Ego – what it means for marketing

Ego is not a well understood idea. Freud in his delineation of three states, outlined a three level field; id (instinct), ego (me) and superego (social or controlling force). You can debate those ideas or strike out into a series of nuance based arguments.

The ideas tie loosely into the limbic (ancient, appetites, emotions), middle brain (control functions, speech and movement ) and frontal cortex (newer brain and pro-social inhibitions).  None of this is hard and fast fact, more a painting, narrative structure or mapping topography applied to human behavior.  It’s all subject to debate.

In the context of ego, as we read it from a modern standpoint, there is the “how am I to be seen” construct or the “me, me, me” construct.  Think popstars, or those consistently asked for their opinion based on social status, academic qualifications or financial position.

The reason for addressing this idea is that many people you will work for will not be task oriented. They will ask you to “play the game.” Playing the game will mean fawning to their ego or flattering them in large or small ways to maintain your position, which itself is based on their favor. Think courtiers.

I’ve stated before that “everyone” believes that they can do digital marketing until they actually have to do digital marketing.

In most roles, even those appearing simple, there are always trade secrets, tools and ways of performing a task that can make it easier, usually learned through experience.

The point being that most people who hire you (for digital work) have two levels of conceit; first they pay you, meaning they want to feel like a “gift giver” and secondly, they often feel they could do your job just as well (…if only they had the time – time is important).  They may feel that you are a “lower” form of life, as you advertise their product (which in ego terms = them).  If you do not pander to them or accept this “secondary citizen” dynamic, you may find that “ego problems” develop.

One of the games is called “professionalism.” In larger companies professionalism means knowing your position and pay-grade, following the orders of the higher ups and “keeping your nose clean.” Mostly this means following the command and control network that has been laid out for you (even if it doesn’t exist in reality, it exists as a tacit set of unexpressed ideas about “seniority” – money, power and position).

It is normally clear who holds the higher positions and why. Quite often those people will have developed an “ego” related to the role and their skill in getting and holding that role. If you’re new to a company, one of the first things you will notice is the role based structure of that particular game.

One of the tricks of retaining a role is often hoovering up as much praise as possible while deflecting criticism and responsibility onto others (usually a competitor for resources).

Another element of the “ego”state is that everyone wants to identify with success while very few want to take responsibility for failure. This of course means the more ego driven the organisation, the less people are willing to take risks. The silos begin to apportion blame and then a cycle of positions results which is far more politics than task based.

There are many ways of pulling this off; by answering only selected emails, being uncontactable or being constantly “busy.” Attending multiple meetings is a classic “attendance” strategy.  If you’ve worked long enough you’ll notice that some people like to be in the “fire fighter” position. They want to be called in to resolve issues, but rarely develop process, teams and skills to build a more comprehensive toolkit.

The new model of agile or team based structures allows for more of a grassroots developed cycle of iterations and development. There is less focus on the “ego driven” status position. The team develops significant autonomy. Products actually get developed and shipped. It is a major change. There is also a focus on mistakes as a necessary part of the process, rather than sticks to beat people with.  Organisations are “flatter.”

Understanding how close marketing and politics are is important. Your job is to influence, persuade and educate the customer. In politics the same elements are used. In either case the marketing person or politician (clearly the same type of role) is a very public persona or role. Your skill set is inherently powerful. If your public persona is “big,” you’ll run into trouble quite often.

The political process usually tends towards a core group controlling power over a longer term. This is one of the key reasons that (in life) politicians should be changed often.  Not because they become more powerful, but that they tend to build a like-minded network around them. Allegiance then becomes a more important political concept. The central task has often waned in its significance, otherwise people would have moved onward and upwards to more complex tasks.

In these companies, which I call “rat cities,” the development process is often significantly geared towards entropy and politics. Usually there is a lead rat on top who keeps a cordon or subservient underlings or “gatekeepers” on various rungs, shielding him or her in a multitude of ways.

Positions are rigidly held and the company usually lurches from crisis to crisis. You’ll notice a high level of delusion, staff attrition and attention grabbing management doublespeak from on high. You will see many firefighters, asskissers and assorted douchebags in positions in which they appear counterproductive (from a task orientation perspective, but not from a political one).

Communication will often be focused through email. The in-group will usually be fairly obvious in this sphere, they’re not trying to hide it.  Email becomes a key battleground, with the most politically motivated putting many others “in copy”(literally closing ranks). You will notice a top down game going on where management and top tier can include many in copy, while newbies are either explicitly told not to do this or get harangued for their lack of “online etiquette,”meaning knowing their explicit position in the hierarchy. The conversation becomes quite uni-directional.

 

All of these games are centuries, if not millennia old, indicating the “ego” based nature of the conflicts. You may be working in a modern software company with virtual teams, but the same constructs were used in the days of early man.

A thing to look at is the “ego” driven nature of success and the corresponding fear of failure. I’m not advocating that you play the game, it’s short-sighted and diminishes your overall achievement opportunity.

If you’re like me, you’ll get fired a few times, but you’ll develop quickly enough that you’ll be skilled enough to know the games and return serve effectively. Remember task beats politics; success = reward. Complete the task and you’re more effective than the politicos. You then hold leverage.

“Effective” beats “ego”in the long-term because effective makes money.

The ego driven game more often promotes a drive to the middle, where talent gets removed (as a dangerous opponent) and a cohort of “yes men (or women) gets put in place who run a sort of echo chamber. This group rarely pushes for the highest risk/reward scenario in contrast to talent (competency) which often embraces that duality. What you then see is slow sinking into ineffectiveness in a competitive environment.

A final thought on this topic relates to digital media. As a media worker you’re pushing your work into the public domain.  It is obvious to most observers what is “good” and what is corporate drivel. It is hard for people to discriminate between the worker and the work. As a result, if your stuff is good, you become “good.”

The converse also applies. This puts you directly in the firing line. If you don’t want the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

You’ll need some ego of your own. Your locus of evaluation should be internal and you should know when to fold or move tables. You should also know when to push and be political. In short you need to “understand the game.” You need a little bit of realpolitik amid all the bullshit.

I say again; success = reward. A significant part of success is moving the task in front of the egos. You’ll be working in plain sight. It will be public. Your success and failures will be your own.

Your task is publicity. Your personal brand matters as much as the product.

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