When I revisit my headspace back when I was in my teenage years and early 20’s, I remember a paralyzing inability to come up with a response for the question of what I wanted to do in life. I’ve always been pretty technologically inclined throughout my life, so doing something involving computer science or internet technology seemed like a plausible career path. At the same time, I’d started developing a heavy passion for music and found a deep affinity for writing and research. I was pretty capable with image editors and html code as well, and as I kept learning of all the different types of specialized jobs people can have, I found myself facing countless possibilities without any concrete direction as to which vocation to pursue. Eventually I came across an opportunity with a marketing focus, through which I found something that I felt a genuine interest and passion for.
My Introduction to Marketing
In 2007, I was lucky to be part of a small startup that a close circle of internet friends decided to start. We a plucky group of kids in our early 20’s with a deep love of Japanese rock, a niche music genre that had started taking a modest foothold on the web. Right around that time, Japanese bands started probing for overseas market interest and started experimenting with touring the US. That summer, a supergroup comprised of some of the most prominent artists in the Japanese rock scene scheduled a debut performance in Long Beach at the Anime Expo convention. Though I decided to attend AX that year simply to catch the music show, a lot of the other people in the group were already planning on going for the anime focus of the con. Since everyone was going to be in the same locale, the idea of putting together a last minute street team to promote the event on site to maximize attendance was kicked around, and received with great enthusiasm.
Within a two week span, we generated promotional materials and devised an execution strategy. I ended up serving in a coordinative capacity, overseeing the on-site team’s functions and relaying all the operational information and live updates to our team director, who was pushing all the information live to the web. Social media and mobile phone technology were very rudimentary compared to the present day, but we still achieved a really strong response from fans all over the world who wished they could be present and were eager to get any sort of information on the event. The results of our efforts did not go by unnoticed, and a few weeks later we were approached by the group that had organized a Japanese Rock festival in Los Angeles the year before to serve as their marketing services provider. In the months that followed, our team rebranded the client’s project and set up an online community to promote fan engagement. We and traveled to Tokyo to meet with different artists in the Japanese music space to generate content as well as explore promotional opportunities with their respective management. In 2008, we were contracted to facilitate an international ticket sale for a major Japanese rock band who was reuniting for their first performance since disbanding in 1997. In an effort to promote overseas engagement, a pool of tickets for the three-night reunion show were set aside to be sold to fans outside of Japan. Using the web technologies and tools available then, we managed the sale of individual tickets as well as VIP packages that included tickets for all three nights, airfare, lodging, and tour guide services.
With the team being globally distributed, getting the necessary work done while working across multiple time zones required extremely long work days (on average, 14 hours a day) and an unprecedented level of commitment. Even though I was forced to take up an unforgiving sleep schedule and prioritize these projects above many of my personal commitments, I still got a high level of enjoyment out of it. In the mid-late 2000’s, finding information on Japanese music without the ability to actually read Japanese was near impossible. Being a part of a mechanism that allowed people across the world who felt passionately about this particular band to actually purchase tickets to the event and travel to Japan — essentially, eliminating the hurdles of language barriers — felt so motivating and empowering.
Beyond Japan & Music
Though we managed to accomplish so much with virtually no formal experience or training in marketing, the timing was unfortunately off. The music industry as a whole was still transitioning to digital downloads, and without the proliferation of the smartphone, was still desperately trying to cling to physical CDs. Working primarily with the Japanese music industry further complicated matters in this regard. Even today, Japan’s industry is still trailing the US adoption of digital distribution. The disparate nature of the both countries’ music industries backed us into a paradoxical corner. We were intended to promote Japanese artists and build interest in the US, but were limited by Japanese practices that directly contradicted successful domestic marketing strategies. Facebook and Twitter were seeing rapidly increasing adoption rates in the America, but in Japan, artists were barely starting to jump on the already dying MySpace bandwagon. Music artists in the US that had a MySpace presence uploaded promoted tracks in their full length; Japanese artists were only uploading 20–40 second clips to their profile playlists. These limitations became too cumbersome to deal with on an ongoing basis, and with our team transitioning into adulthood and focusing on our individual educational & professional goals, our startup gradually ceased operations in 2008.
Later that year, I jumped on the smartphone wagon with the purchase of an iPhone 3G. As I became familiarized with mobile computing, I found myself becoming even more of a tech enthusiast than I already was, and started subscribing to various blogs on the subject and reading them regularly. As they do today, the tech blogs I followed covered the activities of the tech firms as much as the individual gadgets. Up until that point, my interest in technology had been focused on consumer hardware & software as an end user. Yet, as I read about the people behind the technology firms and how their decisions developed and drove the market, my areas of interest expanded dramatically. The more I read about marketing in relation to mobile computing technology, I began to draw parallels and identify the power of the marketing process in many other areas of life, and found it all extremely fascinating. In turn, I began to pursue communications with an emphasis in marketing as my primary field of study in vocational development.
In the Now
Admittedly, I considered abandoning marketing as a primary area of specialization last year. With all of the messages and communication channels available on the web today, it seems like anyone who has an internet connection can constitute as a “marketer”. Pursuing the knowledge that actually goes into the discipline started to feel like a waste of time, since the professional label is used so flippantly on the internet (and thus, probably not taken as seriously as it should be). However, given how integral legitimate marketing is to a successful business, I quickly abandoned that line of thinking and recommitted. One of the initial concepts I encountered in the first marketing textbook I read was the idea of ethical marketing. Living in our present day economy, it largely feels as if ethics in marketing are an idealist principle that’s ignored in favor of measurable results and the bottom line, which makes little sense considering the highly social interconnected online environment we deal with today. I want to continue developing my capabilities as a marketer, both online and offline, to contribute to the pool of honest and meaningful communications out in the world.