Cameron Crowe’s films have brought with them more than a few splendid lines of dialogue over the years, and one has always stood out to me as particularly beautiful. I like to imagine he wrote the line in the hopes that it would one day become part of a conversation about marketing. We can all dream, right?

I doubt you’ll guess which line I’m referring to (unless you’re clairvoyant, in which case I’d love to hear from you). To start off, it’s not “You had me at hello.” It’s not the one about the weight of a human head, or the one demanding to see cash, either. Believe it or not, I’m not even talking about that movie. Although I did like me a 90’s Renee Zellweger.

The movie this quote came from was Almost Famous, and it won a slew of awards back in 2001. I won’t waste time telling you about the film, because if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably just don’t like amazingly great, re-watchable films with incredible writing, acting and storytelling.

In the film, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Lester Bangs, proclaims that “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool,” It wasn’t the most famous line from the movie, but it was the one that stuck with me for 16 years now – and it speaks volumes to the value of sincerity in marketing.

The longer I’ve worked in marketing, the easier it’s become for me to recognize sincerity versus a nice, heaping dose of bullshit. That’s not always easy in an industry where people try to make everything crazy, sexy and cool. But it’s not impossible, and it’s becoming easier and easier to spot. Like real bull shit.

Marketing has a place of importance with every brand and product in existence. Some people don’t value it, don’t understand it, or don’t respect it. But there’s a relationship that exists between a product or service and its user. It’s been talked about for years now, but even if it’s not a logo you’re willing to tattoo on your arm, people like to “own” their chosen brands as an extension of their personal identity. They offer us a way to feel like we’re part of a bigger group of like-minded people, whether we were invited in or not – and it’s the reason half of the Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Chevy Corvettes are sold today (not an exact figure).

Today, it’s becoming very easy for companies to lose site of the importance of not only branding, but of the relationship-building aspects of marketing their products. When the Don Draper’s of the world stepped down to focus on their misogyny and alcohol addictions, the baton was handed off to a new generation of statistic hounds, looking for concrete numbers that “prove” their marketing investment was sound. Before you take that the wrong way, understand that “proving” a marketing investment is, indeed, incredibly important. It’s just not the only element of marketing that should get attention, and one that’s seemingly stepping on the toes of real marketing engagement.

Site hits, lead conversions, bounce rate, A vs. B testing, and other now industry-standard terms have been used for years to measure success in marketing campaigns. They’re great additions to any PowerPoint presentation — something any VP can make sound good — and they’re often very easily reshaped and misrepresented to reinforce a point. And someone’s job performance. But they have no heart. They offer little engagement. And they’re about as deep as a wading pool.

However, conversion analytics like these don’t measure enthusiasm. Or for fandom. Or trust. There’s no measurement for the number of offline conversations someone has with a friend. As people began to stress over the quantification of electronic interactions with a marketing campaign, they seemingly forgot about the quality of those interactions. Lost were the real connections with the user and the opportunities to establish real relationships. People forgot the true value of a great marketing campaign: loyalty.

Crowe’s character notes the value of true, honest communication, when it’s with someone who’s not full of shit. People who are “uncool” don’t try to pose as something they’re not. They’re honest, and it’s why the statement is so endearing.

Too often, marketing campaigns treat people as though they’re mindless fish, waiting to be hooked. And when that happens, it doesn’t take long, even for a fish, to tell when someone has an agenda — that they’re only trying to collect your email address. And when your audience catches on, all your efforts to reach them are lost.

However, when marketing is done with the needs of the consumer in mind, things can be very different. Like any good skilled trade, the presence of knock-off brands proves to strengthen trusted brands, and it breeds loyalty with companies who are transparent in their goals. When marketing uses emotion, common sense, and truth to connect with an audience and offer them something of substance, it connects with people in a manner that transcends a click-thru cycle. It’s the difference between trying to convince someone that you’re the “better choice” and simply convincing someone that, when the time is right, there’s really no choice at all.

Great advertising should seem as if its creators are in the same room as the reader, and that they’re old friends talking about a common interest. Search-optimized terms and jargon have no place in a genuine conversation, and should be replaced with educational, thought-provoking content that’s empathetic and encouraging.

In closing, I have two requests for you (you’ll thank me for both):

  1. With your next marketing effort, consider yourself the recipient of the piece. Then ask yourself if you would have engaged further in the conversation if you were actively speaking to its creator.
  2. If you haven’t already, watch Almost Famous. It’s a delightful film with an incredible soundtrack. It’s much better than this blog, and if you didn’t learn anything, at least you can walk away with a good movie recommendation.

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