July 27, 2012

Authentic Marketing: What’s behind the Mask?


Many accidental entrepreneurs avoid marketing because it feels phony and weird.

Because it feels that way, we tend to assume it comes across that way. And sometimes we’re right; marketing can be like wearing a gaudy mask.

And that’s worth thinking about.

Masks exist for a reason.

Masks are expressions of a role we take on, a role we want to communicate to others. At first, a new role can feel clunky, false, and the mask won’t fit very well. Even the most basic mask can feel gaudy and overblown. That doesn’t mean that you’re any less authentic than you were before you tried the role on. It’s still the real you behind the mask.

Make the role your own.

The key to getting the real you to shine through the mask is to make the role your own. Watch two great actors in the same role and you’ll instantly see differences. Each inhabits the role in a unique way, bringing the role to life with a vivid authenticity that grips the audience. You can do the same when you take on the role of marketer.

It takes practice.

Great actors don’t become great over night. They study voice, movement, and literature to become proficient at their craft. Then they study and rehearse for each role. It’s the same in marketing.

In the beginning, marketing feels weird. We’re self conscious, and that makes us clumsy. We hate being clumsy, so we pull back. Before long we believe that people like us just can’t promote. But that’s not true. Everywhere you look there are people like you, nice people doing meaningful work, who are promoting themselves. (You probably buy from some of them.)

It’s natural for marketing to feel uncomfortable in the beginning, but uncomfortable doesn’t have to mean inauthentic. Just as an actor studies to make a part her own, you can practice so that marketing is an authentic expression of your love for what you do.

Keys to making marketing authentic

The first step to making marketing authentic is to recognize that it takes time and practice. Forgive yourself for not being a natural at this. Nowhere is it written that you need to be.

Study the role.

When you recognize that marketing is a role you need to play in order to get work, look around at others who are playing that role. You’ll find all kinds of examples ranging from the just plain gross to the surprisingly compelling. Make a point of thinking about what makes some marketing appalling and other marketing appealing. (Sorry. Sometimes I can’t help myself.)

Imitate the greats.

Paradoxically, one of the best ways to make a role your own is to start by imitating someone who’s acting you admire. Human beings are natural mimics, and by taking on the characteristics of someone whose marketing you like, you can get a feel for the role. Then, bit by bit, you’ll start making it your own.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

This can be tricky! We need to market in order to make money, and if we’re not making very much money, it all feels like very serious business. But if we take marketing too seriously we’ll get all tangled up in our stuff.

It’s essential to approach marketing with a bit of lightness. Carroll Michels, author of How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist, writes that we need to treat marketing like we treat brushing our teeth. It’s an essential daily practice that we don’t need to over-invest in.

Focus on the long term.

It takes time to become proficient in a new role. Don’t expect to be an expert, authentic marketer overnight. Try on a few marketing strategies at a time (no more than three) and practice them until you have them down cold. Then practice some more before you add to your repertoire.

The real you is what they want to see.

When it comes down to it, marketing is a mask through which the real you can shine. And that’s what your just-right clients want. If at times along the way you feel like you are impersonating yourself, that’s okay. Remember that you are practicing a new role and that one day it will be second nature.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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