Why Do Marketers Ignore Quiet Desperation?

Thoreau famously wrote in 1849: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And, it rings true today. You wouldn’t necessarily realize it because most people deal with desperation quietly. With so many services and products that can help people, it’s remarkable that this deep, internal cry for help — for something, anything — is often neglected by marketers and non-profits.

Quiet Desperation: Stressed, anxious person biting finger nails.Thoreau famously wrote in 1849: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And, it rings true today. You wouldn’t necessarily realize it because most people deal with desperation quietly. With so many services and products that can help people, it’s remarkable that  this deep, internal cry for help — for something, anything — is often neglected by marketers and non-profits. So today, we dig into the “why” behind this topic.

My regular readers know that I both handle the marketing and perform in an International Champion Men’s Chorus. Winning more Gold Medals than any other group in this particular competition going back to the 1970s, the legacy of this organization is larger than life.

As organizations evolve, this organization has moved from a “compete and win at all costs” attitude to “share the music to touch the heart and soul.” Our musical director sums it up well when he says “music, at its core, is not competitive, but a gift to be shared with gratitude.”

So when we placed second — the Silver Medal — on July 7 in Las Vegas, in front of about 7,000 people in the audience and countless more viewing the live stream worldwide, it was a gut punch to many. Separating us from the Gold Medal winner was just 8 points out of 3,000 possible, a virtual tie.

Embracing both victory and defeat with equal humility and grace reveals much about the character of people and an organization. A line from a Kipling poem is inscribed above the entrance to Wimbledon Centre Court: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same; …”

But there is another, more important, part of this outcome that is a reminder to every marketer who is selling a product or service, or raising money for a non-profit.

It’s the stories from people who were deeply touched by the performance, yet didn’t care about the color of the medal. Here are a couple standouts:

I live in chronic pain due to an autoimmune illness. I live in emotional pain because my son is mentally ill with addiction issues. At this time I really don’t know where he is. He is 26 and as a mom if you had told me 10 years ago I would be in this position, I wouldn’t have believed you. I never know whether the calls will be suicidal or not. I’ve sort of suffered in silence because who really wants to know all this? Thank you for the music that takes me away to another place where I can be at peace.

What grabbed me about this writer’s note were the words “I’ve suffered in silence because who really wants to know all this?” She’s right, most don’t want to know the full story. The result: people live daily in quiet desperation.

Or this story:

June 2017 was the worst time I have ever experienced in my life. I thought I had lost everything. My business is gone. I also lost my mentor of 17 years. My life is now on a new path. When a man is in a dark place, sometimes dark thoughts enter his mind. Who knows what dangerous path I would have walked down. Watching how the audience immediately leaped to their feet for the applause, it healed me. I have never been so happy and excited.

At a time when marketers are often obsessed with generating leads, sales, donations and profits, sometimes we have to step back and ask ourselves, “What is our real mission and responsibility to our customers and donors? Are we offering hope during a journey of quiet desperation?”

Revenues are the typical yardstick of measuring a new attitude and strategy, and in this instance, the chorus that I perform with is in a stronger financial position than ever before, and is still considered by most in its community as the greatest chorus in the world.

So when authenticity is rare, but highly craved and valued, an organization’s great opportunity is to identify how to best serve its audience.

This may sound trite, but my experience today says that when you identify how to put your audience first so they can work through — or at least be able to take a break away from their personal quiet desperation — the leads, sales, donations, and profits will follow.