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Thinking Good Thoughts is In Everyone's Best Interests

Philosophy and marketing might not seem like natural partners, yet they both build on central concepts. At their core they rely heavily on critical thinking.


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James L Katzaman

a year ago | 7 min read

Sticking to philosophy helps marketers stay on the right track

Photo by Giammarco on Unsplash

Philosophy and marketing might not seem like natural partners, yet they both build on central concepts.

Good marketing starts with an idea that practitioners live by. It’s their professional philosophy. The same holds true for other leaders in their industries.

“Philosophy is for everyone,” said Joana Rita Sousa. “You don’t need to be a philosopher or even to study the history of philosophy to apply philosophy in your life.”

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A philosopher, digital strategist and live tweeter, Sousa shared insights on philosophy as a tool for marketers with digital marketing expert Madalyn Sklar.

“There are a lot of critical thinking tools that a marketer can use such as Ockham’s razor — the idea that no more assumptions should be made than are necessary — to help you simplify your life,” Sousa said. 

“Skepticism helps you suspend your judgement and build a strong opinion on a certain topic and being sensible to the context,” she said. “That reminds you that context determines the meaning of the words we use.”

That leads to an unlikely yet logical pairing.

“I see a lot of connections between philosophy and marketing,” Sousa said. “I work as a digital strategist, and questions are my main tool. Questions help me to find the what, why and how.”

One of her goals is to break free of stereotypes.

“People associate philosophy with old and boring philosophers, mostly men,” Sousa said. “But Ta Da! Philosophy can be fun. Thinking is a lot of fun. I work in philosophy for children and philosophize with 3-year-old kids.”

Creating a Sense of Wonder

Having been in marketing for more than 20 years, Sklar knows how well-formed ideas lead to success in her field.

“Philosophy is the ‘study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence,’” she said. “Those who study philosophy are often pondering the answers to many of life’s questions.

“Having that sense of wonder and curiosity can be helpful when it comes to marketing,” Sklar said. “It can give you a better understanding of those within your target audience.”

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Your philosophy forms your brand, which should promote your beliefs and vision in every venue.

“Asking questions is key when you’re defining a strategy and philosophy — namely, critical thinking can be really helpful,” Sousa said. “We need to be in the moment and at the same time be able to think ahead, drawing different scenarios and possible actions.

“Dealing with uncertainty, evaluating arguments, identifying facts and evidence — these thought movements are very useful for a strategist,” she said. “Philosophy helps your reasoning and arguing. That’s crucial when you’re helping a client to decide on the next steps.”

Sousa refers to herself as Team Tailor Made.

“One thing that I learn with philosophy and with philosophy for children is that context plays an important role when you want to apply philosophy or to draw a strategy,” she said. “If you ignore the context where the brand exists, you might risk proposing a strategy that really doesn’t fit and risk your brand performance, results and so on.”

She wrote an article about the Fab Four: context, content, consistency and community, which Google could translate from Portuguese.

Another Way to Help Customers

“You can use philosophy as a way to make better decisions for your brand and your customers, in turn influencing your marketing strategy,” Sklar said.

Philosophy helps focus marketing, keeping you from veering off the road to commit what Todd Giannattasio calls “random acts of marketing.”

“Besides the critical thinking tools, philosophy gives you the time and space to wonder and ponder about the why,” Sousa said, breaking out the questions:

  • Why does your brand exist?
  • Why should you do X?
  • Why should you say no to Y?

“There are a lot of ethical issues around marketing and philosophy,” Sousa said. “This can be the tool that can help you think about it.

“For instance, should we recommend facebook to a client knowing that the company has transparency problems?” she asked. “Should I accept a project that doesn’t resonate with my ethos just because I need the money?”

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The answers will put you on a firmer footing.

“When you have a strong sense of who your target audience is and what they need from you, you’re able to better serve them,” Sklar said. “That’s ultimately going to produce great results when it comes to engagement and conversions.”

Your philosophy should align with that of your client so you can work through issues together with the least bit of disagreement.

“Sometimes we need to ask very obvious questions like, ‘What is your business’ mission and values?’ but this is a huge question,” Sousa said. “Let’s apply Ockham’s razor and make the same question in a different way.”

Individual Questions

For that, she split the extra-large question into smaller ones:

  • What drives your business?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • When did X happen?
  • Does Y happen a lot?

“Philosophy helped me understand that you will need to ask more questions and listen carefully to the answers,” Sousa said. “Check if the speech is clear or if it’s just a bunch of BS.

“Sometimes the best approach is not to work with a specific client because he or she doesn’t connect with the way we do things and with our own ethics,” she said.

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Reversing roles helps give perspective.

“Take a moment to put yourself in your ideal clients’ shoes,” Sklar said. “What are they struggling with? What kind of solutions are they looking for? This will help you develop offers that address their needs.”

Philosophy helps overcome fallacies in marketing. If you’re philosophical, you’ll know that every little mistake isn’t the end of the world.

“One huge tool is to understand fallacies and cognitive bias,” Sousa said. “If you want to make decisions and be more mindful of how much we make mistakes and use fallacies, you should first read about the topic.”

She recommended an article from the World Economic Forum on cognitive bias. Another article looks at five books that address critical thinking.

On Your Own Initiative

“That’s all philosophy can do for you,” Sousa said. “The rest is up to you. Pay attention to your speech and try to identify fallacies. Critical thinking takes practice.

“Philosophy is a great discipline to help you understand that you can fail,” she said. “Even though you study fallacies, you can still make mistakes when you judge what’s happening in the world around you, in your life and with your brand.”

Philosophically, marketers should not think they know all the answers.

“Being humble and aware that we can fail or even not have success in solving problems is all about being virtuous — waving at Aristotle right now,” Sousa said. “Philosophy can help you find clarity and to be aware of your own confusion.

“It’s OK to be confused,” she said. “You need to be aware of confusion to try and get out of that state.”

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Great lessons start from small beginnings.

“Philosophy really encourages us to ponder and question even the simplest things,” Sklar said. “Know that even if you fail, there’s always a lesson to be learned that can be applied in the future.”

Philosophy is not done in a rush. Look both ways before you cross up your client and your business.

“I focus on critical thinking, but there’s also creative and collaborative skills that you can learn from philosophy,” Sousa said. “I thought of a small list with obvious things.”

Enhance Daily Practices

These are what she believes people tend to forget to practice in their everyday life:

  • Using skepticism in a healthy way
  • Knowing cognitive bias
  • Curating and evaluating relevant information
  • Having a clear communication when explaining and summarizing information
  • Being aware of your ignorance and saying, “I don’t know” when you don’t know

“Be curious and invest time into expanding your knowledge,” Sklar said. “Recognize that you don’t know everything — and that’s OK.”

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The main studying you need to build a successful brand is to know yourself. Without that, you’ll flail away and wonder why you don’t get anywhere.

“You don’t need to study philosophy to build a successful brand,” Sousa said. “You don’t even need philosophy to live. There are a lot of people who live without philosophy.

“Yet, from my point of view, I want to stop philosophizing, but I Kant,” she said.

Sklar agreed that in-depth knowledge is nice to have but not mandatory.

“Although it can be helpful, you don’t need to study philosophy to build a successful brand,” she said. “The most important thing is that you’re pursuing something you’re passionate about and serving your audience in the best way possible.

“If you want to learn more about philosophy and use it in your marketing, consider taking a class if you’re still in school,” Sklar said. “If not, search for educational books and podcasts.”

Sousa recommends several resources to get acquainted with philosophy and how it can apply to marketing:

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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James L Katzaman

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Jim Katzaman is a charter member of the Tealfeed Creators' program, focusing on marketing and its benefits for companies and consumers. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as subscribing here on Tealfeed.


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