Archives for posts with tag: Fear


This is what happens when you fly today:

  • You have to leave the house 3 hours before the flight
  • You get annoyed just thinking about the security theater
  • Everybody looks and feels miserable
  • People are not trained well enough to discover harmful items
  • Everybody knows it and still plays along
  • TSA changes the rules constantly to keep us even more anxious

A big charade and the results: Security is still not good and nobody feels safe.

The real result: We pay a lot of money and time and effort to get nothing in return. It’s a silly play that we all participate in and nobody has the nerve to say: “What the hell are we doing?”

Another example: parenting. A lot of parents push their kids into gazillion of programs: violin, soccer, theater, ballet, baseball, chess – you name it. The weekends are filled with driving kids around and not spending quality time together. Parents push their kids into these programs to seek reassurance that they tried to give their kids the best possible childhood. Providing opportunities. I haven’t seen any data to indicate that filling up a kid’s schedule with activities makes them more successful in life.

I call it the “cover your butt” fee. We pay it every time we spend money or time seeking reassurance. We pay double when that act makes us more anxious: “I should do more.”

We pay that fee every time we cover our butt instead of just doing what’s right. I wish we could call out that fee as a line item on the government budget: How much money are we spending to create fear and then spending to address the fear? Each annual report of a corporation should quantify the “cover your butt” fee, products/services that were purchased just in case. Once we can quantify the fee, we can make a judgement if it’s worth the investment.

We overstaff, overplan, overanalyze, overmeet to quiet down our anxiety. How much better governments and corporations would function if they didn’t have to pay the fee to deal with fears?


On my first day as a copywriter, I had no clue what I was doing. There were no courses for copywriters, nobody gave me any advice what to do. My first important job was writing headlines for a German charter company, marketing their Greek vacation packages. I look at their old advertising and started to write. I was sweating bullets. I had no clue if anything made sense, if they would fire me on the spot. At the end of the day, I dropped at least hundred headlines on the desk of my Creative Director. He was on the phone, nodded and I left for the day. I didn’t sleep all night. I’m sure I was unemployed. Next morning, the headlines waited for me on the desk, crossed out with a large “No”. And I went to work again. 3 days later, one headline was chosen and I slept for the first time. To start with another campaign that robbed me of sleep and instilled fear in me. Fear to be a failure. Fear to be laughed at. Fear not to be good enough.

Being scared is good

When you are scared because you don’t really know what you’re doing, you do your best to make up for it with really hard work. You try learn as much as you can to compensate. And, more often than not, you explore new possibilities that experts don’t consider. Being stupid keeps me alive and curious. Once I know everything, I’m ready to rot. And become obsolete.

That’s one of the reasons why I changed vocations early in my career (Law degree, speech pathology, advertising), moved from Germany to the US with two suitcases and started my own business last year. When I get too comfortable, I get itchy. It doesn’t feel right. I prefer the improvisation part where you rely on expertise and instincts.

That’s why I love digital marketing

Besides search advertising, we’re muddling our way through digital marketing. We’re trying our best to figure it out but what worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. That’s just the way it is. (Oh, and I have my doubts anybody has really figured out traditional advertising. Just saying…) There are too many platforms, too many options, too many new developments each and every day that makes it impossible to know everything. Or even 10%. Behavior changes constantly, people are doing things differently today than they did 6 months ago. We have start from scratch every time we start a new campaign or initiative. “Trued and tried” has transformed into “Outdated and tired”.

Question everything

You might not have the title. You might not wear the great suit. You might not have the impressive resume. You might not have worked with the legends of the industry. But you have all the right in the world to question everything the guy with the title, suit, resume and work experience tells you. It can go two ways: You’ll recognize the suit is empty and the resume is just a bunch of titles on one sheet of paper. Or you learn something from each other. People that can fill the suit and don’t bank their existence on titles will always be grateful for questions and deeper explorations. They want to learn and move away from the “true and tried” ways of doing business. So, if you get this assignment that blows your mind, work with a legend and have to show everything you got and then some: Appreciate that moment. Your head might explode. You might not sleep. But chances are, you will do your best work.

But, be careful

While you need to embrace the fear of not knowing anything, don’t give in to the lizard brain. Use your fear to your advantage, don’t give in to it. Don’t try to fit in, keep your head down and ignore the pull of the lizard brain. Be fueled by your fear and do your work under Hugh McLeod’s motto: Ignore everybody.


Image: Courtesy of

Fear passes from man to man
As one leaf passes its shudder
To another.
All at once the whole tree is trembling
And there is no sign of wind.
– Charles Simic

Most marketers live a fear-driven life in which thoughts, decisions and actions are motivated by fear. Fear is quite insidious. It creeps into our lives and stops us from doing the things we want. Fear stops marketers from experiencing things that could really allow them to grow a brand into greatness.

We experienced this fear-driven marketing paradigm in the first stages of the digital revolution. How many PowerPoint presentations were developed to convince brands to invest some of their traditional dollars in digital initiatives? I must have created at least 50 decks just speaking to that topic. Someone must have listened because digital marketing spend is increasing yearly. But the tactics are not changing – It continues to be about reach: According to Razorfish and their media budget report for 2009, site specific buys commanded more than 30 percent of client budgets, search and directory buys held 25 percent, ad networks had 20 percent, and portals had more than 10 percent. Proving my point: Fear reigns supreme in marketing.

While the tool boxes have changed dramatically, the marketing paradigm hasn’t shifted a bit: Reach at an affordable cost. Period. End of story. Clients have entrusted me with rather large digital accounts and this is what you get when you engage in the ‘Reach Game’: Tons of impressions that nobody can account for, horrendous click-through rates and a bunch of visitors to your site. To save your job, you better negotiate a few awareness studies with publishers, communicating to executives that people actually saw your advertising and responded positively. Did they respond to your product or the ad? Will the positive response lead to purchase? Oh, come on, you’re asking too many questions. We already had to bribe the respondents with Amazon gift cards, can’t be too specific in our questions.

Sure, marketers venture out of their fear-driven existence once in a while to develop a Facebook page or even allow for a Twitter feed. As Razorfish’ report indicates, these are just some crumbs of the overall marketing pie. Marketers continue to go for the Time Square stunts, Yahoo home page takeover, plastering their advertising all over the Web in the spirit of “You can run but you can’t hide” and the always popular celebrity endorsement. Why? Because it’s safe. It’s what they taught us in marketing school decades ago. And the C-Level suite understands reach metrics.

Ironically, because most marketers don’t take risks they risk the existence of the brand they are asked to grow and, ultimately, they risk their job. Don’t try to buy time by asking for gazillion decks explaining how Social Media can drive your business. (Just Google it – there are tons of case studies.) Don’t cover your behind by delaying any innovative Social Media initiative by letting Legal run the show. Stand up to everyone in the organization (even your agency) and lead your way out of fear. Dump tactics that don’t perform or are kept alive for any other reasons than driving sales. Allocate a healthy portion of your budget to innovative ideas. Take risks. Show your leadership. And kick fear. Hard.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they simply cannot learn, change, feel, grow, love, live…
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves.
Only the person who risks is free.

(Author unknown)