Warning, this post contains two f-bombs and a partridge in a pear tree.
This year my Content Marketing World agenda was more floral decision-making and vow-writing than it was attending sessions, networking, and partying with the who's who of marketing industry celebrities.
With my upcoming nuptials just days away (f*ck), I am officially on hiatus from conference season. But like a good marketer, I followed the buzz of the conference hashtag #CMWorld and the activity of my friends who were speaking, attending, and sponsoring.
I saw the usual feed of interesting stats, some thought-provoking and pithy quotes. I heard the AC was too cold, and folks were generally hungover on day two. Normal conference stuff.
A couple of times I realized there was a new voice among those Tweeting along with the event. Selfie Humblebrag @SHumblebrag.
They were funny.
Friends don't let friends say "Knowledge Bomb." #CMWorld
— Selfie Humblebrag (@SHumblebrag) September 7, 2016
They were a little, um, pointed.
— Selfie Humblebrag (@SHumblebrag) September 9, 2016
And in some cases they were really pointed.
— Selfie Humblebrag (@SHumblebrag) September 8, 2016
They shared anonymous criticism of the event, of the speakers, and of the insights shared. No one was safe - not the attendees, not the speakers, and certainly not the event organizers.
At first, I laughed. I cringed a bit when I saw folks I know and love in the line of fire. But still I laughed because... well it was funny!
I didn't know what to make of it. I asked my network on Facebook what they thought. Marketers responded.
One person said
"I was digging him. Yes, he was a bit obnoxious, but generally on point."
(They had a like for support.)
"Well at least I can't be blamed. But, yea, generally on point. Aren't they are just starting to feel like the same message, same conference?"
One summed up her feelings with
One, a speaker at the show, said
"Funny at times. But cowardly and lots of cheap shots. It's fun to get a contrary voice but have the courage of your convictions. Wonder how she'd do on stage..."
(He was the first to suggest this person was female. His comment had another like for support.)
"I'm ok with voicing dissent but it's a shame to do so with snarky disrespect and hiding behind a false identity. Feels more like a call for attention then a rally to improve our industry. But it got people talking so there is that..."
It made me think.
Throughout my career I have always followed the advice of an early mentor who said "the loudest voice in the room is not always the right voice."
Though I have always strived to amplify the reach of my employer or client's message, I believe the brand with the loudest voice is not always sharing the best advice to follow.
Discernment is important as to whose advice we follow. Especially in an industry of self-promotion like marketing. I think we all need to be judicious about accepting advice and seek proof.
On the flip side, I have worked one-on-one with many executives who are terrified to put themselves out there, on stage, or in writing for this very reason.
They fear being ridiculed.
Humility has a way of preventing very smart people from sharing or promoting their ideas.
A lack of humility allows some others to promote theirs without regard.
No marketer left behind.
We exist in an interesting time in marketing. New tech, new tools, new ways of buying, new... well everything.
It's changing at a pace that leaves some - many - behind.
The speed at which the conference agendas move sometimes feels like light years ahead of where many practitioners are.
The media around marketing is incentivized to cover what's next, what's new, what's cool, what's innovative. Especially in marketing tech.
But many practitioners in marketing are often a few years behind the media. They are still trying to achieve the top priorities from the conference they attended three years ago.
Does marketing have a hype problem?
Are we too good at hyping up our ideas without regard for their practicality, their validity, or their defensibility? Are we all sizzle and no steak?
A truly awesome amount.
My father used to berate me for using the word "awesome" incorrectly. I use it now to mean truly, that which induces awe.
An overwhelmingreverence - or fear.
It's too much.
This doesn't feel like a sustainable pace.
I have found an abundance of companies in my consulting practice who feel left behind - trying desperately to keep up with where the industry says they should be.
A storm is brewing.
I believe it has opened a large market for service providers. The gig economy. Sherpas.
But I also believe it has created a perfect storm of disillusionment.
On one hand we have 4,000 marketing technologists, hundreds more marketing celebrities and speakers, and plenty of publications and blogs all telling the beleaguered marketer -- this is your next most important priority. This is what you should do. Here, this is your mantra (this year).
On the other hand, there is the pace of real business, the lethargy of many organizations to adopt technology or change, and the sheer high-pressure nature of marketing.
The longer time goes on, the larger this gap gets between what's real, and what's not. Between what's happening, and what we say in our keynotes on stage should be happening. 99u ran an article about this in the creative world, calling it the "Bullshit industrial complex."
That gap that is created is filled with disillusionment. A widening sense of skepticism. And ultimately, fear. Fear of being left behind, of being the only one in the room not able to keep up. Fear of failure.
Enter, the voice of disillusionment.
Enter our friend (or foe), Selfie Humblebrag.
Whether they are male, or female.
Whether they're right, or wrong.
Out of line, or a welcome respite from blind agreement.
Whatever your opinion of this person...
They are not the problem.
Perhaps they are, instead, a symptom of an industry too focused on hype.
Though I didn't see her keynote, I know Ann Handley was planning to talk about the importance of slowing down in her keynote. We had chatted about the idea months ago.
Her intuition was SPOT on. I was in vehement support of the importance of slow.
Perhaps it's because I have recently begun the practice of yoga, of mindfulness, and of chilling the f*ck out long enough to quiet the noise, and focus on what matters.
Can we do the same in marketing? Can we self-reflect long enough to make some changes? I don't know. As an industry, we have a lot of reconciliation to do between the hype and the reality of our profession.
Maybe the answer is simply, as another mentor of mine always says, let the bad apples weed themselves out. Let the good ideas, and the right thinkers remain. Can this happen if our conferences and spokespeople are nothing more than an echo chamber?
Maybe Selfie Humblebrag is giving voice to the inner rumbles of frustration that more feel, but do not say aloud. Maybe we do need to be more critical of our conferences, our media, and our institutions that, in a changing world, act as our respite, our guidance, our safe spaces to learn and figure it out. But perhaps we can do it not anonymously, but with confidence, and respect.
As for our friend, Humblebrag, it's interesting that he chose a Van Gogh painting to be his avatar.
"For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream."
Huh, pretty humble guy, that Van Gogh.
What do you think?