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The Entrepreneur’s Nightmare (Marketing With Edgar Allen Poe)

You wake up damp, disoriented.  Moonlight through the window casts shadows across the ceiling like prison bars.  You feel locked in.

There is a presence behind you.  Out of the corner of your eye, you think (but can’t be sure) you see a pale hand with long, thin fingers.  It’s reaching towards your shoulder so slowly you can barely detect its motion.  You contemplate what it might be…just a branch outside the window, dead and empty in the fall night?  Is someone in the room – an intruder?  A thief?  A murderer? 

You have time to make your escape.  Down the stairs and out into the street where people are still making their way home, shopping for food, or taking in a hot drink.  It’s all normal down there; you can picture yourself standing on the street, catching your breath, chuckling at your fantastic paranoia.  

But you’re still on your back, motionless in bed.  Your eyes are wide open and slowly turning their gaze towards your shoulder.  “Run!” your mind shouts to itself.  “Get out while you can!”

You have an eternity to escape.  But something is holding you back.  You have to know what’s behind you, even if it means falling into the abyss…

In 1850, Edgar Allen Poe published The Imp of the Perverse, a short story about a murderer who succumbs to an irresistible impulse to confess his crime.

The story also serves as sort of treatise for what Poe discerns as our perverse desire to repel from what we know we should do.  His description goes beyond mere procrastination, taking it to where we’re enthralled with the risk of putting off our most vital duties.

“We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest have proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails, — we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer — note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies — it disappears — we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!”

We all know this feeling – and people who have the responsibility of running a business may be particularly familiar with it.

There is something important you need to get done.  But you put it off.  You know you’re taking a terrible risk by not acting, yet for absolutely no logical reason you delay.

The days pass, the task looms.  It festers in the back of your mind, causing you worry and stress.  Yet somehow the anxiety draws you in, you have an “unfathomable craving for delay”.   You do the exact opposite of what you should – and find it strangely exciting.

Poe’s story is an examination of why we do this to ourselves.  He describes the perverse pleasure we feel when we’re standing on the edge of a cliff – and feel a temptation to jump:

“But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows…a shape…which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it.”

When we talk about the challenges of running a business, we usually talk about budgeting unpredictability, marketing uncertainties, and production chaos.

And when we talk about the oddities of human behavior, we focus on consumers.

But starting a business can feel like walking a tightrope over a bottomless pit.  The excitement of that risk is a major part of why you wanted to get into this – with it comes control of your own destiny.

But are you always under control?  What will you do when that all important task arises, but – for reasons you can’t make sense of – you put it off?

Will it keep you up at night?

You wake up damp, disoriented.  A swirl of search terms, retargeting banners, results pages, and PPC budget numbers hover above you, glowing like pieces of a shattered computer screen over your bed.

“My God!” you think.  “Is it too late to start that marketing campaign?  Has the competition already got a jump on me?  Tomorrow I’ll have the energy to get this going…but am I too late?”

You lick your lips and make your hands into a fist, but stay flat on your back.  You’re so ready to move, so ready to fly…

For a moment you imagine a presence in the room.  It’s metallic and vaguely skeletal.  It is lit only by the reflection of the moon off of smooth silver and two blue hot eyes.

Something is reaching for you.  You want to run but you can’t.  You’re frozen.

For what is seconds but seems like hours, you turn your eyes to the edge of the bed to see what’s there…

A shot of icy fear jolts you from within.  You sit up suddenly and blurt out “Google!  Bing!  Facebook!  Noooo!”

Then you go silent.  The room is totally quite.  You take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from your forehead.

You are alone.  It’s 3 a.m.

You go downstairs to your office.  The moon casts long, irregular shadows across the desk.  The only other light is a red glow from your sleeping computer.

A hand reaches out in the night, balled in a fist except for a pale, extended index finger, slowly becoming more visible as it moves towards the red light of the start button.

poe marketing in the night

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