who would argue that marketing is not always profit or action oriented. I agree - with caveats. I also know and accept that marketing does not always aim for slow-burning, well-considered, contemplated consumer actions or results e.g. to acquire or do something. So where does the responsibility fall to make that conscious effort, especially during a global pandemic? Is it for consumers to be more discerning in what they engage with, or is it for marketing to be more discerning in what capitalise on?
When questions drop in my inbox about how brands/marketing can tap into the current Coronavirus-induced uncertainty, what I want to plainly suggest is: think altruistically to humanise your brand to be relatable. Nothing expected in return. It’s an uncomfortable stance to adopt, in fact, it’s an oxymoron in the world of direct ROI-driven marketing. Still, what I want to say is, be more mindful of your message, timing and target audiences; and if I may go further, forget your product and personas and target the generic human condition - nothing more, nothing less! The grounding fact for marketers is that communities (of whatever) become appealing because they offer a fit that the rest of the world cannot. Corona pandemic online communities are a great example, there is reason and meaning in the exchange in pandemic-related community interactions (take Mutual Aid communities, the recent b:friend startup etc.). The individuals vs the group - e.g. communities all brands want to catalyse - are not separable phenomena from the individual. They are simply the personal and collective manifestations of the same thing. The corona pandemic has put us all in the same unassuming community of assurance-seekers whose primary need is protection and security for existence. It’s very human and basic.
I’ve seen some brands launch flash sales during the Stay Home lockdown, some taking a humorous approach - and on the other hand, some unusual suspects like Pretty Little Thing (which had banned ads in the past for oversexualising their subjects) airing short TV spots to show their neutral support by raising a hand in solidarity. Some are leaning on social media for conversations to see how people are doing in general… Some of these efforts are spot-on, and some are far-out to really nail relatability because they are still on sales mode.
At the moment, "conversation" is truly and very blatantly not leading to direct sales in the world of marketing (until further notice). It’s the path to authentic relevance and becoming a part of the collective movement to mindfully be and observe. There’s a call-to-arms to stay at home to protect yourselves and others, so here’s a call-to-arms to do the right [or the better] thing in marketing, too.
With or without the global lockdown that is shaking the ground we’re standing on, marketing can do with more mindfulness. Just like the global population, marketing has never faced anything like the coronavirus era in modern, digital times. Sure, the ambitions and targets won’t go away (but can slow down), however marketing as a discipline is properly realising that numbers are human. It’s a bit of an awakening, per se. There’s a lot to learn from mindfulness teachings for our personal wellbeing these days - and luckily, we can practice those soul-searching and grounding exercises in the professional realm as well. I keep saying, just like millions of people: we’re in this together, and we is the magic word.