Trust and Generosity: What Marketing Has To Learn From Writers


“Chance had made me a man, generosity would make me a book”

Jean-Paul Satre

A while back the Guardian newspaper asked some leading authors their ten rules for writing fiction.

Amongst Jonathan Franzen’s was:

“The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.”

Esther Freud’s rules included:

“Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too.”

Goodness. The reader as a co-conspirator. Someone we know. And like. And trust. Whose intelligence we have faith in. Someone who’s in it with us. Someone who we are in the service of.

How different that is from so much of marketingland’s assumptions and attitudes towards those it serves and depends on. How different that is from the notion of the hapless pawn who can be manipulated simply by the insertion of marketing messages into his or her brain. Or reducing people to anonymous demographics we have absolutely no empathy for. Or the habit of segmenting people into bizarre and meaningless typologies that bear absolutely no likeness to any of the real people we encounter in our own lives. Or assuming that our audience is not as smart or sophisticated as we are.

No amount of technology can compensate for not knowing or liking your audience. Perhaps we should all resolve to regard the consumer a little differently. Imagine a world where we too regarded the consumer as a friend, not an adversary, or a spectator. And where we trusted him or her.

The author of Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace once spoke of the writer's generous impulse:

“All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers.”

It would seem that marketing has more to learn from the craftspeople that inhabit the world of literary fiction than it does from most social media experts.