Step Away From The Computer...

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As marketers, we often find ourselves trapped behind the perpetual glow of a computer screen…. We are hard at work creating the messages that the world is consuming at break-neck pace. But how do we stay sharp?  How do we ensure that we are on the cutting edge of our field? Of course, there is market research, focus groups, copy testing, and probably a million other tools, but there is one thing that is often times over looked in our busy lives: interaction. Like real, live, human interaction. Asking your co-worker how their weekend was before you ask them for help on Skype does NOT count.

In fact, I am going to go as far as to say that even in-person interaction with co-workers (and clients) doesn’t count. I’m not even talking about going out to bars or events (for a major introvert like me, the idea of that interaction is terrifying)… I am talking about interacting with someone in a way that can impact both of your lives. I am talking about volunteering.

This month at Marketo, we are celebrating a company-wide month of volunteerism. An awesome opportunity for us, but for many companies just haven’t yet found a way to offer something this progressive… but you don’t need a special month dedicated by your company to accomplish this work.  You don’t even need a ton of time.

Arthur Ashe once said, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”

I love that quote. Truth be told, it has guided my life for the past 20 years.  But it isn’t entirely altruistic.  You see, when I am volunteering, I am observing people, I am interacting with people outside of my regular social or work circles, I am growing.

For example, many years ago, the marketing firm I was running was hired to help develop the brand voice and image for a clothing boutique that was focused around girls aged 10-17… as a young-ish single guy living in Kansas, I didn’t have much experience with 10-17 year old girls. I was stuck.  I knew how to make a brand speak to their parents… I could do that all day long, but I spent weeks trying to wrap my head around a demographic that was changing at the speed of the internet (granted, in 2004, the internet was not nearly as fast as it is now…). Then an idea literally fell into my lap: a bright blue postcard from the local Boys and Girls Club.  They were looking for volunteer tutors to come in and help students with writing projects. My proverbial light bulb went off… I signed up that day, and started working with 6th grade students learning how to write their first research papers.  What an amazing experience!  Not only was I able to teach these young people to find their inner author, but I also got a double whammy by getting to immerse myself in their culture.  It didn’t take long, and I was cranking out campaigns that really wowed our client.  I kept working with the Boys and Girls Club for the rest of my time in Kansas.  I found the work to be rewarding, and a great way to look at life beyond my computer screen.

Maybe kids aren’t your gig… that’s totally fine, the possibilities are endless. I have played piano at a senior center to spark ideas for a client doing healthcare marketing (while listening to some pretty epic stories about the “good old days”), I have helped out at a pre-school so I could better understand moms (where I learned to make a rooster out of craft glue and colored pasta), and I have served countless dinners at homeless shelters just because it helped remind me of what is important in my life.

The point is, get out there and try it.  You will feel great about the work that you are doing, and you can even improve your work in the process.