New Year’s Anti-Resolutions for a Promotional Products Marketer

Have more bad ideas.

1. Make more decisions.

I can’t remember where I read this, but it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Now that I actively try to make more decisions I marvel at the time I spent agonizing over trivial choices — egg burrito or sweet potato pancakes?

When you take too long to make a decision you create the opportunity for regret: “I should’ve gotten the pancakes.”

In our department last month we ran across the problem of decisions while preparing to launch our new website. We had collected an overwhelming amount of data from our promotional products vendors and were struggling with how to present it to our customers. At one point our marketing manager Heather said, “Look. We need to give them fewer choices.”

She was right, and we cut the amount of decisions our customers had to make by half. Too many options will paralyze you.

In college Jaime and I worked on a literary journal together. Every deadline she would find me sitting on the floor of our office, surrounded by proofs, chin in my fist, mulling over how to order the magazine. She’d roll her eyes at me, grab the papers and say, “This is going here; that’s going there. You’re done. Let’s move on.” She made me realize I was agonizing over the order of the submissions didn’t matter because people don’t read magazines like books.

How many times have you stood in the cold, staring at your friends and waiting for someone to express a preference about where to eat? Think of how grateful you are to the person who finally says, “Let’s go there!”

My first resolution is to make more decisions. More decisions mean more risks, which means more opportunity for both failure and success.

2. Have more bad ideas.

A couple of weeks ago Seth’s Blog discussed the importance of having bad ideas. “You can’t have good ideas,” he says, “unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.”

Often in our marketing brainstorms the room will go silent. I’m afraid to speak up because I know the first four things that come out of my mouth are going to be completely stupid. But the awkward truth is that if I want to contribute something brilliant, I’ve got to stop fearing the blank stares and cringing frowns when I suggest “Acme Challenge” as the name of our internal competition.

In brainstorms, you’ve got to bounce off of something. And maybe your dumb idea could lead to a great one. So my second resolution is to have more ideas, no matter how stupid.

3. Have fewer followers.

I’ve read several articles lately debunking the myth that the more followers, fans or commenters, the better. Instead, these writers say, quality in social media trumps quantity.

Anil Dash wrote last week about what it was like to be on Twitter’s Suggested User List. Dash averages about 100 new followers per hour — a rate unheard of even in marketers’ most lavish fantasies.

Yet amazingly he says, “Being on Twitter’s suggested user list makes no appreciable difference in the amount of retweets, replies, or clicks that I get” (emphasis mine). The term “followers” suggests that these hordes of anonymous people are paying attention to you; they care about what you have to say and perhaps even admire you. But the large majority of Dash’s followers do not listen to him (click on his links), do not talk about him to their friends (retweet his posts), and do not even interact with him at all (by tweeting @anildash).

Instead of focusing on our number of followers, fans, readers, leads, or contacts, we should steer our efforts towards creating a valuable experience for our true champions — the people who like us, tell us how to run our business better, and talk about us to their friends. That might mean asking more people to follow us, but they have to be the right people.

Number of followers, we’re finding, is not the way to measure the benefits of social media. So my last resolution is to focus on engaging, not accumulating.

What are your anti-resolutions for 2010? Work out less? Spend more money? Stop making your bed?

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