Is Covid-19 a Wake-up Call for Humanity?

This crisis has us asking many questions. This is one of mine. But, among the bad, there have been good things happening too.

OK, first I want to state that I don’t want this post to get political or overtly religious. Let’s be real: heated debates on such personal and subjective topics serve nothing in the overall scheme of things. My intent is to get some of my thoughts out about this crazy time we’re all in the midst of. Maybe some of you have had these kind of thoughts as well?

I also want to state that I’m not trying to trivialize this crisis in any way. This virus is truly insidious in its contagion and people have died. I’ve been trying to keep up on the science in real time, as much as possible. And we can’t overlook the economic toll either. These times are unprecedented and folks are suffering. There’s just no sugar-coating it.

Disclaimer aside, I can’t help but feel like Mother Nature has us in the crosshairs. In no time flat, and at a global level, everything just got laid bare. In the raw mess are the flaws of our societies, gutted, wide-open, and glaring. The flaws of our economies, our healthcare systems, our inequalities, our divisions, our loyalties…so on and so forth. Literally. Everything. Is exposed right now.

I also can’t help but feel that this may be the only way the human race will make the necessary changes to keep this planet functioning and habitable for future generations. We’ve had years, even decades, of warning and progress has been painfully slow. Blame who or whatever makes you feel better about it but, as a species, we all failed.

So, now what?

While I’d like to say we all wake up and suddenly do better, nothing’s ever so simple (and people are complex, as are their motives). Especially when the catalyst is forcing sudden changes in ways people find incredibly uncomfortable. A lot of folks naturally want to run back under the blanket and go back to sleep. It’s less painful.

But there have been upsides to this disaster and I think we’d be remiss to ignore them or discount them out of hand.

Re-Connecting With Oneself & Loved Ones

Being stuck at home may be annoying to some, particularly if you’re very social. For others, it’s provided a perfect opportunity to get things done around the house, get to know your kids or spouse better, and even get in some solid introspection time. Some have even realized they prefer working from home or homeschooling their kids or cooking from scratch. The time just wasn’t there before, with all of society’s demands.

Re-Evaluating What’s Important to You

This is one of the things many people are currently reflecting on – how much those demands took away from the quality of their lives. It’s making people re-evaluate what’s really important to them. And, they’re adapting to meet the moment. They’re connecting digitally with loved ones, planning/starting businesses that make their hearts sing, and making decisions (lifestyle, financial, personal, etc) that are likely to have some real staying power.

The Correlation Between Reduced Human Activity & Reduced Pollution

After the initial shutdowns kicked in, it became apparent pretty quick how much our hustle and bustle contributed to pollution. With so few cars on the road in major cities, Nature showed us how fast the air quality could start to improve. The slowdown of consumer behavior demonstrates how little we actually need to survive and, perhaps, even how wasteful we had been up to now. Many people are making decisions now, based on this, pledging to buy/use less and save their money, rather than spend it. Our economies will have to adjust to this new norm, as people revert back to the frugality of their ancestors. Nobody wants to get caught with their financial pants down again. It just leaves us too exposed.

The Rise of ESG/SRI Investments

As some stocks took major hits, others held up better in the downward slide. Oil stocks, which were already on the decline due to mass divestment of it and other pollution-related investment products, got pummeled. Companies are shutting down or declaring bankruptcy, many in the retail and restaurant sectors. Many of these, unfortunately, are small businesses (which are our communities backbones). Several shut down where I live, including our favorite date night spot.

In the midst of this, some sectors of the stock market are holding up better than others. Among these are ESGs/SRIs – also called Environmental, Social & Governance and Socially Responsible Investing – and even the Marijuana industry (if you ask me, this one’s gonna explode in coming years, especially if legalized at the federal level). Personally, if I could afford to invest, these are where I’d invest and had wanted to years before the pandemic.

Maybe I’m biased but I have my theories as to why these areas are doing better: because the kind of people who invest in them do so out of principles, not profit. Sure, seeing a return is nice but consider that many of these investors bought in when it wasn’t a popular thing to do at all, and people were even telling them (in their “conventional wisdom”) that these stocks were going nowhere. They bought in because it was something they believed in. Hence, they didn’t see the fear-based mass sell-offs that helped speed up the crash of the markets when the crisis hit.

Now, mind you, I work part-time at a local bank’s investment dept. (in admin, not advising) and I see how many clients are still trying to buy whatever sounds good this week, only to quickly sell it off if there’s even a slight whiff of “so, this isn’t going to help me recoup every cent I lost immediately”. I’m talking a regular 24-hour buy/sell turnaround time here in some cases. It amazes me. Some folks do it out of the stereotypical stock investor mentality of short-sightedness and others do it because they truly rely on the income from their investments to live on (and things just got real).

I can’t help but feel disappointment that folks let themselves fall prey to the fickleness of the markets when they’re so vulnerable to its whims. I mean, it went from dire straits to “hey, we’re back on everyone!” just on the promise that the government might do something – nothing had actually been done at that point and stocks were back on the rise already. If that doesn’t tell you that there isn’t much propping them up, besides hopes and dreams, nothing will. More reason to invest where you really feel it, and hang in there over the long haul, in my humble opinion.

But I digress…my apologies.

My main point here is that, despite the awfulness of our collective situation, there are indications that things can get better from here. I feel good that they will, at least eventually. There are promising developments on a vaccine. People are re-connecting and finding their own versions of a new normal. Economic indicators are positively leaning in the direction of social responsibility, clean energy, and other burgeoning industries that can provide a lot of good jobs in coming years. In the meantime, we have to hang in there and get through this incredibly tough time. I’d like to see us all do this together and by looking out for one another (as much as socially distancing allows us to, anyway, right?).

I’d like to leave you with a song that helps me feel good – Resilient by Rising Appalachia – because we are resilient and we will get through this. Be well, all!

Marketing is More Than Just Sales

One of my biggest pet peeves when job-hunting is the misunderstanding of my field by companies that should know better.

I double-majored in Marketing and Human Resources, placing a personal focus toward online marketing (both in course electives and studying on my own, working for clients, etc).  Of all the jobs I run across in these and other business fields, Marketing is by far more misunderstood.  At least where I live.

The closest metropolitan area to me is Columbus and I occasionally look there in between freelance gigs to see what’s available.  Because I’m in a rural area, outside a small town that’s over an hour away from C-bus, pretty much all of the decent marketing-related jobs are there.

Unless, of course, you freelance. 

While the same assumptions may exist, it’s much less pervasive in the online market.  Most freelance job posts focus on one type of task anyway (i.e. specifically sales, PPC ad management, social media, copywriting, etc).

But I digress.

If an employer isn’t looking for a (very) experienced marketing professional for their top marketing department positions – the kind that requires 10+ years of specific experience and a ton of stats to qualify you – most of what you’re going to find are the outdoor sales positions, sales-heavy account management jobs, and product demonstration opportunities.

These jobs are largely posted by so-called “marketing” companies…companies who, upon checking them out, specialize solely in sales.

If you’re a great marketer, but not a great salesperson (like me, thanks to social anxiety), you’re kinda screwed on finding quality work locally.

So, how exactly do sales and marketing differ?

In most corporation set-ups, sales and marketing are treated as different departments, because they focus on different tasks.  They’re sometimes even pitted against each other, like rival sports teams.

However, in my opinion, they are related.  To me, sales is only one aspect of marketing and isn’t the end-all, be-all of the marketing field.  Sure, most marketing tasks are designed to result in sales.  But the act of selling is, itself, not the primary task.  There’s so much more to it and real, honest to goodness, marketing agencies know this.

Other, equally important, aspects of the marketing profession include:

  • Market Research

    This is the initial and on-going research into your industry and target markets. It helps determine market viability for your intended product, as well as discover your customers’ psychology and demographics, etc. to drive your marketing campaigns.  It can consist of customer surveys, competitor research, and more, so you don’t waste time and money marketing to the wrong audience, or trying to sell a product nobody wants.

  • Merchandising

    OK, so here I’m clumping a few tasks into one category, but they relate, so. Here, you might find pricing strategy, product packaging, branding, and the actual merchandising itself (i.e. how to display your product at the store or on your site).  You want to be able to showcase and price the product in a way that customers will react well to, without adversely affecting your profitability.

  • Copywriting

    This is mostly what I do as a freelancer. Writing copy and web content for companies looking to make a profit requires more than just the ability to inform readers and put words to a page in a cohesive, grammar-friendly way.  It also requires an ability to understand the audience from a marketing perspective, such as what part of the marketing funnel to address, how to speak their language, and so on.  Often, it branches off into specified writing deliverables, such as technical, SEO, product descriptions, etc.  And, sometimes, grammar rules go right out the window in favor of readability and creativity (fun times! LOL).

  • Community Engagement

    This is new territory in some ways, considering social media is a primary method of engagement these days. It ties in with other aspects, like advertising and branding, but is often treated as its own specialization.  It requires a knowledge of current platforms and an ability to engage with customers (potential or actual) in a way that positions your brand favorably.

  • Public Relations

    This is similar to building/engaging community but entails appealing to the general public, rather than a target consumer audience. This branch tackles things like press releases, building/maintaining relationships with journalists/bloggers who may cover your brand, reputation management, official press statements, and the like.

  • Advertising

    No, this isn’t quite sales but it helps drive sales, so they do relate. The tasks, however, are different.  Advertising refers to the paid placement of ads designed to meet the overall goal of the campaign.  Marketing collateral sometimes falls in this category.  The aim can be building brand awareness, lead nurturing, or the sale itself.  Your campaign’s goals will determine the methods you use and how you measure its success.

  • Analytics

    Often, this goes with other aspects (like advertising) but is sometimes treated as its own specialization, especially online. Analytics involves the measuring a marketing campaign’s success by metrics that align with its overall goals and provide data for subsequent campaigns.  For example, an Adwords campaign designed to build awareness will cast a wider ad placement net and measure success by how many site visits the campaign produced through its ads.  If those visits result in sales, all the better, but the initial goal of brand awareness is met.

I’m sure I’ve over-simplified the field and there’s always more to cover.  Perhaps I’ll touch more on these topics in later post.

The truth of the matter is: Sales rely on these other branches of marketing to reach its goals.

After all, if a customer didn’t see that ad, billboard, blogpost, news coverage, etc., how would they be interested enough to seek a salesperson for more information on a new product or brand?  The purpose of sales – good sales anyway – is to provide that 1-on-1 approach to demonstrate the benefits of a product and close the deal in a way that leaves the customer happy to buy again, refer others, etc.

I feel like, if more companies – in Central Ohio or anywhere else it’s an issue – took all this into account in their business (department) structure and hiring practices, they’d benefit by:

  • Attracting employees better suited to meet their business goals
  • Spend less on recruiting, on-boarding, etc. through smarter hiring practices
  • See better results for their businesses overall

Have you ever encountered inconsistencies or misunderstandings in how hiring is handled for your field?  What would you like to see, in terms of improvements?

Career Development, Here I Come!

The career development options are many, and there’s something for every budget.

One of the things I’ve been getting into lately is re-building my freelance career.  Having taken some time out to tend to things on the homefront left me a bit rusty. So, in between logging hours for my new clients and interviewing for gigs, I’m pursuing a bit of career development.  And it’s about damn time, lemme tell ya!

Enter Hubspot Courses & Certifications.

These guys have been a market leader in, well, marketing for a long time.  Their Inbound Marketing Certification was something I started several years ago.  School got too intense though (I was double-majoring) and I never found the time to finish it. Now I’m back in and at it with a vengeance.

They offer other free courses too.  The Content Marketing Certification is next, considering my freelance specialty is content-related.  From there, I’m thinking the latest SEO training and maybe something to get me brushed back up on social media marketing.

Other career development options include:

Alison – This is another I’ve personally used myself.  They offer free courses in a variety of areas, from business and marketing to IT, science and lifestyle.  They stay open by offering premium options (like a formal certificate when you complete a course) for a fee.

Udemy – I wanna say I’ve caught a quick free course here a while back.  However, most of these are paid courses, ranging in price from a little to a lot.  Sometimes, you can catch ’em when they’re having a great deal (like 90% off!).  The categories are many and you should be able to find a course that fits your needs.

Duolingo offers free language lessons, if that’s on your radar.  I’m a member of this site, but neither my sons nor I have signed in for a while.  The lessons provide visuals and audio, so you can learn word association and know you’re using correct pronunciation.

The Muse, a career resource and resume site, offers lists of free and/or cheap career development courses also.  One of these can be found here (the rest are in the ‘tools and resources’ section of the site).  Some of these are the free courses made available by well-regarded universities, like MIT coding classes and Harvard business lessons.

Honestly, had I known about all of these free learning opportunities a few years ago, I would’ve chosen them over going back to college.  Considering my career was built largely off of what I already knew and picked up (mostly for free) along the way, it could’ve saved me a ton of money and debt.  I turned down good jobs to stay in school.  With courses like the ones listed here, I wouldn’t have had to.  Plus, I could have customized my whole learning experience.

But, live and learn.  The career development options are many and there’s something for every budget.

Have you ever taken an online course?  Do you feel you got good value for your time and money?