Here’s my whole marketing idea: treat people the way you want to be treated. – Garth Brooks
What comes to mind when you think about the word “marketing”?
Do you think social media ads, brochures and flyers, the video ads you see on TV and YouTube?
Is it your website, the branding, the images, the logo, the customer service, the technology, the network?
And it is all of those things, but what are we trying to do, what’s the essential purpose of all this activity?
Isn’t it to have a conversation with someone else?
Starting a conversation
When you first start marketing something new it’s a little like speaking in a dark room – trying to find out if there is anyone out there listening.
Conversely, it can be like entering a very busy and noisy room and trying to get someone’s attention.
Some people are naturally gifted at this – they seem to somehow make themselves the centre of attention.
They’re witty, charming, amusing and everyone loves them.
They’re born networkers, connectors, the kind of people who know everybody.
Some of us don’t like crowds, we shy away from large gatherings.
We’re much better at one-on-one conversations, at private reflection and are quite happy being by ourselves.
And there’s a range of people in between these two extremes, all the diversity of humanity, each of us trying to figure out how to have meaningful conversations with others.
Having Authentic Conversations
When you look at every marketing encounter you see around you in terms of a conversation, then which ones do you feel are authentic ones?
“Authentic” can be a tricky word. It’s been made popular, but what does it really mean to be authentic?
It’s not something you are, but something people feel about the way in which you come across to them.
Human beings are smart, they’re the product of a harsh evolutionary history that needed them to be in order to survive.
They can see when you’re being real and when you’re not, even when you use all the tools and technology at your disposal.
For example, there are a number of “laws” of persuasion that you can use to get people to act the way you want – to influence their behaviour.
Much of the history of marketing is littered with these methods, from spam email to pop-up boxes to cold calls to doorstep salespeople.
They work when your goal is to work with numbers, when you want to target a large number of people in a methodical way and you’re looking for a very small conversion rate that makes you your return.
If a few people buy you’re regained your investment.
They also work when your product is the person – like most multilevel marketing programmes.
The basic idea behind these programmes is that you get people to buy the idea that they’re selling a product when in fact the real money is in selling the programme to other people.
That’s not the kind of business this post is aimed at.
The kind of business we’re looking at here is one that is trying to build a customer base that’s going to stay and grow over time.
If you want to be an effective consultant, a good service provider, an innovative product creator, then you need to think about your customers as individuals who are going to work with you over the long term – and they need the real you, the authentic you – the person you can be over that length of time.
Not a person who is always desperately trying to keep a mask on.
Tools and strategies
It’s easy to avoid hard questions like “what do you do, really?” and focus instead on tools and systems and technology.
But tools and systems and technology will not make up for a lack of the core “why”, why should someone be interested in what you have to offer?
To answer that question you first need to understand the questioner, understand what they’re looking for in the world around them.
Then you answer the question.
Your success depends on how well your answer works for them.
No amount of technology will make your response better.
The font in which you write it, the timbre of your audio, the clarity of your video, the dizzying visuals you use – all of these things are decoration but the thing that matters is that answer you give.
All too often people think that they can come up with any old idea and then push it to marketing – it’s now their job to package it up and sell it.
But that’s not marketing – that’s the artistry around graphic design and media production and technology integration – they are all the components of a modern, integrated marketing system.
But you don’t need all that to create a message is clear and simple and says why a prospect should be interested enough in what you have to offer to start a conversation with you.
Crafting a message
How do you craft that clear and simple message?
You do it, reflect on what you’ve done and work on improving it.
No one comes out with a clear and compelling proposition that works for their entire market the very first time.
Marketing is, like everything else we do, a process of trial and error and progressive refinement.
Start with a message – what you think you do.
Say it – to yourself, to other people.
Study yourself, study their reaction.
Think about what you could change, change it and try again.
It really is that simple – test and learn and refine and try again.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
We all know that writing multiple drafts improves the quality of your writing.
But, once you write it, and format it and it looks so pretty and clean – it’s easy to assume the writing is good as well.
And it gets worse when you have more people involved – and when you get all their “input” and amend your message to include their views you end up with a mishmash of something that insiders are happy with but that means nothing to your prospect.
And that’s where marketing should come in – testing every line, every idea for clarity and conciseness.
Is what you’re saying clear and simple and compelling?
If it is, then we can package it up and send it out using a variety of media – whatever your budget can take.
But if it’s not, no amount of money can fix it.
Start simple, but start
The starting point for most people is to realise that marketing is a process of understanding yourself and your prospective customers so you can have better conversations.
So start by talking into the dark, talk about yourself, speak using media that you’re comfortable with.
If you like face to face, then get out there and meet people, if you like writing, express yourself in text, if you like video, record yourself and share your stuff.
Just get started with telling your story.
At first, you may just need to do that for a while.
Be ready to do that for a couple of years.
That’s how long it takes me anyway.
When I look back at the projects I’ve worked on, projects like this blog and various commercial projects, it’s taken roughly two years to get from an initial idea to something that starts to look like a workable model.
That’s the time when you should be testing and refining your story, not paying for marketing technology or expensive design.
The technology and design come into their own when it’s time to scale something you know works – when you have a compelling message that works when you deliver it in person or using very simple technology.
In the next few posts we’ll look at those elements – crafting your story and starting simple, before moving onto your vision for the future.