We had been having fun with Dana all day. Continuing education seminars have a tendency to get boring and tedious quickly. Especially all day ones. Despite how much fun marketing is to talk about, sometimes there’s just not enough coffee.

To help everyone have fun and pass the time, I always invite audience participation. Crowd interaction enhances learning dramatically and typically gives everyone a few good laughs along the way.

Dana had jumped right into the questions that morning, interacting with me and the crowd. What made her responses humorous was her habit of picking the opposite answer that I was looking for.

“Good commercial or bad commercial?” I would ask.

“Bad commercial.” Dana responded.

“Okay… why?”

“I just don’t like it.”

I realize I just made Dana out to be that one annoying person at any seminar that is highly opinionated and overall difficult to work with. Speaking her mind and rambling on uninvited as everyone else rolls their eyes. She wasn’t. I had been pushing the audience that morning to interact, calling on random staff members to answer questions and forcing them to articulate opinions. I singled out Dana specifically at a table and asked her to respond.

“I don’t think anyone uses their phone like that and I’m not a fan of AT&T,” Dana continued.

“Really?” I was a little surprised.

The rest of the room, and the far majority of the audiences I speak to, didn’t agree. “The commercial made me laugh. It seemed like real life. It was believable,”were typically the answers I was looking for.

Alright. Onto the next example.

“Good commercial or bad commercial?” I asked the room again. “Dana, give us your expert opinion on this one.” Laughter.

“I love this commercial!” Another opposite response. The room laughed even more.

“Tell me why.”

“It’s just believable. Nobody with allergies would be able to be outside in that type of situation without Claritin. It makes me feel relief and freedom.” Dana said.

“Do you use Claritin?”

“Uh…maybe.” She replied sheepishly. Everyone laughed out loud now. I smiled too. It was only 9:20 a.m. and with Dana’s help I had engaged the entire room.

 

DOES MARKETING EVER STOP?

Dana was a great participant all throughout the day. I continued to tease her about her contrarian opinions, joking that maybe she should be the one giving the seminar since she had all the right answers.

During the afternoon session I pushed one more time.

“Okay, you guys have been writing questions down all day on your note cards as I’ve been talking. Dana, what’s the one question you wrote down that you would love for me to answer?”

“Sure. The one question I have is: Does marketing ever stop?”

Jesting, I decided on an oversimplified answer to the question.

“No. Next question.” At this point the laughs were too easy.

 

A PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED OR A TENSION TO MANAGE?

All joking aside I went back to answer Dana’s question. She had been a good sport and asked it sincerely.

“Many people look at marketing like a problem to be solved,” I said. “When really it’s a tension to be managed.”

Let’s talk about it.

If marketing is a problem, then you’re goal is to find a solution. The answer is who or what can fix your problem? And so marketing companies come around guaranteeing to fix the problem and finally deliver the ideal patients that you want. It’s very tempting to get caught up in that because you see it as problem based.

However, if we view marketing like a tension to be managed, we approach decisions differently. If we view marketing like it never stops, like it’s a continuous function of a business, then we’re testing, trying and experimenting to find what works best.

The tough part is that most people don’t like tension. We’re tension adverse. The quick, short-term solution is to treat it like a problem: Solve it and move on. However, if we treat marketing in that way, we’ll realize that it continues to pop up on our radar over and over again. The naive assumption would be that we haven’t solved the problem — since it’s back — and we need to do something different. My guess is the reason it continues to pop up on your radar is because it’s a tension that must be managed. It’s a business system that must be revisited routinely to ensure optimum efficiency and return.

There are many systems like this inside a business or practice. Think about HR. Do you ever really solve the problem of HR? No. Even if you have an amazing, long-term, low-maintenance staff there are always issues to work through. It’s a tension that must be managed with principles and parameters that guide the decision making. I try really hard to keep my laughter to myself when I run into the doctor that throws his hands up in the air and says, “I just wish I didn’t have to deal with staff problems!” He’s wanting to solve a problem that will never go away. Better, I suggest, that he learn how to manage the tension.

The outcome to trying to solve a problem is finding the “one” solution. What’s the one thing you can do to fix this? Who’s the one company you can hire to take care of it forever? It’s a forced path and ultimately a thief of our decision making process. It’s called narrow framing. We define our choices too narrowly and see them in binary terms. Yes or no. On or off. Problem or solved. It blinds us to our other options.

When we view something as a tension to be managed, it opens up the path to possibilities. Instead of asking “How can I solve my marketing problem?” a much better question would be “How can we make our marketing better?” One is all or nothing: Binary. The other is gradual, creating incremental improvement.

Maybe there are some parts of your marketing strategy that are really working. Hang on to those. Invest more time and money to see if they grow. Then there are other parts that may not be performing well. Analyze it. What are the options? Is the problem a lack of resources? Have we given it enough time and money? Is it the right message? Or maybe it’s just not a good fit for where you’re trying to go.

 

How do you view marketing? Have you seen it as a frustrating problem to be solved? Are you hoping for the day when you no longer need to worry about it? I would encourage you to reframe the way you see your marketing program. Learning to view it as a tension that must be managed is the first step to creating an effective, long-term strategy that builds momentum from year to year.