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Alf's Articles

What I've Learned About Marketing and Life

by Alf Nucifora

My editor requested a column on personal growth and some observations on it. At 54 years of age, 32 of those working in marketing and advertising, self-assessment and evaluation are beginning to get easier. Ironically, personal growth seems to gather speed as one gets older. At least that's how it's worked for me. This column has been hard to write, but here goes.

Listen and Learn
It took me a long time to learn the value of listening. As a consultant, I was forced to learn how to do it. And, it's made a difference. My thinking is more focused, my recommendations more precise and on-target, and I learn something new in the process each time. Clients also appreciate it.

As a younger man, I was consumed with the power of my own voice. As a veteran, I've come to understand the wisdom that lies within the other party's.

Don't Get Lazy
It's finally occurred to me that life is a constant learning process. It continues until we die. I still can't fathom those who retire to the golf course and allow their brains to atrophy. From a marketing viewpoint, the environment will continue to change by the nanosecond... new technologies, new protocols, new products. The on-coming changes that will be wrought by the Internet will, by themselves, easily consume a lifetime.

The natural inclination as we age is to preserve the status quo. It takes effort to learn something new. But, we have to remain agile and ready to make the shift in our thinking and our acceptance of the unfamiliar. In marketing, particularly, we must not only accept and accommodate change, we have to embrace it with passion and brio.

The Basics Still Prevail
I cry at the obscene marketing waste committed by so many hi-tech start-ups and dot.coms. Now more than ever, I'm convinced that the marketing basics are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago... a well-reasoned strategy, viewpoint and judgement based on sound research, a commitment to the value of the brand, exemplary customer service, etc. Mark my words, even the A.D.D.-addled, GenXrs and their progeny will demand products and services that are marketed with the skills that have been developed and refined through the recent ages.

Don't Get Angry
Some good friends of mine in the television business took me to task for a recent observation in this column about the inevitable erosion in network television viewing. There was no call for anger. The reality is the reality. Network TV will never die, but it will certainly fade in relevance and interest to a new audience generation weaned on fractionated media choice. My friends ignored the relevancy and accuracy of the prediction. Instead of getting angry, they should have asked the question, "In the off chance that he's right, what should we be doing about it in order to preserve and protect the business that we're in?" Michael Corleone said it best, "It's not personal, it's business."

Don't Let the Young Punks Get You Down
They can be brash, sometimes abrasive, often dogmatic and definitely quite full of themselves. Marketing seems to attract a disproportionate share of them. But, we Boomers were the same way as we were cutting our teeth. I certainly was. Punkdom goes with the territory nowadays. Yet amidst the braggadocio and questionable manners, there is fresh thinking, vitality and a healthy desire for risk. There's much to learn from these young punks.

Be Willing to Experiment
Marketing thrives on freshness. It demands that we be constantly trying new things and obsoleting them as we go. The best marketers are always experimenting… traveling to new places, reading voraciously, savoring new experiences and delights, coming to grips with new influences, new trends and new opinions irrespective of how unrecognizable and unpalatable they might be.

Put Yourself in the Firing Line
It may be uncomfortable, but it forces the person to address things new. I did three years as a nightly radio talk show host, much to the criticism and opprobrium of my peers. It forced me to consume five newspapers every day. The hours of preparation were horrendous. But, three hours a day on-air, taking calls from both the incisive and the ignorant taught me the art of listening.

Writing this column 26 times a year, takes time and energy away from other purposeful needs. Responding to the torrent of emails that the columns generate takes additional hours. Where's the value? Other than the obvious satisfaction of providing helpful information, I'm forced to stay current and research the things I write about…more learning. The dialog that I have with my correspondents only enhances the process. Is it worth it? Yes, definitely... no doubt about it.

It Gets Better With Age
Old marketers don't get old, they get better. The instincts are sharpened and the viewpoints tempered with experience. Clients will pay handsomely for the wisdom and the gray hair. But, only if you've maintained the edge. It goes back to what I said about keeping the mind fresh and the perspective current. Just remember, "age" and "cutting edge" are not mutually exclusive terms.

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