Marketing and value creation go hand in hand. I learned this only recently, when I read Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing, which I belatedly reviewed in my last post about small business marketing. Godin’s book is a bracing read. It prompts reflection. In my case, it led me to consider some recent experiences in a whole new light.
I began my career in technical communication. For years, I wrote about the technology that drives modern society, like software, electronics, and industrial plants. The work was plentiful, and I never worried about finding it until about ten years ago, when the software company I worked for at the time laid off half of its technical writers. I was one of them.
I found work writing about oil and gas facilities, but I lost my job again a few years later, when oil prices fell in 2014 and 2015. The price shock threw many people out of work here in Alberta. This time I was unemployed for an extended period, and when I was hired again, my wages were much lower.
With my employability and earning power so compromised, I decided to retrain myself in business communication—that is, in marketing and public relations. Learning new skills is an exercise in value creation. Thanks to Seth Godin, I now realize this exercise is itself an aspect of marketing. I have increased my value by developing new skills, and I continue to do so.
I also enjoy learning for its own sake. It raises my self-esteem.
Besides my professional work, marketing also comes up in my side projects. Several years ago, a friend gave me a book that opened my eyes to the climate crisis, which I had previously managed to look at but not to see. Since then, I have made climate action one of my top priorities.
Climate action is advocacy, but I believe our rhetoric must always have pragmatic goals. Our values are important, but the values of material goods matter even more. Proper valuations can lead us out of the climate crisis. Marketing and value creation are aspects of climate activism.
I advocate for measures that change the monetary value of different forms of energy. For example, I work with Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are an externality, which is a word economists use for costs that are not included in the price of a product. Capturing the true cost of fossil fuel energy makes it more expensive, which makes renewables cheaper by comparison.
A few years ago, I worked on a campaign to make renewable energy more valuable by advocating for the reform of Alberta’s solar energy market. A host of factors consistently undervalued renewables and created economic hurdles for people who wanted to own solar systems. That campaign was called Solar4All. We made good headway, and I’m proud of our accomplishments. But there’s still work to be done.
Altering the value of different energy systems, I now realize, is a form of marketing. I do most of this marketing online and in writing, but I also work in person at public events and in meetings with provincial and federal legislators.
In case you’re wondering, a job in oil and gas and climate action are not completely incompatible. Supporting your family in the here and now is imperative. Safeguarding its well-being in the future is also imperative. They’re just two different ways of taking care of your family.
Family matters also lie at the heart of my other great pastime—family history. Here, too, marketing comes into play.
I don’t know about your people, but mine are extremely colorful. My great-grandparents came to the U.S. around the turn of the last century. My father’s family settled in and around Pittsburgh, while my mother’s eventually ended up in Los Angeles, which is where I was born. It’s fantastic, the flowering of humanity my great-grandparents brought forth. My lineage includes magnates, street vendors, tailors, radicals, conservatives, intellectuals, and even one arsonist.
I’ve researched my ancestors extensively, using family archives, online sources, newspapers, court records, and many hours of oral history interviews. I’ve written about their livelihoods, relationships, tragedies, misdeeds, and surprising moments of grace.
I believe our stories are magnificent—poignant, tragic, funny, and connected to larger historical events. Your family history is probably just as grand, if you ever care to look into it. I try to breathe life into this story, to bring my ancestors back to life, if only for a moment. I try to reveal the beauty in the past. My job is to imbue my family story with value, and that, my friends, is also marketing.
My efforts to tell and publish my family history bring me back to Seth Godin. He has an interesting theory about the foundation of marketing. He believes it depends on attention and permission.
Technology offers us many ways to speak, but fewer ways to be heard. Sure, you can build a website, share content on social media, or buy advertising. But none of these things will allow you to be heard unless you earn the attention of your audience. Or as Godin puts it, you must earn the permission to speak.
Godin believes we earn attention by being generous. He cites the example of the Marvel comic enterprise, which launched Deadpool by traveling to San Diego Comic-Con and … hanging out with fans. It sent its directors, cast, crew, and others to hang out with fans and share things about the making of Deadpool. Marvel asked these people to give generously of themselves, and their generosity built a connection with fans.
My reach may not be as broad as Marvel’s, but I have the same need to earn attention, to gain others’ permission to speak. My interests in climate action, family history, and my own livelihood are rooted in self-love and my love of family and humanity. I further these interests by adding value to the things I love, and I add value by giving of myself. By being generous. This activity is marketing.
But enough about me. What about you? What do you love? How will you make it more valuable?