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A Climber’s Guide to Being a Successful Marketer (or vice versa)

The Tribe
January 14, 2014

When I’m not sitting behind a screen writing copy or designing websites, more often than not you’ll find me in a more compromising position – attached to the end of a rope, dangling precariously alongside some nameless wall of granite or limestone.

I’m a crag-rat, a rock-monkey, a granola-hippie – I’m a climber. It’s more than just a sport or hobby to me – it’s a way of life.

Climbing has challenged my fears, exposed my weaknesses, stirred up fiery passions, drained me physically, pushed me mentally, and grown me as an individual far faster than I would have otherwise. Most importantly, climbing consistently offers rewards for dedication and devotion to the art.

You may not climb or ever will, but you and I as marketers have much more in common than you might think. Our paths to success and growth are similar and these three pillars of truth that climbing has taught me are becoming my approach to success as a marketer.

Strength – What’s yours?

A climber’s only enemy is themselves. There are no opponents. The beauty in climbing is that everyone who climbs the same cliff always climbs it differently. Some race up the rock, others take a slow calculated approach; some use dozens of holds while other use far fewer. The goal of getting to the top never changes. There is not a single way that is “best”. The way that most effectively plays to the strengths of the climber is the best way.

Marketing isn’t just channels, design, metrics, or strategy. Effective marketing is all of those things. As such, you and I have particular roles within the big picture, but a singular goal – to stand alone as proud creators of messages that lead to human movement. So what are you – a designer, copywriter, salesman, project manager, CEO? Recognize your strengths and use them to your advantage. Always be honing them, constantly seeking to improve. Stop comparing yourself to others. Your advantage is in your strength. Your strength is in your advantage.

Endurance – You can do it!

Since everyone is predisposed to have certain strengths, it’s easy to try and rely on them. If you’re tall you can reach holds shorter people can’t, if you’re athletic you can jump and skip holds entirely, and if you’re powerful you can muscle your way up despite poor technique every time. But what happens when your perceived advantage seems to be failing you? This is where endurance comes in. Climbers who focus on building endurance do it because they realize they will come to difficult moments in their climbs that have no immediate solution, that don’t play to their strengths. Endurance allows them to literally “hang on”, providing them the time required to approach the problem with renewed strategy and focus – without taking a break, and most importantly, without falling.

Let’s say you’re a designer or copywriter. Let’s say you’re a GREAT designer or copywriter. Your work receives approval and praise anytime you lift a finger…most of the time. How do you react when those days come when it seems you can’t do anything right, when you have incredible creative block? Do you become increasingly frustrated? Do you start to panic? Does worry relentlessly grow?

Realize that sometimes all you need is time – time to flush out all the inferior ideas, time to do better research, time to analyze and approach your problem or task from a different angle. This doesn’t imply sitting around and waiting for that “AHA!” lightning bolt to strike. This is commitment to actively finding that diamond in the rough, that needle in the haystack. It’s about hanging on without getting hopelessly discouraged, because you know you can. As you continually develop endurance, your movements within the marketing world will naturally become more fluid and focused.

Technique – You must study hard

If strength and endurance are marshmallow and chocolate, then technique is the graham cracker that holds everything together. What separates a good climber from a truly great climber is technique. Technique comes from hours spent practicing small movements. Advanced technique may not be apparent within a single reach of the hand or step of the foot, but spread out over a whole climb, the difference becomes undeniable. Great climbers know that becoming adept won’t happen by aimlessly scrambling up rock every day and pulling their favorite moves. Their greatness comes in identifying weaknesses and coming up with ways to mitigate or master them.

Often I’m reminded of these words by the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi:

Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things…From one thing, know ten thousand things…You must study hard.

Miyamoto Musashi

This is a mindset that’s easy to forget. To become a great marketer is hard. It requires countless, lonely hours focusing on those aspects that may be weaknesses now but will turn into advantages later. Becoming a great marketer means asking those extra questions, reading a not-so-fun book, studying industry trends, researching cutting-edge technology, writing thousands of words no one will ever read, and designing a dozen more concepts that will forever remain entombed on your hard-drive – why? Because all of those little things, those techniques added up, will one day be the difference between your effectiveness and ineffectiveness, your success and failure.

Be strong, endure, be constantly improving.

So do you want to reach that next level in your own corner of the marketing world? Be strong, endure, be constantly improving. You may never find yourself hanging by a lifeline on the side of a cliff like me, but remember that this life is full of mountains that you’re destined to meet and conquer. Study hard and keeping moving up. I’ll see you at the top!

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