On March 1, 2011 I launched True Voice Media, a social media agency.

Having graduated from my MBA only 3 years prior, I’d been putting what I’d learned into practice.

I’ve written and spoken plenty of times about the lessons I’d learned in my MBA. One of the most important is that money is the language of business.

For nearly 10 years, I spent every moment of my career setting out to prove that thesis. I became obsessed with ROI and used it as a way to gain an advantage over competitors who insisted on talking about “the conversation” and other fluffy immeasurable concepts.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about that phase of my career, I realize that I didn’t like the person that way of thinking was turning me into.

I got lost

Obviously we need to think about return on investment. I’m also well aware that few businesses can afford to burn money on ineffective strategies.

However, I’ve come to believe that not all marketing needs to be measured. I think that somewhere along the way we over-rotated from the early days of social media where everything was taken on faith, to the current point of view on marketing, which is that “if it doesn’t drive revenue, it isn’t important.”

The new model advocates for “perfectly efficient marketing.” This leads us to seeing everything—and everyone—as a number to be measured, quantified, and optimized. We’re becoming reluctant to take risks anything that can’t be measured, quantified, predicted, or tested…even if it may still be tremendously beneficial to the business. If we continue too far down this path, we will lose much of the artistry and creativity that made marketing an attractive career choice to begin with.

Because the truth is, it was never about selling more shit. That was secondary. Most of us just wanted to make a really great ad, design something breathtaking, or use strategic thinking to solve a problem for customers.

The point, for many of us, was to have fun.

Take a knee or take a stand?

Brands are starting to take a stand on social issues. Why do they do it? Let’s be honest here. It’s because it will help them sell more stuff to people who sit on the same side of that issue.

How do we know that’s true?

Well, one clue is because immediately after any public stance or controversial commercial by a big brand, all that the media talks about is the financial impact on business…rather than the issue that the brand is taking a stand on.

How much did Nike gain or lose because of the Colin Kaepernick ad? What about Gillette’s toxic masculinity commercials? Is “woke capitalism” good for business?

people in black uniform walking on pedestrian lane during daytime

When finance is the lens that we see everything through, it becomes the primary consideration for any brand that weighs in on an issue.

While I understand this, I think there’s something kind of sad in that. Because it’s so easy to measure the impact of these decisions, we have brands and people that will refuse to stand up for doing the right thing because they’ll worry about the financial impact rather than the benefit to society.

That’s truly unfortunate.

Still measure, maybe just a little less

There are more ways to build and cultivate a market than can be shown in clickthrough rates. There are more reasons to take a stand for black lives or helping in the fight against climate change, than whether or not it’s good for business.

We need more art and more purpose.

Yes, you should still optimize your marketing, and looks for ways to generate a maximum return on your investment. Just don’t get so lost in the numbers that you forget to look around, have fun, and make an impact, even if it doesn’t make you a dime.

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