If you are employed anywhere in the art & discipline of marketing, this clip of Kevin Spacey  from American Beauty will resonate with you, to a dangerously close degree (the more so the longer you’ve been in it and the more you are paid).

And you may think it is because the space has gone completely insane, and you would be right. I mean, look at this graphic.  LOOK AT IT.  Are you kidding me?  Over 950 companies and it’s not even complete – Catalina Marketing isn’t even on the slide… no brick & mortar commerce is represented in any direct fashion and it’s still intimidating as hell!



It is so easy to feel stupid, inadequate, behind and incompetent.


If you feel that way, it is really, really important for you to know that you are – very likely – the smartest person in the room.


DO NOT LET THE HYPE INTIMIDATE YOU. You’re like the “divergent” ones (if you saw the movie or read the series). The rest of the population – most especially those who are prone to believe the simulations – need you to help figure out what is real and what is not.  The fate of your company, literally, is in your hands if you don’t speak up. Believe in yourself.

I know it’s hard. And I also know that if you do the personal accounting, it’s also not actually worth it, but I offer to you anyway…because I believe in you…

2 Tips to Make Your Marketing Job Easier  (in the form of Scenario & Response)

…which I hope will encourage you to keep the good fight going  – specifically, the one in your brain that is trying to think for itself and figure it out using logic, reason and strategy:

Scenario 1: John “Know-It-All” Doe (client or industry guru or competitior) tries to invalidate you by asking if you if you have heard of a company that you have not heard of but which can do all the things your own company and service cannot do.

In 2010 I was the 4th most traveled person at my company, helping to introduce a new digital offering to clients. I was in such high demand because entering into a discussion about digital marketing with their clients made the sales professional feel vulnerable, for very good and logical reasons (these sales people are some of the most impressive individuals I’ve ever met, they aren’t easily intimidated).

The client would ask…

 “Well, have you heard of company X? They said they could do A, B and C…you guys can only do B” (I paraphrase of course).

The salesperson would feel stupid if they didn’t know the company, or they couldn’t match the capabilities in the meeting. I was essentially on the road and in these meetings to handle this one question over and over .

The Recommended Response:

It’s IMPOSSIBLE to know all the companies (again, look at that landscape graphic!). The barrier to entry in “marketing services” is flat out non-existent. And here is something has and always will be true about the vast majority of technology start ups (and many new ventures within non-startups)…but established companies tend for forget this:

 More often than not – there is no there, there.

(shhhh, don’t tell anybody)

And the newest of ventures have very little to lose by overselling what they can do (whereas an established company, trying to take a new capability to existing clients, has quite a lot to lose… the clients trust for one, opportunity cost of selling what they know works for another).

If someone asks you about a company or a person you’ve never heard of (but your client thinks you should have), IT’S AN INTELLIGENCE GATHERING OPPORTUNITY!

Say, with confidence and without losing a beat, “Nope, I haven’t heard of them. But we have a team tracking the space very closely, tell me more about them & I’ll see what I can find out for you.”

Here’s what that statement just got you:

  1. The chance to learn something, and gather intelligence. In fact, the most valuable intelligence…such as, what your real or potential competitors are saying to your clients.
  2. You leveraged your role as an already trusted, existing advisor to expand your expertise into this new field.
  3. You demonstrated good, active listening skills, let your client know that what’s important or of interest to them is important and of interest to you.
  4. You bought yourself time to research and come back with a thoughtful, useful and well-positioned reply.
  5. You have an explicit reason to follow up and continue the conversation with your client about the new capability.

Scenario 2: You are responsible for your company (or your client’s) strategy, and you are having trouble finding one that hangs with what everyone else seems to be doing or saying in the market (i.e. everything is either too “me too” or seems too disconnected or too behind the curve).

The Recommended Response:  Slow down.  Return to common sense.

Many times in my career, I have turned to my Dad for advice. He would always ask me this, highly annoying and highly effective question…

 “What are they paying you for?”


I’d start rattling off a bunch of blah, blah, blah, blah and he would interrupt me.


“In one sentence. What are they paying you for?”

And so I offer this to you – ask yourself:  “Why does my client pay me?”  or it may be “Why did my investors invest in me?”   In one sentence, answer the question.

It’s not as easy as you think.  Or it might come to you easily, but when you go from answering it to evaluating the questions and strategic directions in front of you – you’ll find they look different and that it’s easier to prioritize.

I have more to say about good strategy in this space, and that will come out in later posts, but for now, as you go and enjoy your weekend, just remember it is as simple as that – and when you go back into the office on Monday, it will be easier.

Of course, by Friday you’ll feel like Kevin Spacey again… because, whether you want to admit it or not (like me), you like the chaos and the challenge and the pureness of the competitive environment we’ve chosen for our life’s work and at the very least, we can never say we’re bored! (How many times have you said that to your colleagues ;-))

I sincerely hope this post helps you stay the course.

Susan O’Neal Gear has over 20 years of experience at the intersection of consumers, marketing and technology. Passionate about all aspects of a consumer’s relationship with brands and retailers, we’re spending the next year looking for new, groundbreaking thought leadership  – if not disruptive solutions – with the potential to redefine the parameters of consumer loyalty. If you also want to see some game changing happen -then follow Upstream Insight, contribute your voice, share this post…do something!