A Curious Evolution

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Curious Decisions today is very different to what Curious Decisions was going to be at launch.  I started Curious Decisions with a dream.   It was a dream that if it materialised, and became reality, would change the world.  It was a powerful and beautiful dream, a dream of a better, kinder world where Curious Decisions had played it’s part to change marketing, to make marketing great, where the definition of great marketing was that it was marketing that would make people feel better about themselves, that it would be marketing that would be using the power of influence to make the world a better place.  And if the 5000+ marketing messages that we as consumers saw every day, not only reflected the diversity of us as consumers but also implored us to be kinder, nicer, more helpful to each other, then the world would be changed.

It was a dream.  And I was going to make it happen.  Curious Decisions was going to offer Strategic Consultancy – to help corporates, and the agencies they worked with make decisions based on an insatiable curiosity about their customers.  Curious Decisions was going to offer Marketing Capability workshops, to help marketing people improve their marketing skills and understand how to create powerful insights, inspired story-telling and turn strategy into action.  Curious Decisions was above all, going to change the face (literally) of advertising with our Diversity Marketing approach which would normalise difference.

It was a great deal of fun, setting up the company, dreaming the dream.  Less fun though was the things that a start-up can’t provide so easily; office camaraderie, laughs, sparking off others’ ideas and creativity.  And some of the things that a start-up can provide buckets of, in large measure are quite stressful.  Flexibility is so precious, but the responsibility for your whole day stretching out in front of you, just there, to be filled and so much to fill it with, the choices that need to be made – whilst social media distracts.

I learned a lot, some new skills, some learnings about myself. I learned about Companies House and being a Company Director.  I learned about basic accounts.  I learned some website basics and wordpress.  I learned I’m not a sales person (yes, sales is different to marketing).  Even when I totally believe in the product (and that product is me), I don’t want to sell it.  I learned to enjoy networking, for the first time, ever.  Talking about what I was passionate about, in collaborative and supportive environments has given me the impetus to take forward a new project, to create inspiring, supportive learning spaces for women in middle/early senior management within corporates which was always lacking in my previous career.

My biggest learning, and the most impactful part of my adventure was coaching.  I had always known that I loved coaching and Curious Decisions was going always going to feature coaching.  I love helping people, and like Phoebe in that episode of Friends where she is looking for the selfless act, the instant gratification that’s possible from when you’ve helped a coaching client crack a problem, have a breakthrough, achieve their goals, that’s what I love.  It’s entirely selfish, the desire to help.  I’m hugely grateful that my time with Curious Decisions (which I’d always framed to myself as an experiment) has enabled me to formally pursue my coaching training.  I will shortly be an ICF accredited coach and am an NLP Practitioner.  During this year, I am furthering my NLP studies with Master Practitioner and Train the Trainer as well.

Curious Decisions is evolving.  Dreams can be powerful, but they cannot be achieved overnight (or even, in a 6-9 month experiment window).  Curious Decisions is now reframing itself to achieve the dream at a slower pace. During the 9-5 working week Curious Decisions is now happily undertaking a Curious Assignment which will help marketing people be better at being marketing people.  The Curious Dream to help  people achieve their dreams through coaching, and through delivering personal growth workshops will continue to live, during evenings and weekends.   I’m looking forward to this next iteration.

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Marketing Ethics: Change the World

curious thinking-04Another day, another week, another story about a brand getting their marketing so very very wrong.  That’s the thing, in the digital age, if someone doesn’t like something, they get to say so, publicly.  And that doesn’t mean a lone angry letter to the CEO.  That means a tweet out to their followers, RT’d, a blog, which turns into a Huff Post article, or Jezebel, and then gets into the comment section of the Guardian or the Independent and it’s gone viral; if you’re really unlucky there will even be a petition started to persuade you to change your policies.  Some of those tweets obviously, they just fall into the ether.  But many don’t.

Now, of course, what can feel like a Twitterstorm might be just that; a storm, and storms pass.  In the scheme of your business, it might be just a blip.  You might not notice a drop in sales.  You may only have succeeded in antagonising a segment of customers that you were never targeting in the first place.  But storms can often turn into hurricanes or tornados.  And those cause lasting damage.

Beyond the obvious risk to the brand, there is a wider societal issue at play.  Your advertising agency might defend the campaign as just another example of what is popular, part of the zeitgeist, that appealing to human base instincts sells product.  And, appealing to insecurities does work.  People will want to try things that will make them feel less insecure and more confident [fatgirlslim, I’m looking at you].  People will want to try things that will make them feel more sexual and more desired [American Apparel, I’m looking at you].  People might want to try things that will help them get what they want in life [Nine West, I’m looking at you].  People will want to try things that will make them feel superior to others [Garagista Beer, I’m looking at you].  Unethical marketing does sell.

But, take a step back.  Who created that zeitgeist?  You did.  And all the others like you.

The average consumer consumes (apparently, according to my Google search, so it must be right) as many as 5000 marketing messages every day (yes, that high surprised me too!).  Those messages influence what consumers think about the world around them.  Marketing influences societal norms – to an extent, marketing does more than influence, it creates.  Here’s a crazy idea – how about use the power and influence of marketing to create a better society?  Not overnight, but tweaking this and tweaking that, nudge theory, one campaign at a time.  And do it without losing sales.  Do it with your customers on your side, by making your customers proud to be with you, not fearful not to be.

Some brands realise this and are embracing what is being called ‘empowerment marketing.’  The Misty Copeland ‘Under Armour’ ad is a great example of this; and Always has been challenging societal stereotypes with its ‘Like a Girl’ campaign.  There is a fine line however, between empowerment and condescension.  Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is often cited as the leader of empowerment advertising – but they made a misstep too into patronising condescension with their ‘Patches’ campaign.  The fact they are owned by the same company who objectifies & sexualises women through Lynx is also oft-quoted by some.

Getting the balance right is always going to be difficult, especially when customers are mostly savvy to the insecurity you have been selling them.  They know the picture of the beautiful model is photo-shopped; they know even the models aren’t as beautiful as you pretend them to be.  So, there will be distrust and cynicism.  The only way to overcome distrust is to earn trust.

The challenge for marketing people is this: do you want to be paid to do your job and earn a nice, comfortable living?  Or, do you want to be paid to do your job, earn a nice, comfortable living and at the same time, change the world?


Top Tips:


Appeal positively to your consumers’ emotions

Be a positive force for good in the wider world

When using humour, laugh with your consumer



Trade on your consumers’ insecurities

Reinforce negative societal attitudes

When using humour, laugh at anyone


What do you think?  Do you have examples of any great marketing campaigns that show others how to do it?  Please share them in the comments here.  Thank you for reading.

Curious Decisions will help organisations and their people make more ethical marketing choices by showing you how to put those choices at the heart of decision making.  Interested? Get in touch.

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