Images: Courtesy of artbyphil
By now, it’s gone. A temporary city that forms during the annual Burning Man event is fading back into the nothingness of a remote desert. Most inhabitants are back in their normal life, and within weeks, the entire city will have disappeared. It’s an interesting way for a city to exist – once a year, just for a few weeks. People will talk about their experiences for months (just follow the hashtag #burningman to get a sense of the enthusiasm) and start making plans for next year’s event.
This was my second time at Burning Man. It remains one of the most bizarre, creative, inspiring, breathtaking and weird events I ever attended. Whatever you heard about Burning Man: It’s true. And, it’s completely false. You have to experience it to really understand it. It’s like having a kid, running a marathon or writing a book: Everything you heard about it is true. And, completely false at the same time.
On my way back from Black Rock City, I reflected on the lessons marketers can learn from Burning Man:
1. The paralyzing fear of change is far more inhibiting than the actual experience of change:
I’ve been a runner for more than 15 years. The first 5 years, I never ran more than 6 miles per day. A marathon was completely out of my reach, even though I was intrigued by the idea. “How do they run 26 miles?”, I asked myself many times, envisioning images of pain and agony. I tried to run 10 miles, never able to do it. Started walking after 6-7 miles, my usual comfort zone. Until one day, I decided to run 15 miles that day. No particular reason, just the feeling that I was sick of not being able to break that 7-mile barrier. And, I didn’t want to just break it. I wanted to shatter it. And so I did. Just to finish a marathon 3 months later.
Many marketers feel the same way: They want to break with the old model of marketing but they feel stuck in their old ways, the outdated processes and the aging model of broadcast marketing. They wait for someone to have the courage to change. The truth is: Nobody gets courage and then changes everything. First you change everything and then get the courage.
2. Don’t give up too early
The first time you try anything new, your senses are under attack. You don’t even know if it’s good or bad. You just know it’s new. You don’t know yet how to put it into perspective and add it to your experiences. The first time is the basic foundation of the overall process. The best advice for the first time in everything: Hang in there. Do whatever you can, the best you can. The second time is different: You have now one experience to compare your second experience to. And your second experience might be good or bad. Better or worse. It helps you to avoid bad experiences and to top good experiences. The third time is where it gets interesting. That’s when you become part of the context, when you can apply some of your experience history to the current experience. The third time gives you enough time to analyze incoming data.
This is true for visiting new cities. New countries. Starting a new job. And it’s true for marketing.
The first two digital campaigns/social media initiatives won’t be featured in any award book. I worked hard, I tried my best, I just didn’t have the proper context to deliver the best work possible. With the third campaign/initiative, I felt more grounded, more experienced. When you experiment with new platforms, new ideas or a new brand that just decided to run their marketing with you, just know you’re not going to ace it with the first idea/initiative. The fear of failure is looming large but you need to beat it by accepting this normal process.
3.) Give people a sense of ownership
The creativity and passion people pour into Burning Man has nothing to do with monetary rewards. It has a lot to do with a sense of ownership of the event. Sure, the man will burn, there will be coffee and ice, basic structures. The rest of the event is up to each one of the attendees.
Advanced managers base their ethics on fairness, harmony and gratitude to inspire a sense of achievement to goes beyond profit. Modern employees expect more from companies than just a paycheck. The work place should provide an avenue for employees to build knowledge, skills and experience.
The same is true for marketing: It’s not enough to have an offer or a discount coupon anymore. Customers review and recommend brands with a sense of ownership never seen before. Brands need to identify the best way to engage these passionate stakeholders. The future doesn’t belong to broadcast. The future belongs to companies that share values with their customers, that build platforms where all stakeholders can co-create and collaborate, and give people a sense of ownership.
4. Passion has real value
You can feel real passion. Just watch an artist or a kid immersed in something they are passionate about. Objects are not important at Burning Man. We are in the age of transition: From the economy of objects to the economy of people. Just look around: Everyone is starving for meaning. We’re meaning-making machines. All of us experienced how quickly the focus on profits can turn into an economic disaster. Instead, people want to do meaningful stuff that matters.
The new marketing reality implies that brands need to take a hard look at themselves and decide what they stand for. What is the inner truth of your company? What is your purpose? The foundation of any successful company in the future is purpose, passion and integrity, coupled with empathy and care for all stakeholders. It goes way beyond any CSR initiatives or charitable donations. The new marketing reality requires companies with big hearts.
5. The world needs more kindness
Tim Ferriss (The 4-hour workweek) discovered kindness in a sand storm. And, he shared a poem by Naomi Shinab Nye, entitled “Kindness”:
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
When your dreams turn to dust, vacuum.