author • columnist • speaker • satirist • raconteur • business leader


Author of   Pimps Whores And Patrons Of Virtue


Excerpts from an interview published in AUTHORITY MAGAZINE

From an objective standpoint, we are living in an unprecedented era of abundance. Yet so many of us are feeling unsatisfied. Why are we seemingly so insatiable? Do you feel that marketing has led to people feeling unsatisfied and not having enough in life? If so, what actions can marketers take to create a world where people feel that they have enough, and they are enough? Can we re-imagine what marketing looks like and how it makes people feel?

In this interview series, we are talking to experts in marketing and branding to discuss how we might re-imagine marketing to make it more authentic, sustainable, and promote more satisfaction. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Steven J. Manning.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

This is a massive ask, although I KNOW the answer. I fear that I may not have had sufficient wisdom to adopt all those “lessons,” more appropriately “philosophies” at a young age. To wit, my “wisdom” has been chasing my age since birth. Hopefully, at this writing, those are within some reasonable proximity.

I would have certainly schooled my younger self to my philosophies of life, those being the guiding lights of my life. Absolutely how I have and continue to live my adult life. I write and speak much on this topic. And, thankfully, am asked to do so by many business leaders in the US and abroad. The Cliff notes follow.

‣ Life is not a dress rehearsal.

‣ A life without passion is not a life worth living. It is your choice to lead, follow or get out.

‣ Seek knowledge and wisdom all the time and everywhere. Become a shameless researcher. Always ask the next question and the next and the next. Most answers are just testable hypothesis.

‣ Inventory your new knowledge every day.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful for that support to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for him or her?

I am a shameless researcher. Read that as — with due humility — I did call the Pope to ask a theological question. Were “that” pope still alive, I reckon he might still be giggling. Being a shameless researcher is one of the pillars of success in my life.

Of course, there are a few people in my life, past and present, who have given me much: precepts for successful living, tools, perspective, humility, guidance, lifejackets, AND indispensable knowledge.

My parents, two amazing people, quintessentially polar opposites, taught me from damned near infancy that A LIFE WITHOUT PASSION IS NOT A LIFE WORTH LIVING. You can read about them in my book. They also taught me — to be entirely forthcoming, tried to teach me — the concepts of virtue and class.

From my father, all about morality and ethics: never situational. AND ABOUT BEING FIRST UP AND LAST DOWN in my workday. Yet another of MY PILLARS OF SUCCESS: OUT-THINK EVERYBODY. AT LEAST, OUT-WORK THEM.

My mother, a paragon of class, virtue and the woman who made a tireless effort to make me a gentleman, a quintessential French intellectual and to respect and treat women with all due dignity.

My friend, John Barrowcliff, who taught me much about humility, to understand the difference between who I am and what I represent, and the critical difference between leadership and all other business/people-in-business drivers.

My wife, whose wisdom, thoughtfulness, brain and brawn, guide me every day, still, as for decades.

What day-to-day structures do you have in place for you to experience a fulfilled life?

As you read herein-above, and would see and hear in many of my appearances, lectures, media gigs and writing, A LIFE WITHOUT PASSION IS NOT A LIFE WORTH LIVING is in fact how I live. More apropos to your question, I wake up, go through my day, go to sleep and often wake up in the middle of the night with THAT tsunami in my brain and psyche. I can bring the same passion to my breakfast as I can to a world-event in Somalia or The Congo or Des Moines or Burbank or Kiev. Many I encounter  think that must be exhausting. IT IS! But, it is absolutely exhilarating. Waking up at three in the morning – from dead asleep to turbo-boost awake, haunted by a thought or idea or question, is an incredible high. IF YOU LET THAT HAPPEN! IF YOU LISTEN TO ME ON THIS: A LIFE WITHOUT PASSION IS NOT A LIFE WORTH LIVING.

If you adopt at least two of my philosophies of life, LIFE IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL and A LIFE WITHOUT PASSION IS NOT A LIFE WORTH LIVING, you will see what I preach: How to get through the day with purpose and passion. How to get through an ordinary day? Love, humor, work and a valiant attempt at balance.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Now let’s discuss marketing. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on marketing?

You are asking me about one of my favorite topics: me and marketing. Kindly give a read to my less-than-humble bio at the beginning of this interview.

To begin with, one learns much about “marketing” when the need is for food and shelter. Stopped at a red traffic light, rather than an annoyance, becomes an opportunity to sell something. Or at least contemplate what opportunities those two-three minutes can present.

Then, with due humility, $47 billion in commerce, working with and for some of the biggest and the best, provides some genuine wisdom. Speaking of “wisdom”, as you read herein-above, I am a committed and relentless screamer on the matter of homework. How much homework can you do? Not enough! Become a shameless researcher. As I wrote elsewhere in this interview, I will talk to anybody who will talk to me. Even some people who should be institutionalized. And then, repeating this great story, one morning, I called the Pope to ask a theological question. For real. Glad to tell you about that when we talk next….

My expertise comes from experience and sublime homework. Again, all those billions… My most often requested talk is My Pillars Of Success. Following that, I am asked what have I sold. That ends up being a raucous hour! You know … from brain food, to Toyotas that blow up on California freeways, to horse manure from South America to Germany, to Egyptian Marlboros (yup…) to Russia to … More when we talk…

Throughout history, marketing has driven trade for humans. What role do you see that marketing played to get human societies where we are today?

Your question is as challenging as it is elegant. And on a massive topic.

First, a couple lines in re marketing versus/and advertising, inasmuch as for the purposes of this interview, I intend to conflate the two into “marketing.” Consider the goal to “promote” — or the less chic “sell” — any product or service (“product”). Now, prioritizing to achieve desired goals:

∙ A great product, priced competitively, presented in excellent fashion (in gross terms that would be advertising), pitched to the wrong audience (that would be marketing) will be an abject failure.

∙ An OK product, acceptably price competitive, with average presentation, pitched to the right audience can be a resounding success.

Thus, when you attend one of my speeches and I cavalierly throw out that advertising is a toothless cousin to marketing, do not be throwing heavy nor sharp objects at me. Please remember that I have created hundreds of advertising assets. Humbly, a bushel-full of “million sellers.” More than most, less than some.

However, I know to a certainty that none of those would have been more than cool creatives but for the fantastic marketing engine behind them. I “mailed” a few billion pieces of direct mail in the US and Europe, and caused the deployment of a few hundreds of billions of digital messages. And some broadcast, F1 stadium banners, sky-writers, college kids with sandwich boards…

Now to the meat of your thought-provoking question…

First, I think it impossible to isolate marketing, then view it much less wax philosophical about it, as a paradigm, a process, a whatever out of context with historical, economic, social and anthropological factors and realities.

In the most ordinary terms, marketing seeks to satisfy needs and creates needs so that it can satisfy those. I opine that from the time humans began walking upright, somebody has tried to sell something to somebody else. From the ordinary “needs” — need for food, shelter, belonging — to the holy grail of marketing geniuses everywhere: wants.

“Needs” and “wants”, as both human and marketing paradigms, are often irreconcilable. That does present an interesting paradox: one set of those addresses survival. The other, that illusive “happiness” thing. We marketers must address both.

And, I proffer, many before us and many more after us labor at that with every syllable they write, every image they shape, every word they record, every digital or print of broadcast media they push.

In the process, marketing has absolutely shaped human development. And influenced mightily the engine that ultimately drives — or limits — that development in civilized societies: government behavior.

Finally, I must drop a four word caveat on you. Marketing has been, is, will be both righteous and destructive.

I work in marketing so I’m very cognizant of this question. What role does marketing play in creating the human experience of “I don’t have enough” even when basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing are met?

Marketing has been and remains a driver in the human experience you address. I think it, now, a paradigm of our existence.

I cannot speak to that without some relevant groundwork. Addressing Americans specifically, they are assured from birth of their God and Constitutionally given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The former two are slam dunks. The latter, happiness, defies definition entirely. Definitions differ widely, based on a variety of factors: social position, station and chronology in life, ethnicity, economics, geo-political, and more.

It is necessarily defined both qualitatively and quantitatively. It can be unique to individuals, people, groups of people, and populations.

Then there is the massive elephant in every room: we are all created equal and have the same opportunities for success, thus, happiness. I you want to see the closest intellectual version of a hundred-year war, just get a bunch of anthropologists and social scientist of all stripes in a room to debate all that.

But I digress to a path to your question…

The concept of equality in all things, particularly of opportunity, has led to a pathology of victimhood that is as hardy as it is enduring. It is disingenuous to assert that there has been and exists unfettered equal opportunity for all. Hard-core victimhood mentality leads many to believe they are being “exploited.”

Tragically, some are actually in pursuit of misery.

It is a tragedy and an abject shame that so many of us, actually our society, seem content to point fingers and assign blame. In Hollywoodeze, there are always others better looking, thinner and richer.

Those who focus solely on having been and continue to be victimized, living in an economic, social and legal quagmire, do not seek understanding, acceptance, equity, and inclusion. Rather wallow in dissatisfaction with what they DO HAVE. Rather than what they wish to have, however unreasonable that might be.

In the vernacular, marketing is what so immersively presents ideals to the masses. The products and services that create the lifestyle that appears everybody but us are so obviously enjoying. Missing is what it takes to get there! So many, perhaps most, are not willing to do what it takes to have the cliché sunny kitchen, the white-picket fenced house, the latest plug-in hybrid, the … you get it.

I opine that “marketing” does little to nothing to even suggest that there is a cost to all that. Often a life changing cost. It does nothing to address the fact that those who focus solely on having been and continue to be victimized, living in an economic, social and legal quagmire, do not seek understanding, acceptance, equity, and inclusion.

But then: is that “marketing’s” job?

Where is the edict that mandates that marketing split its very purpose, its raison d’etre — to generate revenues and pre-determine actions and behaviors, with purely altruistic pursuits? Ahhhh. Perhaps a hybrid of those has to exist, beyond just service announcements. No. Political ads do not count. Those, by and large, re-enforce all our fears and the reasons for our unhappiness.

What responsibility do marketers have when it comes to people feeling that they aren’t enough?  

Yet another most challenging question. This one is along the lines of asking marketers to choose among their children: the favorite and the challenged.

Are we asking marketers to navigate between two entirely unhealthy competitive goals? To create a disingenuous peaceful coexistence?

As I wrote at length in my column The Business Of Business: A Veritable Intellectual Rubik’s Cube on CEOWORLD MAGAZINE, fundamentally, the raison d’etre for a commercial enterprise is to generate profits and equity for stakeholders. Marketing is in fact the engine that drives that truck. Business must make profits for stakeholders and to perpetuate itself. Absent profits reinvested in flexibility and positive growth, the gig will be up in short order. As will any opportunities for altruism.

Influencing what is good for the consumer, relentlessly hammering lifestyle, economic and social benefits to enhance sales is what marketers do. Hopefully, with thoughtful targeting of consumer prospects. Therein lies the rub.

What an awesome challenge to create “marketing” that, again, in the vernacular, makes money and is righteous. Make money and do good, not in the Google corporate tagline way.

Finally, I opine the near if not entirely impossible: not be situationally ethical. Glad to talk about that for, well, as long as you all like, next we speak…

Okay, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview: It seems as if we have never stopped to question marketing. In your opinion, how can marketing professionals be more responsible for how their advertising shapes our human experience of feeling safe, secure, and knowing that we matter? Based on your experience or research can you please share “Five Ways We Can Re-Imagine The Marketing Industry To Make It More Authentic, Sustainable, And Promote More Satisfaction”?

To reimagine the marketing industry to make it more authentic, sustainable, and promote more satisfaction is a massive ask.

So many aspects of that are driven by human nature and behaviors thereafter. To impact those, well, it is a marketing project way after the absolute imperative: effect those behaviors through education.

To elevate people stuck in the perpetual downward vortex of poverty, lack of education, disintegrated family structure, dissatisfaction to the social and economic realities of their lives rather than on bridges to nowhere, electric vehicles charging stations in rural Kansas and so on is inarguably a multi-generational endeavor. Far beyond us slick marketers.

How can marketing professionals be more responsible for how their advertising shapes our human experience of feeling safe, secure, and knowing that we matter?

One cannot tackle that righteous idea without pointing out, again, the natural conflicting goals: make a sale and do “universal” or “generic” good. Google, you say, again? While they make billions in profits, they do good for us by giving us access to that massive library in the sky. That ought to make a user feel a tad more parity with the proverbial “Johnsons.” Good thing?

But then, armed with Google knowledge, the consumer cannot just stand in the middle of the yard and imagine themselves free of their worries, insecurities, unfulfilled needs. And wants. The lawn will simply not mow itself.

There is a plethora of examples of marketing efforts that can demonstrate the difference in performance between positive, darned near life affirming feel good ads, and scare the bejeebies out of you ads. Do you have a perpetual flashlight in your home? You know the one you plug in and it is charged up anytime you need it? Try selling that as THE PERPETUAL FLASHLIGHT. Now, try this: THE ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE HOME SAFETY AND SECURITY SYSTEM… In the event of an earthquake, a storm … The latter will outsell the former by a factor of ten.

I will not enumerate five ways… However, I warn that one dimensional efforts to accomplish those goals have built-in landmines.

“Authentic” without acute urgency – and perhaps still some hard if not oversell – will be deleterious to revenue. Thus, there goes your budget and your ability to “do good.’

“Sustainable” is a really haute concept. The reality, certainly my reality while chugging along to billions in revenues, has been that marketing efforts, particularly the advertising component, are remarkably perishable. With a few remarkably rare products and services, shelf life of advertising is a blink of an eye. The promotion we created a week ago, dazzling our entire constituency including a gazillion customer prospects and ultimate buyers, was indeed great. But … In short order, as our marketing friends and foes took notice, we found ourselves “answering” the loud call of the prospects: That was cool. But, dazzle me with something new.

Even more impactful is a somewhat new, but vertiginously moving reality in re the holy grail of marketing: the audience. Whereas good marketers continuously strive to identify and then target advertising to truly narrow audience groups, in my case “marketing one-on-one, millions of times”, those groups are becoming increasingly less homogenous. The target consumer is shifting with all manner of forces and stresses in their milieu, be those economic or social.

Thus, the marketing impact is diluted.

“Promoting more satisfaction.” That is not a bolt of lightning topic. One of the books in the works is titled 43 Things You Must Do To Get Over Yourself. And be successful. I aim to address your question there. Hope you all read that when published. Right after the next one, Explaining Bitcoin To Buddhist Monks. To know more, you will have to get that when it is published.

For you personally, if you have all your basic needs met, do you feel you have enough in life? 

First, allow me to give you my rather pedestrian definition of success: to have options in life. Being able to seek and find satisfaction in life in ways that I want to and am able to pursue, not at the expense of others. This from my column Pillars Of Success, which is the most often requested talk and interview I am asked to give.

No. I do not have enough in life.

I hope and pray I never will.

As written herein-above, I live with certain philosophies, those that guide my life. Top of the list are two:



Is all that a source of discontent for me? I admit to some dark hours and days, therefrom. However, mostly I think it is rather challenging.

I think there is much to say about being the unhappiest person in the room, at the conclusion of a fabulously successful project, because of the certain knowledge that I could have done better.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 

Another big ask. And, way too presumptive of me to reduce to one thing. Yes: I have “movements” I would like to precipitate. Also, the wide dissemination, and hope, adoption of thoughts I would like to cause. However, evangelizing about most of those smacks of casual megalomania. As a writer, all you readers and writers, must agree that stamping out political correctness ranks way on top.

©2022-2023. Steven J. Manning. All rights reserved worldwide. Any reproduction, in part or whole, in any medium whatsoever is strictly prohibited.