I’m sitting on a bench along Church Street in Burlington Vermont, where shops line each side and people bustle past me. Staring at an empty notebook I’m doing my best to breathe in rejection, breathe out courage. I’m 23 stops into this bright idea that I had to walk door to door, soliciting store owners for information about what their social media marketing needs are.
Every conversation goes like this:
Me: “Hi, how are you?”
Them: “Great how are you?! What can I help you with?”
Me: “I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your marketing? I’m not here to sell you anything, promise! Just have a couple of questions….”
Cue a look and a sound somewhere at the intersection of disgust, fear, annoyance, and avoidance. A recoiling, if you will. One after another, not a single exception.
The conversations end quickly because I didn’t come here to bother these folks and I have never felt like more of an idiot.
This was in May 2017. My business coaches at that time had rightfully convinced me that getting my agency off the ground was all about taking massive action toward one specific objective: Having as many conversations with my ideal customers as I possibly could to understand them better and create an offer that met their needs. I thought these small local businesses were it, but on this day I learned that there was one minor problem: they wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. A valuable lesson if not totally humiliating. I decided to serve larger brands for the next few years.
That was the day that I learned what a bad reputation marketing (and marketers) have. The rep is well-earned: bro marketers posing in front of cars they don’t own for advertisements meant to fluff their ego, leaving the destruction of snake-oil in their wake; the majority of service providers overpromising and under-delivering; so much wasted money at bloated inefficient agencies; pressure-driven, icky sales tactics living large (just to name a few).
Nearly every day since that fateful exercise I have asked myself what I can do to positively influence our field, especially in terms of empowering small brands that have so much love and value to offer their customers.
Seth Godin recently said,
“marketing is not about selling more crap. Marketing is our culture and our culture determines who we are.”
Research shows that right now, most consumers are supporting a cultural shift in the direction of local organizations, purpose-driven brands, and shopping experiences that assure them that every dollar spent is a vote for their values. So how can small brands overcome this collective fear of being icky and annoying to our customers so that we can show up and meet this moment?
The broader field of marketing has a lot to learn from organic social media marketers. *Not the ones that spam our feeds with three posts a day and nonstop slap-you-on-the-face content about how to grow your Instagram.* The ones that are at the helm of consumer brands, doing the emotionally intelligent work of humanizing a faceless organization, socializing with its customers, surprising and delighting their community along the way.
Great social media marketing entertains, educates, relieves, provokes, and provides a sense of connection much more often than it sells. It centers relationships over sales and conversation over clickbait. So much noise out here about “building trust” but there’s no better case study than a brand that’s built itself up in community with its customers on social media.
That mentality is available to us in every form of marketing. We can bring this spirit of socializing for the pleasure of it into our email marketing, onto our websites, and throughout every single one of our promotions and marketing campaigns (without sacrificing sales or performance). It’s so much simpler than we make it out to be, because the only secret is spending time thinking about your customer and what they have going on in life outside of being your customer. The same way you’d approach catching up with an old friend.
So as we enter Q4, spend some time thinking about your person. How do they relate to the holidays? It might not be toxic commercial positivity and if you recognize that, there’s your chance to acknowledge them and connect on a soul level. What do they really need right now, in the face of all that’s changed in our world recently? What does their day-to-day look and feel like? How can we meet them there?
Daydreaming about your customer and working to emotionally connect with them isn’t just how you build trust, it’s how you fall back in love with your business and realize that marketing shouldn’t be a dirty word. In fact, it should be the apex of customer insights, product development, and community-building.
Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.
In your corner,