Why Breaking the Rules is Good for Business

September 17, 2015

charli xcx

“I don’t want to go to school, I just want to break the rules.” – Charli XCX

I wear black rock n roll t-shirts to work almost every day. Why? Cause it’s comfortable and it’s who I am. I’ve found a direct correlation between being comfortable at work and increased productivity — and being able to express that part of my personality makes me happier at work. When I’m happy and productive, the people around me are happier and more productive. Just ask my team.

Sometimes, I step it up — if I’m presenting to the boss or meeting with outside agencies, for example. I will put on a jacket. I got a nice one at Nordstrom last week, and it looked great. But I still wear a t-shirt under skull ring postit. And I don't take off my Keith Richards-style skull ring for anybody. Bottom line: If you’re someone who believes that what you wear to work every day is a direct reflection of your success, I’m definitely not your poster boy. That particular rule makes no sense to me, so I tend to ignore it.

Good marketing has always been about getting attention in surprising ways. But marketers today stretch the boundaries, not only of what’s creative and flashy, but of what’s possible and right. Today, we go beyond spin and appearance to tell stories that make sense and are helpful (as well as entertaining) to our audiences.

“Rules are important, but they're temporary and they're always supposed to be changed.” - John Lydon

The shifts in the rules of marketing are revolutionary in many ways, and changes in workplace dress codes are just one reflection of this breaking down of boundaries. To really connect, we have to go beyond traditional guidelines. Be “bigger, braver, and bolder,” as Ann Handley would say.

Here are a few other rules I break every day:

1. “Best practices are the last word.”

My teachers in school used to say, “You have to know the rules to break them,” and they were right. If you’re trying to figure out how to make music like Patti Smith, read Baudelaire and Blake. Listen to Dylan, Hendrix, and the Rolling Stones. Figure out what makes Smith great, and you may come up with a set of “best practices” around poetic line, jazz improv, and three-chord rock & roll.

But to be the next Patti Smith, you have to question every one of the rules you just came up with and create something remarkable and new. Same goes for marketing today. We’re in the business of making our audiences stand up and take notice. Sure – build on previous campaigns and the content you’ve already delivered. But up-level it every time, rather than satisfying yourself with a template, or you risk getting stuck in reverse.

2.“Bad idea? Toss it and move on.”

Here’s the thing — there are no bad ideas. Ever. Great ideas happen every minute, if you’re paying attention, and the more open you are with the creative process, the more freely the ideas flow. Some of our best ideas here sat on the back burner, percolating, for months. We tend to spitball quite a bit, rather than spending time in deliberate brainstorming sessions – and when someone throws out a completely off-the-wall idea we don’t toss it away, we toss it around.

Okay, maybe initially, we bring a “bad idea” back to give someone a hard time – but you’d be surprised how often that person is eventually vindicated. Think about Hootsuite’s Game of Thrones parody. The first time someone said, “Hey, let’s pit all the social networks against each other in a GoT Do you think the boss said, “Great idea!” right away? I have my doubts.

3. "B2B marketing has to be serious.”

I once knew someone who said she got out of technology marketing in favor of writing for retail because she couldn’t handle the dry, boring work. “Oh great — another campaign about IT security/productivity/ease of use. Maybe if we slap an interesting headline on that data sheet, people will read it.”

That was the mid 90s. Things have changed. Today, we realize that customers are customers, whether they manage a family of four or an IT organization. Getting people to read a data sheet starts with building brand trust at the top of the funnel, well before they may even have considered purchasing your product.

Content marketing should inspire, educate, and sometimes entertain. My past life as a heavy metal musician has served me well in this regard: Tell a great story, make people laugh, or offer simple, helpful advice, and people start to feel some loyalty toward your brand. Many organizations still focus heavily on product marketing when shifting the emphasis to compelling top-of-funnel content would help them build credibility, strengthen their leadership position, and fill the sales pipeline.

4.“Good enough is best.”

This is my biggest pet peeve, lately. Yes, you need to free up your creative juices, but that does not mean you don’t also have to put in the time and work hard. Lazy marketer syndrome may have been fine ten years ago when our audiences were confined to reading emails, brochures, and static websites. But today, if your social post, email, landing page, blog post or ebook isn’t as good as it can possibly be, you haven’t done your job.

Now, more than ever, your messaging must be on point and relevant. The way you tell the story must be remarkable in every way — or you have no chance of reaching anyone. This is not me being a drill sergeant — this is the reality we live in. Every touch point matters. Each engagement could be the one that turns into revenue.

The good news is, you can spin your marketing magic whilst hanging out in a rock & roll t-shirt and flip-flops — and if you’re lucky, the people spitballing with you during status updates are all as cool as you are. Rock on!

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