Philosophy as a Tool for Marketers

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What do a great philosopher and marketer have in common? They can both be insightful and annoying at the same time.
Seriously, though, philosophy, as the art of thinking, is a great way for marketers to approach their work. How? We asked our own #TwitterSmarter team member, philosopher, and digital strategist, Joana Rita Sousa, to break it down for us. Here’s a summary of our chat.

Guest: Joana Rita Sousa
Topic: Philosophy as a tool for marketers
Format: Eight questions directed at the guest. Everyone’s welcome to share.

Q1: What’s the connection between philosophy and marketing?

As a philosopher herself, our guest assured us that philosophy is not for the elite—it’s for you and me, for everyone.

As a study, philosophy teaches you to use certain tools to enhance your thinking. These can be great for marketers, for as Joana explained, knowing how to simplify things, weigh situations, and form a constructive opinion are key traits for a good marketer.

Other tools employed in philosophy can help too. For example, philosophy teaches us to be context-aware, which in marketing terms can be interpreted as reading your audience and crafting a message that’s relevant and appealing to your target audience.

Similarly, philosophy is about asking questions. It’s about being eternally skeptical and questioning everything so you can find the truth that’s buried deep underneath our biases. If you’re a marketer, this questioning trait leads you to ask complex questions about your product/service/business, such as why you do what you do, who you do it for, what happens if you don’t do this, etc. A comprehensive understanding of your market makes it easy for you to reach your audience.

Lance pointed out that philosophy seeks to explain and understand the nature and meaning of everything around us. This knowledge and curiosity can be invaluable for marketers, helping them assess situations and seek solutions from a unique perspective.

Q2: How do you use philosophy to design a marketing strategy?

Ask questions and approach situations critically. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons of philosophy is to be in the moment. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think ahead. On the contrary, philosophy encourages you to be present and aware of yourself, but also to be present and aware of your broader surroundings. This means that you’re consciously trying to understand yourself as well as your place in the grander scheme of things.

Marketing thinking should be the same: what purpose does your brand solve and what role does it play in the bigger market area where your audience has multiple brands to choose from? Why would they choose you over others who might also be doing the same thing? Or are they doing the same thing? How so or how not? Answering these questions and drilling down further into questions can help you define your place in the business universe.

Then as you start speaking to clients and helping them meet their requirements, you have to play the role of a philosopher, too. You have to explain your position and defend your ideas with a series of proofs. The more organized and well-thought-out your argument, the more convincing you are. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. When you suggest a pathway for your client, you have to come up with that pathway through clear thinking and progressive messaging. That’s exactly how philosophy teachers deliver their lectures.

In other words, as Chris put it, you’ll have to use philosophical thinking and techniques to address your clients’ unique needs.

If you don’t consciously try to address clients’ requirements, your solution may lack crucial context and empathy. It may not provide your clients what they need, but instead, offer what you think they need. That’s why customizing your approach is important. Have a look at Joanna’s article about context, content, consistency, and community—or the Fab Four, as she calls it.

Q3: Why is it important for marketers to learn to use philosophy in their work?

Because the fundamental ideology of marketing is knowing why you do what you do. The fundamental ideology of philosophy is to know why anything is.

You see why they go so well together?

Most businesses struggle to tackle ethical questions about their business. Philosophical thinking can help you decode those tough situations, find, and acknowledge the truth. For example, consider Facebook. Everyone knows the company’s under fire for various current and political issues. Your values may be strongly against Facebook.

With that in mind, if a client asks, would you still recommend the social media platform to them?

If you would, what makes you do that? Does that really conflict with your overall values, or do you see it purely as business advice?

Your answers to those questions may be different from the next person’s. And that’s ok, as long as you have applied critical thinking skills and identified your brand’s own stance.

Q4: Can you use philosophical thinking to solve clients’ everyday problems?

You certainly can. Consider the philosophical practice of simplifying things and questioning extensively. Now use those tools to break down complex questions for your clients. As our guest pointed out, instead of “What’s your mission?” ask smaller questions like “What’s motivating you to log in every day?” Or “Why do you choose to buy from this specific supplier?” or “How often does this happen?”

What’s tricky though, is that when you start thinking about big topics in smaller doses, it’s easy to lose your train of thought and the big picture. If you’re asking your client these questions, keep an ear out for clarity. Note it down or record it so you can go back and reevaluate if you need to.

It also helps to practice empathy, as Madalyn suggested. When you start thinking critically and breaking down a big question into smaller ones, you might tend to be overly technical about it. Technical is good—it ensures that you’re asking the right questions. But unless you put yourself in your clients’ shoes, you won’t have context. This is important because understanding your clients’ mindset will help you give them more appropriate solutions. Know your audience.

Q5: How does philosophy help overcome our fallacies in marketing?

We’re all susceptible to biases and mistakes. To avoid that and to make sure our philosophical thinking is truly as effective as we want it to be, it’s important to understand and acknowledge what could go wrong.

Joana shared a list of five books that address the various fallacies that we tend to fall into. Have a look through that list and spend some time identifying fallacies that you may not have noticed before. This learning and acceptance phase will help you catch yourself before you could make rash decisions in the future.

More than that, though, studying these concepts will show you that mistakes are common and normal. No one’s above errors. However, being aware of what could go wrong is a great first step in avoiding traps.

Q6: What are some essential philosophical skills marketers should learn?

Philosophy often deals with everyday things. Simple things that we tend to overlook because we’re focused on bigger things. Looking at those little things can give a marketer a range of unique perspectives.

Aside from knowing your biases, questioning everything, and re-evaluating your ideas, Joana also suggested two other skills that will help marketers, namely, communicating clearly and being sincere about what you don’t know. It also ties back to the idea of asking questions. If you’re not sure, admit it and ask about it so you can learn and grow.

Q7: Do you need to study philosophy to build a successful brand?

Not at all. You don’t need a degree in philosophy to start using philosophical tools and improving your brand. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to either.

However, philosophical tools will help you grow your brand and yourself as a marketer. So, as Christine, put it, it’s a good idea to use it to your advantage. All you need to do is spend some time understanding how philosophical thinking relates to your brand and then apply those principles in your everyday work.

Q8: Where can you learn more about using philosophy in everyday marketing?

Joana recommended following author and philosopher, Nigel Warburton. She also suggested checking out the book, Critical Thinking by Tom Chatfield and The School of Life channel on Youtube.

There are also heaps of podcasts and YouTube channels you can learn from. If you’re still in school, consider taking philosophy as a subject. Taking a planned course is often a good way to introduce yourself to a new topic, so if podcasts and books seem overwhelming, look for online courses you can sign up for.

Well, that’s all from me, folks. Thanks for reading through, and for more insights from our chat with Joana, have a look at this Twitter Moment that she put together for us. If you think this summary is pretty good, you’ll love the real-time chat. Join us every Thursday at 1pm ET on #TwitterSmarter. Afterward, we also hang out on Twitter Spaces at 5pm ET to continue our chat. Catch you there!

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About me, Narmadhaa:

I write all the things—technical and marketing copy to fill the pocket; haiku and short stories to fill the soul. A social media enthusiast, I’m a member of the #TwitterSmarter chat crew, and always happy to take on writing gigs.

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