Embrace The Serendipitous Nature Of Marketing

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If all you ever do is set-up your own Google Alerts and only follow Blogs and news sites that are of interest to you, you’re actually going to lead a very uncreative life.

While many people argue that they hate mass media and the advertising that comes with it, there is something underneath it all that you really can’t live without: the serendipity of it all. Without question being able to leverage the power of RSS to choose and filter the vast amounts of content is an amazingly powerful tool that makes all of us smarter. But, if all we’re doing is filtering everything else out based on our preferences, we may miss something that we might come into our lives via incident or accident, and that would truly be a shame.

How many times are flipping through the channels and come across something amazing on TV?

How many times do you pick up a magazine to uncover an article (or two) of interest that you would have never read normally?

How many times have you been parked in the driveway waiting to hear how a segment on NPR ends?

How many times have you seen a print ad and said to yourself, "wow, I didn’t know that was available?"

That’s serendipity… and it’s powerful. It’s all about stumbling into something (by happenstance) that gets you to think differently or creates an awareness you did not have before.

One of the personal ways that I have been experimenting with serendipity is by reading a handful of magazines cover to cover (they include: Wired, Fast Company, Inc., Technology Review and a few others) even when the story or news item is not relevant to me. Or, by watching TV shows like Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose and The Agenda with Steve Paikin even if the topic doesn’t interest me. I’m also paying a lot more attention to the mass advertising that I am exposed to (including TV, radio, print and billboards). While the core of my media consumption is done through Google Reader and what kind folks like you refer me to in places like Twitter and Facebook, I am doing everything I can to expose myself to other forms of media that might give me newer and different ways to think. Who knows, maybe I can apply them to my business? Maybe it will inspire a different type of Blog post? Maybe it will just make me more empathetic?

The trick now is to embrace more serendipity by choosing additional pieces of media that aren’t even relevant to my areas of interest or have more broad-ranging topics.

Either way, closing yourself off to everything that you think may not be of interest to you, is one sure way to make yourself more close-minded. 


  1. I think this is extremely useful. It is one of the main reason that when I left the financial business I kept my subscriptions to industry publications. I think that a side benefit is that when you explore areas outside of your normal areas of interest you get new ideas and points of view that you may be able to apply to your area. Many times that fresh look can help you overcome some preconceived notions about your industry and may help you develop a truly innovate marketing campaign.

  2. Excellent thoughts… Currently I feel I have been drowning myself within the social media and personal branding space, I’m feeling unable to breath.
    I think without expanding your intake of content and, in my case, over consuming myself in the SM and personal branding space I am traveling in a very narrow tunnel and could lead to becoming burnt out on my passion and interests.
    Thanks for the words and motivation in broadening my content.

  3. Good post. Man, by nature, wants life to be very rhythmic and loves to have patterns of repeatability. This is a core essence of education and learning in society. You learn a principal that should be repeatable and hold true for completing tasks. Despite this, there are well documented occurrences of meaningful inventions and ideas that were discovered by accidental events. Both serendipity and managed processes have their place in life. One planned, the other not.

  4. Amen, Mitch. This lesson isn’t limited to marketers, either: we all need to step outside of the familiar every now and then to grow. I’ve been learning more about marketing, PR, communication in general than I did when I got my business degree. It’s so different from my day-to-day that it still seems evil (sorry, meant to type “fascinating”, old habit), yet I can apply bits of it here and there. We all need to be well read.

  5. I’m all for expanding and being open to serendipity, I think the challenge most people have is that they are being bombarded by so many messages. I also think that many people are not open-minded enough to think about what serendipity does bring to their life. I think it’s easier for people like yourself who are media professionals to be like this and much harder for the rest of us.

  6. Excellent, however, this is my problem and it gets in the way of productivity. Regardless, I discover so much that I enjoy that I continue.

  7. Wow. This was something I really needed to read. I don’t want expanding my creativity to be an accident in the waiting room at the doctors office.

  8. Couldn’t agree with you more, Mitch. You never know when you’ll uncover that golden kernel that can at times transform your life…Still foraging for that big one though…

  9. Strongly believe this can and should be applied to ALL areas of life and “information consumption”. It includes exposing yourself to new kinds of people, music, cultures, food, the way you express yourself physically though clothes and personal styles, how you think, write, the hobbies you open yourself up to etc. Never stop exploring and you can be guaranteed a more well-rounded perspective and truly interesting insights on life, regardless of the primary focus.

  10. Mitch,
    You make a great point. In fact, I think the big point is that taking time away from the Web can lead to new discoveries, ideas and insight. In other words, we should all take a digital holiday, and consume other things.

  11. Great point, brilliant article! It puts me in a very awkward position: I don’t watch telly anymore, I haven’t listen to radio for the past 15 yrs, I do read the papers, but the thing is, I can’t stand all the adverts in one sitting.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love adverts, specially the good ones. It’s just that my level of bad-massive-ad tolerance is a bit low.
    Anyways, I just want to point out that no matter how many filters or walls you surround yourself with, information will always find its way through to you.
    I know it because I thought it could work, but it doesn’t: there is no such thing as “shutting yourself to mass media”
    Brilliant post, thanks for sharing.

  12. I love this post! I have been on the fence of whether I should start a blog on my site—then I listened to your Personality And Authenticity podcast and it just inspired me. I find myself twittering links to sites like Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers or the new Free Harvard Online Justice Course , http://www.justiceharvard.org/ — Hey, who here doesn’t want to say they went to Harvard, can I put that on my resume? But rarely do I twit about design or brand. Although, I did tweet this post, and yes you can thank me later, because I have a huge following. All 20 of them. But it is quality not quantity, is that right? Great blog, thank you for getting me off the fence.

  13. Mitch, you forgot one important thing. Every so often, turn off the computer, iPhone, radio and TV, go to the library and read a classic or two, or three. You want serendipity? Read the new within the context of the old and you’ll see that there really is nothing new under the sun when it comes to great ideas.

  14. I agree with your post Mitch, and I think it is human nature to be generally interested in a wide variety of things. The problem hits when you find that thing you really love, or at least you think you really love it, and then you obsess over it to the exclusion of everything else. This forms a habit of tunnel vision, and often times one fails to be receptive to all the other great ideas out there in the world. I only say this because I find myself doing this all the time–this is when I stop myself and reevaluate the situation and the next path to take. People should make it an everyday priority to open their minds, expand their horizons, and do something different. That ‘something different’ may not work or may not be as enjoyable as you hoped, but if you don’t try it, how will you know?
    I absolutely love the discussion this brings up Mitch. It truly is applicable to all areas of life, from the simplistic to the complicated.

  15. As marketers, we need to remember that we are consumers as well. When brainstorming for a client, think about what piqued your personal interest today outside of what you willingly filter in. How can you make that work from a marketing standpoint? There’s certainly an exercise in creativity here.
    Tessa Carroll
    VBP OutSourcing

  16. If you read thirty minutes a day in a particular subject, within three years or so you will be an expert on that subject. This mainly applies to writing of lasting value–it’s good to swim in the blog seas, but the real benefit is to chip away at writing meant to last, like Harvard Business titles or the like (and *not* stuff like Blink that everyone else is reading–it’s fun, but not really nutritious–I love Gladwell but can tell you as a researcher that most of his ideas are misleading, oversimplified, or just wrong).
    Peter Drucker, probably the greatest business thinker of the twentieth century, routinely did three-year programs of reading like this. He read about stuff like Asian art history in addition to “business.” Exposure to these fields of knowledge gave him new ways to categorize, classify, and work with information, which is the best way to solve problems and escape information overload. Try it.
    If you don’t know where to start, try your local library. The reference librarian will get you a reading list to start off. For free. And all the books will be free, and they can be delivered to your local branch free from all over the world. Especially in these economic times, libraries make more sense than ever.

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