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Reasons to be cheerful

I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions. My view is summed up in a cartoon I saw recently: “New Year’s resolutions are a to-do list for the first week of January.”

Having said that, the holiday break at the end of the year does provide a good time to reflect on the year past and think about what we might do to change things for the better in the year ahead.

One of my professional resolves for this year is to step back and put things in a better perspective. When you focus exclusively on day-to-day issues, you can become convinced that there are lots of negative things to deal with. But when you step back you can see that, in general, things have never been better, and there are opportunities aplenty.

Not that you would know that from listening to the media and our politicians. Australia is still enjoying its longest-ever period of uninterrupted economic growth, but from all the bad news being thrown around you would think we’re on the brink of collapse.

This focus on bad news has severely affected consumer confidence, with retail sales plummeting and the share market tanking. How ironic that, faced with a recession three years ago, we went out and bought flat-screen TVs with our stimulus payments (guilty as charged), but now that the economy has stabilized we’re all worried about the future and keeping our wallets firmly in our pockets.

It’s not just the economy where we’re accentuating the negative – from road crashes to pollution to natural disasters to political leaders bad-mouthing each other, “woe is us” is a constant refrain. Haven’t had a natural disaster for 12 months? Don’t applaud our good fortune – instead, let’s analyze the after-effects of last year’s floods and the bushfires from two years ago!

Well, I think it’s time to put a stop to the whinging. I’m glad to say I’m not alone. Irish web consultant Gerry McGovern, in a recent entry in his New Thinking blog, hits out at the pessimism of modern society, pointing out that we are living in the most peaceful and prosperous time in human history.

He cites the example of a recent study published that measures the dramatic increase in life expectancy over the past few decades due to improved living conditions. A typical headline for a media report about the study ran: ‘Population over 65 to double in 30 years?’

Yes, death and murders and wars still happen, but we’re not sending hundreds of thousands of people to die in hand-to-hand combat in one battle, the murder rate is at its lowest level in living memory, and yes, there are more old people around than ever before because of our fantastic living conditions.

What does this have to do with small business marketing? Apart from looking at opportunities serving our aging population, my advice is that we need to stop complaining about changes to our business model, such as online competitors stealing our business, and embrace change (even Gerry Harvey is doing it, albeit begrudgingly). Things may not be the same as the old days, but guess what, they will never go back. We need to step back and realize that, overall, things are better, not worse – they’re just different.

Yes, we are losing control over marketing, as plugged-in consumers rely on the wisdom of the crowds to make buying decisions. But by continuing to deliver quality solutions and getting into the mix of social media, we can help customers navigate an increasingly complicated world.

I’m not saying we should mindlessly embrace the ‘rah-rah’ mentality of self-help gurus, but we need to keep things in perspective and approach our marketing from a positive aspect. As Gerry McGovern writes, ‘Irrational exuberance is certainly not good, but pathological pessimism solves nothing. We should learn from our mistakes and feel lucky to be alive during this greatest period in human history.’

My advice for this year is to stop acting as if the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Step back and look at the big picture – you’ll find things don’t look as bad as you might think (or as others might paint them). Take a positive attitude toward your business and look for the opportunities that change provides.

Dr. Ray Welling is the director of the digital strategy & communications for healthcare communications consultancy Vivacity Health. He also manages a small digital content agency and strategic consultancy, and lectures in marketing at Macquarie University.

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