And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. Many of the most creative entrepreneurs I’ve met seem to have a similar hangup around marketing. So while they (hopefully) feel secure in the value of what they’re offering, be that a service or a product, the idea of “shameless self-promotion” feels, at the least, uncomfortable, and at the most, straight up icky.
What I usually see in clients, friends, and myself, is this endless cycle:
You can see how this could lead to what might be called “marketing burnout,” or feeling like no matter what you do, marketing your business feels inauthentic and ineffective.
If you’re reading this and thinking “ugh, yes, that’s totally me.”
Don’t worry. I have good news.
Marketing yourself does not have to be painful. It does not have to make you a sell-out. And you do not have to follow the rules that everyone else and their mother is telling you are the ONLY ways to succeed in business today— and yes, I’m saying you don’t have to use social media if you don’t want to.
What you do have to do is this:
Commit to serving your audience.
Know your strengths and values.
Generously offer valuable content to your audience that plays off of your strengths and aligns with your values.
Because, really, while it may feel like “shameless self-promotion,” marketing (at its best) is simply finding your perfect audience, and respectfully inviting them to engage with your offering.
Because your offering is awesome. And your audience will love it.
“People are usually astonished when a brand puts in extra effort to make them happy. That’s how rarely it happens, and that’s where you, whether you’re an entrepreneur or a big business, can separate yourself from the rest of the pack.”
– Gary Vaynerchuk
This might seem obvious, but it never fails to surprise me how often businesses employ marketing tactics that appear to do the exact opposite— not serving but manipulating, distracting, or straight up wasting the time of their customers and clientele.
Modern technology has made attention a precious commodity. There are endless things vying for each consumer’s attention, and, thanks to social media, only precious minutes of each day when we’re not being advertised to. And it’s not just businesses that are doing the vying— even your next door neighbor is hoping you’ll be hooked by their perfect #OOTD enough to give them a “like.”
What I’ve seen this lead to is every business and solo entrepreneur believing that they need to be on the social media platforms that “everyone else” is on, and pumping out thoughtless content with the singular goal of poaching the eyes of another mindless scroller through hundreds of hashtags and requests to “comment below!” that go ignored.
And while it may seem like I am calling out Instagram specifically, I’ve seen these tactics everywhere from click-bate Youtube videos to canned email newsletter campaigns. It doesn’t matter the platform this kind of marketing takes place on— what matters is that, quite simply, it shows your audience that you do not care about their time.
I realize that might come across as harsh judgement, but believe me when I say I truly believe the vast majority of individuals marketing in this way are not being malicious. They have simply been conditioned to believe that modern marketing is a game of attention stealing, and the only way to win is to jump on in and play.
To avoid this trap, I’m going to give you a very simple rule:
This is how you show your audience that you care about them and their precious time. This is how you serve rather than steal.
What is value? Value simply means it was worth the 15 seconds or more that your viewer spent doing the viewing.
So how do you make sure that what you’re posting, sending, or writing is valuable?
This is probably the most important piece of advice I could give to you. You can’t do all the marketing, but you must do some. So make the “some” that you do, the absolute best it could be.
For example, If you’re going to send a regular newsletter, make sure that your newsletter contains something other than a request for your customers to purchase your product or service. Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and host of popular podcast The Tim Ferris Show, does a great job of this with his newsletter: 5 Bullet Friday. Each Friday, Tim sends an email with the “five coolest things [he’s] found (or explored) that week.” They can be anything from book suggestions, to quotes he’s been thinking about, documentaries he’s seen, or cool products he recommends.
I subscribe (and unsubscribe) to many newsletters. I stay subscribed to his because I have gotten concrete value from his emails— books I have subsequently read, movies I’ve watched, and products I’ve been glad he’s suggested.
You might be already thinking of how much time and effort regularly creating these quality offerings will take. And while I can’t deny that they will require more time and effort than something of less quality— I can offer you a way to shift the way you think about these offerings.
Instead of viewing this kind of marketing as yet another task on your endless to-do list, you may choose to see this as a small act of service— even a gift to the customers and clients that you value and appreciate so much as a “thank you” for supporting your business.
Seth Godin, American author and business executive, recommends that every business owner should decide two things: what they’re going to charge for, and what they’re going to offer for free.
When you see the valuable content that serves as your “marketing” as a generous gift to your valued audience, you’ll not only feel more excited about doing it— but your viewers will sense this generosity and intuitively feel respected, which, in turn, leads to more loyal customers and fans of your business or brand.
This one is simple. If you don’t know what will bring your audience value, ask them. If you’re a travel blogger, ask your readers what topics they’d like to see covered. If you’re a yoga teacher, ask your students what poses they’d like to see broken down. Your clientele will not only feel heard, but will be more invested in the content you produce as it is in direct response to their wants and needs.
“There is no logical reason to think that a tire company should be a food critic, but a hundred years ago, Michelin tires started reviewing rural restaurants to encourage people living in the cities to drive farther and wear their tires out more quickly. Guinness created the Guinness Book of World Records to reinforce its brand and give people something to talk about in the pubs. Similarly, I predict that one day a brand like Nike could put out its own sports programming and compete successfully against ESPN, or Amtrak could launch a publication that could stand up to Travel + Leisure.”
– Gary Vaynerchuk
If you’re going to commit to serving your audience through less, but more valuable, content marketing, you’re going to have to know what you’re good at.
This can be fairly straightforward. If you’re a talented writer, consider spending your marketing hours putting out informative or entertaining blog posts. If you love taking beautiful photographs of your products or process, Instagram can be a perfect outlet for you to craft a visual storyboard for your community.
This can also be an opportunity to think more creatively. As Gary Vaynerchuk illustrates in the quote above, there are no rules in marketing. If the best way for you to reach your audience is a flash mob in the middle of central park, that’s going to be a hell of a lot more successful than forcing yourself to write a sub-par newsletter once a month.
Just as important as knowing your strengths, is considering and holding as sacred your values. For example, if you are vehemently against the use of Instagram, don’t use instagram. Your audience isn’t dumb. Forcing yourself to be present on marketing platforms that you inherently disagree with or don’t understand will only lead to bland content that will be overlooked in favor of those companies and individuals who are actually enjoying themselves.
So while there is no “magic number” of marketing outlets to use for your business, it’s your responsibility to decide which ones you can (and want to) commit the time and energy to doing, and doing well.
And when you discover what these outlets are, you may just find that focusing on creating something truly valuable gives you a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that you never would have expected from “shameless self-promotion.”
“Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.”
– Cal Newport, Author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
The good news is this: marketing (at its best) is showing your customers and clients that you care about them, and having fun doing it. And when people feel cared about, they are more likely to respond positively and share their positive experiences with their friends. Which in turn gets you more customers and clients to care about.
So stop hopping around from Instagram, to Twitter, to MailChimp, to Facebook, to your blog, and back again.
Slow down. Ask what it is your audience needs. And determine the best way for you to offer it to them.
And remember, respect the time of your audience, or they will ignore you.
Or worse— unsubscribe.
Do you have authentic marketing strategies that feel less like extra work and more like fun creative outlets? We’d love to hear. Comment below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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