Tension As Motivation

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If we’re not creating tension as a Marketing Professional, then what are we doing?

Jeffrey Hayzlett (the former CMO of Kodak, the author of the best-selling business book, The Mirror Test, and celebrity CMO) said this today at the CMA National Convention (Day Two). As the Chief Marketing Officer for Kodak during a dramatic business model realignment (when was the last time you bought a roll of film for a camera?), he realized that his role was about creating tension in not only the marketing department (which employed hundreds of people) but in the creative output as well. It’s a pretty dramatic concept, if you think about it. It’s also something he seems to have done with a smile on his face ("Come on folks," he pleaded with the audience of marketing professionals, "we’re doing Marketing here… nobody is going to die!").

Tension takes a certain kind of character.

Marketers are not as brave as people may think. While a lot of the creative output may come off as edgy and innovative, Marketers (much like other business professionals) play it safe. They’re scared to lose their jobs, they’re scared to screw something up, they’re scared to make mistakes and they’re overly worried about their reputation (professional advancement, salary bonuses, etc…). I’d love to admit that I don’t fall into this camp, but as an agency owner, it’s hard. My mistakes (and those of my business partners and senior management team) don’t just have personal ramifications. With over a hundred employees at Twist Image, my mistakes can affect thousands of people (team members, their family, the client’s team and maybe even the client’s consumers). I’m cognizant of that, so while I have a little more leeway to create tension in places like this Blog, on the Podcast, in one of my newspaper columns, it’s more challenging and intimidating in other aspects of the business.

Get over it. We need more tension.

Tension is critical. If you’re not creating tension and pushing your thinking (and people)  to the edge, then you’re playing it safe. Tension in your marketing makes sense too – especially when the people engaging and consuming your marketing messaging feel the energy. We’re not talking about tension to the point of it making people uncomfortable (there’s a wide chasm between tension and negative tension), but to the point of it making them recognize that your brand is different and pushing buttons.

Tension can…

  • Create new thinking around a brand.
  • Inspire people to dig a little deeper.
  • Get people to think more.
  • Push people to take action.
  • Get people to talk about what you’re doing to others.
  • Initiate a story that gets people to share your content.

The good tension.

When does your best work happen as a Marketer? Does it happen when you have all of the time in the world or does it happen when something drops and needs your attention and resolution in a short period of time? When your team comes together, when the war room needs to be mobilized and when there’s an immediate demand for your services, the tension is what brings out the best in people… whether we like to admit it or not. Tension does bring a unique and powerful result.

How much tension do you bring to your work and to your art?


  1. ironically, I couldn’t agree with this more.
    I’ve recently discovered that seeking opposition is one of the most powerful growth tools out there.

  2. I love this! People really are afraid, especially in the economy of recent years. Be brave, be creative and push it to the edge, people!

  3. As a small business owner my marketing department is small (ok it’s just me). There is no question that my best ideas were born in a sea of tension. The creation of tension in a larger concern must be much more difficult. It is about being open with a group instead of honest with oneself.

  4. Yet again, for the 8,000 time, you are bang on, Mitch. Safe doesn’t create change and it doesn’t even promise a job tomorrow. Being self-employed brings along much tension but doesn’t normally seem to bring creativity along with it. And so safety wins and nothing progresses. Fear of failure is often deemed the culprit but perhaps it’s fear of success. What if your crazy idea actually works?

  5. Many smaller design firms have a hard time with this. You have to reach a point of self comfort and self confidence (something every creative person struggles with) before you are willing to push harder and take bigger risks.
    Thanks for another great post Mitch

  6. Couldn’t have said it any better. Really, there is no limit to what a human mind can achieve. Getting such an information free of cost from someone who is CMO of Kodak, simply brilliant.
    From today, I shall take the Tension as a challenge.

  7. Any “new†marketing communication strategy that does not generate a certain level of discomfort (read tension), has not advanced the development of the cause at hand. It’s “old†on arrival. In jest, ask Regie Perrin, he knows a thing or two about creating marketing tension.

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