I FUCKING HATE MARKETING.
Did I just say that out loud?
As an 11-year agency owner, am I publicly allowed to admit that?
Are my clients going to doubt our services?
Are my employees going to think their jobs are at risk?
Are you going to think I’m just some entitled elder millennial?
Probably, if you don’t finish this article… and even then, you’re free to feel however you want about these words.
The thing is, I have to say them.
These words, this version of truth, can’t live inside me anymore.
I hate marketing.
I own an outdoor-focused creative agency that is, by all societal measures, extremely successful and awesome.
Our client roster includes The North Face, Polartec, Specialized Bikes, Industry Nine, and 10 Barrel Brewing. All the fun brands.
Our team is built of brilliant, motivated, conscientious humans, and I actually feel a little water in my eyes whenever I think about how much effort and soul they put into our accounts and each other.
Our day-to-day work life is ridiculously fun. Some days we build road gaps where road gaps don’t belong for the sake of filming a specialty Super Bowl commercial. Some days we sit with our clients’ in-house marketing teams and listen deeply, ask questions, and help them dream and solve their work/life problems. Some days we rally mountain bikes with 350 women in the desert while carrying camera gear and film permits.
It’s the perfect blend of physical, emotional, and intellectual, and we are never bored.
I can’t complain about the day-to-day. Most days I can’t believe this is what I get to do for a living.
Our creative process is remarkably gratifying, which leads me to why I hate marketing so much.
When the "sell stuff" mindset comes before human connection and the creative process, it ruins everything.
When people feel invested in what a brand stands for, it becomes their story, too. People become part of that culture of standing for something like freedom or conservation or connection with nature. They commit to that brand for the longterm. It's never about a jacket. It's where that jacket takes someone and how they feel when they get there. That jacket is just a souvenir of the story someone takes it on. There is heart in that. There is honor in that.
Does the heart or honor of connection stop shareholders, CEO's and entire marketing departments from discussing ROI and KPI and CPM without any reference to the actual human beings who choose to spend their hard-earned money on a new jacket? That choosing to buy from a specific brand means something? No. That person becomes a metric, a number, a sliver on a bar graph. It’s that dark side of marketing that makes me want to throw my laptop in a puddle, grab my splitboard, and disappear into the backcountry to live a life devoid of WiFi, influencers, or analytics.
When I started Wheelie, I wasn’t thinking about being an “entrepreneur” or a “boss” or (my least favorite) “#bosslady.” I wasn’t thinking about winning awards for our clients. Hell, I wasn’t even thinking I'd ever have employees. I don’t even know if I was thinking.
There was a lot of feeling and doing in those days.
It felt good. I started feeling the dopamine of the hustle. I spent my days snowboarding, handing out business cards on chairlifts, and working all night. I was a kid with a design degree and a laptop living in full alignment, and I was obsessed with the process of making things.
I didn’t even know what a KPI was, let alone how to measure my self-worth or my company’s success by one.
I just loved making shit.
I loved talking to people about their visions, adding what I knew to the conversation, and making it happen. I loved watching a business owner smile when I showed them their new logo for the first time. I loved sitting on chairlifts and thinking about how to capture this feeling of placidity and anticipation and infuse it into an apparel design. I loved looking at the world from different angles and thinking about how to communicate with humanity at large, how to make work that resonated, what actually made people feel feelings. I loved sitting with another designer at my company and combining our ideas into a super-idea and high-fiving about it.
I loved thinking about what people actually care about and why.
One thing led to another, and Wheelie grew and grew and grew. I kept saying yes to things and growing and adapting and evolving and making shit. Through it all, my passion and intentions were pure, which is why my company has grown into what it is.
If I’ve learned one thing over the past 11 years in business that I know to be true it’s this:
Life is about deeply loving the PROCESS, not the end result.
If you wake up one day and think:
“I want to be a business owner! I want to own XYZ fancy apparel company and travel to exotic beaches and swim with dolphins whenever I want!”
Or if you wake up and think:
“I want to be the digital manager of XYZ Dream Company and have a million friends and go to industry parties where I heli ski with pro skiers!”
This is not enough.
Those are end-goals.
I’m all about the power of visualization, but simply seeing where you want to go is not enough to keep you in the game when life gets hard and you find yourself in a shitstorm of entrepreneurship and business.
You must love the process-- the good, the bad, the exhausting-- involved in reaching those goals.
Despite even the clearest visions, you can’t control the outcome of pretty much anything. No one can.
You can control yourself and how you choose to make meaning of events and how you react to them. That’s it.
So, if you’re fixated on a goal, you must accept you may never reach that goal. You might never discover what the spongy flesh of a dolphin feels like under your sunburnt hands. You may never sit in a helicopter full of charming, muscular, calculated athletes and photographers.
But if you love the PROCESS of what it takes to reach these goals, that is enough.
The love of the process is enough to get you through the highs and lows of business.
You have to love staying up late trying to talk to fabric suppliers in other time zones, receiving feedback that your clothes don’t fit any human body correctly, and designing again and again and again until they meet your standards. It takes work.
You have to love studying the ski industry by reading every article out there, training like you’re a professional athlete by getting early laps in before work, and sitting at a computer in an office while your ski bum buddies text you pics of the most blower pow you’ve ever seen. It takes work.
You must love the work.
This is why I fucking hate “marketing.”
As we get bigger and bigger clients, I find myself in bigger and bigger meetings. The conversations have changed both in style and levity.
I cringe as I hear over and over this results-first, connection-second mindset that runs rampant in the outdoor industry. I thought I was getting into a collective of humans who truly care about the person under their outerwear, but time and time again, I often see that the outdoor industry looks like any other industry aimed at convincing people “what they need” to “be better.” I even thought about selling my agency out of principle. I don’t want my life's work to be relegated to the category of advertising. My time on earth, our time on earth, is better than that.
Then, a few weeks ago, it hit me.
I was sitting in another meeting about KPI’s and ROI without any regard to human connection. I could feel negativity brewing under my yellow beanie and restlessness in my skate shoes, and I realized something:
I still deeply love the process. And as long as the gross, money-first conversations are happening, companies like Wheelie will keep rallying for connection and community. We have to.
Sometimes I go to “marketing” events and want to fly home, save one stapler, and light my office building on fire. But I put the gasoline can and fireworks away and acknowledge that the creative process offers the same adrenaline I get through action sports. It all comes back to the love of the game.
I love creating videos that make people feel feelings; so what if we sell some jackets in the process?
I love directing commercials that make a typically-contained CEO yell, “HOLY SHIT!!” through shocked and surprised laughter when he sees it for the first time. The juxtaposition kills me. I live for it.
I love noticing where (and why) I feel love in my body and making sure I feel that exact warmth in my chest and stillness in my stomach when I proof my team’s work.
Because other people will feel that too.
I love designing trail maps so that people feel safe on their mountain bikes instead of scared. I love studying human behavior and understanding where to put the biggest information on a map to soothe someone who feels confused about where a ripping downhill trail landed them in the wild. Or where to put a trail sign that someone can read when they’re going mach3 on their new bike.
I love nudging my employees through their creative blocks, never solving their problems for them or taking responsibility for their projects. I love looking at their screens and into their eyes and poking at what else they know about life that they can pour into this project to push the work deeper. They always rise to the occasion. They love the process, too.
Jackets will sell.
Community trail systems will be funded.
Website traffic will convert into sales.
Those are just byproducts of a passionate creative process.
Our work is still pure. We never try to sell shit for our clients. We connect with humans instead. We can’t help it. It’s in our blood.
We see humans. We hear them.
We connect them with the cultures they want to be part of.
It’s that easy.
And I fucking love the process.
Thoughts? Feels? Fist bumps? Hit me up: firstname.lastname@example.org
copyright 2020 Wheelie, LLC.
I can't recommend Wheelie enough. Our website launch was almost too successful, and we could barely keep up with the amount of orders we received as soon as we announced the rebrand. They are ah.MAZING!"