I am an autistic woman who is writing a self-employment guide for autistic adults. As a result of our social deficits, autistic people typically struggle perhaps more with marketing than with any other aspect of entrepreneurship. And so my research for my book has focused extensively upon marketing.
My research has included reading the outstanding book The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott. The book is full of excellent examples of marketing campaigns that involved thinking outside the box and focusing on the customer’s needs, wants, and problems. I highly recommend it for autistic entrepreneurs, and all entrepreneurs who want to improve their marketing campaigns. I found the book incredibly helpful as it has greatly expanded my understanding of marketing and customer-centric thinking. I also recommend his web site at www.webinknow.com
He emphasizes the importance of understanding the buyer persona that a company is trying to reach. For example, on pages 30 to 31, he tells the story of Mike Pedersen, a golf fitness professional who has succeeded by targeting a very specific demographic: the 60 year old golfer who has declining physical capability. He develops his content by getting inside the mind of his customers and understanding exactly what they are looking for.
But I want to ponder a different issue in this blog post. I wanted to understand why so many big companies were so resistant to adopting his more effective method of customer-centric marketing and so stuck on traditional forms of advertising and marketing that are increasingly ineffective in the digital age. For instance, on pages 1 to 3, Meerman Scott tells the story of looking on the web sites of the Big 3 car companies when in the process of buying a car. The car companies bombarded him with ads marketing their products to him instead of trying to solve his problems.
And I realized part of the problem is that the large corporate world, like the international relations field, is a closed system. In the large corporate world, you are either included as a manager or employee, or you are treated like you don’t exist. In the latter case, you are left on the outside looking in without any prospect of any real communication or meaningful interaction with the corporate entity.
In my case, I was excluded from the mainstream corporate world when I graduated from college because I didn’t fit in socially as a result of my undiagnosed autism. And so the corporate world would be likely to automatically dismiss my insights as unworthy of consideration because of my social differences. I think this resistance to new ideas in the corporate world is a consequence of it being a closed system which excludes anyone who does not fit in exactly with the corporation’s understanding of itself and the world.
In my original field of international relations, I found a similarly rigid and close-minded attitude among my professors. I was driven out of the Russian studies department of an Ivy League college in the 1990’s by a campaign of covert anti-Semitism. As a result, I was prevented from pursuing my original goal of earning a PhD and becoming a professor.
For many years, I attempted unsuccessfully to participate in the field on a part-time basis as a freelance analyst of international affairs. But my ideas and insights were repeatedly dismissed because I was not a part of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Soon after receiving my autism diagnosis, I told my professors that I couldn’t work in the foreign policy establishment because of my weak social skills. And I asked them if they could help me find a way to participate in the field on a part-time freelance basis. Instead of trying to accommodate me, they tried to pressure me to return to a system where I knew that I didn’t belong.
I think the solution to this problem is for corporations and the international relations field to open their minds to a wide range of ideas and solutions that differ from their preconceived notions of thinking and working. They need to find a way to include the insights of people like me who think differently, who don’t fit in socially, who cannot function in rigid and closed environments with conformist rules. They need to move away from their rigid approaches. They need to challenge their tendency to divide the world between insiders and outsiders and to automatically reject the ideas and insights of perceived outsiders. I think both business and international relations are missing out on great ideas because of their rigid approaches. I think that a more open attitude toward outside ideas would free them to find a much wider range of solutions to complex problems.