Shortly after joining a new company, you’re handed an extensive marketing plan that includes a variety of strategies for reaching your target audience and generating engagement. The plan seems thorough, and you immediately dive into executing it. But then something strange happens. You start to notice inconsistencies throughout the plan, and you become increasingly suspicious that its contents may be more than just slightly off kilter. It feels like many of the strategies in the plan are similar—home runs that seem effortless for everyone else but feel like major strikes for you. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably not alone. Many new hires at marketing companies often find it difficult to distinguish a well-executed campaign from one rife with internal conflict or some other form of toxic behavior.
Gaslighting in Marketing: How It All Begins
To understand gaslighting in marketing, let’s examine why you might want to gaslight your company’s marketing program in the first place.
Gaslighting usually arises as a type of behavior intended to control and manipulate another person. In the workplace, gaslighting is often done to gain power over a colleague by creating an atmosphere of distrust and confusion.
Gaslighting can occur at every level within an organization. Company leadership could gaslight the marketing department, and marketing department employees could gaslight the company’s customers, for example. Gaslighting in marketing can also occur when the marketing team is gaslighting itself. What does this even mean? This is what’s going on, and we need to address it. Unfortunately, if you’ve been struggling to recognize and combat gaslighting in marketing, you may have been doing it to yourself.
Why is it so hard to tell the difference between good marketing and gaslighting?
You may find it difficult to recognize gaslighting in marketing because you’ve internalized a culture where it’s acceptable to behave in this way.
You may have adopted a victim mentality and assumed that “good marketing” is just a matter of finding the right techniques and then doing your best. You may even have felt pressured to participate in this kind of behavior because your colleagues or managers seemed caught up in it, or you just assumed the behavior was what was “normal.”
Trying to discern between good marketing and gaslighting in marketing can feel like a game of “Spot the Difference” between two similar, yet different, examples. One way to start breaking down the confusion is to identify some of the signs that your company may be practicing gaslighting in marketing.
5 signs your company is practicing Gaslighting in marketing
- You feel like you have to justify your efforts - You notice that certain tactics are being used more than others.
- You notice that certain tactics have a negative impact on your colleagues or clients - You notice that certain tactics are having a negative impact on the company as a whole - You notice that certain tactics aren’t working - You notice that certain tactics are causing tension with your colleagues or managers
If you noticed multiple of these signs, you may have been gaslighting in marketing. Let’s unpack each one.
- You feel like you have to justify your efforts - You may start to notice that when your colleagues talk about their marketing strategies, they often insinuate that they don’t think their strategies are working as well. Or perhaps your colleagues are more likely to bring up the “flaws” in their strategies than the “merits.” Or maybe you notice that when you try to offer constructive feedback on a colleague’s marketing strategy, your comments are often dismissed or minimized.
If this sounds familiar, you might be experiencing the “gaslighting” part of gaslighting in marketing. When you feel like you have to justify your efforts, you’re likely experiencing internal conflict. The best way to navigate this type of conflict is to look at things from a more objective (and less defensive) point of view.
- You notice that certain tactics are being used more than others.
This one is pretty straightforward. If certain strategies are being used at a higher rate than others, it’s possible that the “gaslighting” is coming from the marketing team and not the marketing department itself.
- You notice that certain tactics have a negative impact on your colleagues or clients
To be clear, bad marketing isn’t always about causing harm to others. However, if certain marketing strategies are causing a negative impact on your colleagues or your clients, you may want to examine this behavior.
Of course, it’s important to note that marketing is a high-pressure profession, and when a company’s marketing tactics are ineffective, it can cause a high level of stress for everyone involved.
If your marketing team is causing a high level of stress for its colleagues or your customers, you may want to take a step back and consider if you should be doing something differently.
- You notice that certain tactics are having a negative impact on the company as a whole
This one is often a bit more subtle than the rest, but it’s something that you can’t help but notice if you’ve been gaslighting in marketing. Bad marketing can have a negative effect on the company as a whole because it can result in a decline in the company’s revenue.
Bad marketing can also result in the decline of the company’s reputation, which can make it difficult for your colleagues or your clients to find work in the future.
If bad marketing is negatively affecting the revenue of your company, you can try investigating how much of an impact it’s having on the company. In some cases, bad marketing can damage a company’s reputation so much that it can also damage the company as a whole.
- You notice that certain tactics aren’t working
This one is straightforward. If certain tactics aren’t working, you should examine them and discover why. However, if you’ve been gaslighting in marketing, you might be too intimidated to ask the question, “Why aren’t these working?” In this case, you might want to ask your manager or a colleague with more experience in marketing.
If certain tactics aren’t working, you may want to take a step back and investigate what’s causing the problem. Perhaps the tactics aren’t targeting the right audience or aren’t being distributed in the right way.
How to combat gaslighting in marketing
Now that you understand the signs of gaslighting in marketing, it’s time to figure out how to combat these behaviors. The first step is to identify the “gaslighting” in marketing.
Identify which strategies are causing internal conflict within your marketing team. If a colleague is gaslighting another colleague, speak up. If you feel like your efforts are being minimized or dismissed, speak up. If your marketing strategy is negatively affecting the company as a whole, speak up. If a colleague is causing a high level of stress, speak up. If a strategy isn’t working, speak up. If you notice that certain strategies aren’t being used, speak up. If you notice that certain strategies are causing internal conflict, speak up.
Next, you need to consider which strategies you should keep and which you should replace.
As mentioned, you may want to keep a few of the strategies that you’ve been gaslighting in marketing. However, you may want to replace the following strategies:
- Direct mail campaigns can be effective for generating leads and building brand awareness, but they can also result in a high level of internal conflict if the content is poorly written or if a recipient feels disrespected.
- Email campaigns can be an effective way to build brand awareness and drive website clicks. In addition, they can cause internal conflict if they send the wrong message or if they insult the recipient.
- Using social media to build brand awareness and generate click-throughs can be effective, but if the wrong message is sent, or the recipient is disrespected, it can negatively impact a business.
-Content marketing can be an effective way to build brand awareness and generate leads, but it can also result in internal conflict if the content is poorly written or if it’s not relevant to the audience.
-Display advertising can be effective for building brand awareness and generating leads, but it can also cause internal conflict if the ads are clumsy or if they’re inappropriate for the audience.
Finally, you need to put together a plan to implement the new marketing strategies. This plan should include how you will communicate the changes to the team, what the new strategies are, and how you will measure success.
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