These past few weeks we’ve been doing a soft launch of the new Gojee.com, and, among other things, that has meant that we’ve been hitting the streets trying to market the site to new users. This is a strong departure from the usual routine of an engineer, and it has offered some insights into a completely different type of work.
One of the first things that I realized about street marketing is that my primary value as an employee becomes partially emotional, as opposed to almost exclusively rational. The value that I can bring to the table is a real enthusiasm for the product that others will recognize. It’s one thing to have enthusiasm, which is easy (because Gojee is awesome), but it’s another thing to make that enthusiasm immediately visible for hours on end. I think it should come as no secret that sometimes programming requires a certain amount of drudgery. When that happens, however, there’s no need to maintain intense enthusiasm, you just need to force your way through the uninteresting parts. In that case it doesn’t matter how you feel about the work, only that you finish it. In street marketing, how you feel about the work is the work. This sort of thinking can also be helpful in engineering; sometimes maintaining a consistent positive attitude about your ability to overcome engineering problems can set you on the right path towards solving them.
Another thing that I realized while handing out cards on the street was that you need to cultivate an unshakable cheerfulness the entire time. You have to maintain the same happy attitude when someone politely asks about your company as you do when someone scowls at you and throws your marketing material in the trash. Part of your value as a marketer is to be unshakable in this way. This is somewhat different from programming, where it’s sometimes useful to be frustrated at a problem. In programming, the key is to be relentless in finding solutions, regardless of your emotional motivation. Still, engineers could learn from the sort of mental toughness that marketing requires. If you can stay positive even when things go wrong you’ll usually be quicker to act on fixing them.
Another thing I realized about street marketing is how it differs from online marketing. For one, the personal connection seems to be stronger and more sticky than some faceless plug on the internet. This comes at the expense of detailed analytics, however. On the web you can glean a multitude of data points about where people saw your marketing material, how much of the signup funnel they went on to perform and what your ultimate conversion rate was. If money were no issue, technical solutions could be fitted onto street marketing materials that could answer these questions, but in practice street marketing is something of a mysterious art. People end up coming to your site, but information about why or from where is scarce. Perhaps one day engineers will solve the problem of street team analytics. Until then, street marketing will continue to be a fuzzy yet useful tool.