Self-promotion takes a lot of my energy and spirit. It can feel unnatural putting myself out there to possibly be judged. If posting a blog or Facebook post, or putting my face to a flyer, web page or business card, it can feel egotistical and cheesy.
I have read marketing experts say it’s a natural human activity. But for the small business owners and creative sole traders I work with, advertising and marketing can feel artificial and pushy.
Before running my own business I worked in the arts and taught at university. The marketing departments promoted the arts and courses I was involved with. That didn’t bother me. It was for services I hadn’t personally created and didn’t involve any self-promotion. I also admit I had beliefs that marketing education and visual arts was more virtuous than, say, promoting a business. They did good, so of course they should be promoted.
I had extra attitude on the subversiveness of advertising and marketing. During my studies, we had deconstructed print and TV ads. We learned about the juxtaposition of words and imagery, the subtleties of advertising and ways it made us feel in order to buy.
For a time I was living in regional Queensland, where advertising and marketing was less pervasive and sophisticated than in capital cities. On returning home to Sydney every six months or so I observed how I felt after just a few days of being spoken to from every bus shelter, shop awning and taxi boot. I realised just reading the weekend newspapers and lift-out magazines made me feel rotten.
I was made to feel I needed to buy in, sign up and purchase now if I was ever going to be someone or get anywhere.
I found myself rebelling. What if I just became satisfied with my old car, op-shop clothes, average income and less-than-salon-beautiful hair? And what if I turned off the TV and didn’t read the magazines, and stopped consuming the reminders of what I supposedly needed. What if I became grateful for what I already had?
So, how did I cope when I was asked to give a university lecture on Marketing? My lectern became part-soapbox. “I despise the topic of marketing so much,” I said, “because I feel that marketing tries to convince people they need something they just don’t.” And “It preys on people’s biology and psychology to sell something that probably wasn’t even required in the first place.”
And also, I said unfeigned, “Marketing is an intrusion. It plants seeds of doubt and insecurity and offers a solution that comes at a price, financially and environmentally.” I taught the Marketing curriculum, but I added by two cents at the start and end of the lectures.
But the rebel joined another revolution when I started my own business. Marketing became not just my survival, but my living. I had a yearning to turn my love of writing into my livelihood. If I was going to reach that goal, I had to market. And I needed to do it in ways that didn’t feel intrusive of others or unnatural to me.
The good news was I entered business at just the right time for an anti-marketing introvert.
I was a scared writer, who was hell-bent on not being salesy but keen to succeed. I learnt of relationship and content marketing. I struck on my marketing happy place. And this was where my eyes became open to a kind of marketing that didn’t seem like it was 100% against my principles and perhaps even contributed to a better society.
Social media created a new kind of market place with new values and and rules. Hard sell was out, sharing expertise, offering value, and plain old story-telling was in. This digital market thrives on connecting and communicating with people who have similar needs and interests. I can raise my profile by being authentic, writing like I’m chatting with someone over a coffee.
I must be all right at marketing, because I’m still in business six years on. And I’m not just in business, it feels like I’ve also created a community.
Perhaps this was what the experts meant about marketing being a natural human activity.
If marketing comes from an authentic place and helps others, I can finally be okay with self promotion. And it turns out, I’m now helping others cross that same bridge.