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Thoughts On “Authentic Marketing”

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I’ve read a bunch of discussions on blogs recently about how to be “authentic” in marketing your goods and services—and, in some cases, whether authentic marketing is even possible—and I have some thoughts to contribute.  I’ll offer a simple, but powerful, question to ask when you’re working on selling your stuff to guide you toward feeling more aligned with yourself as you do it.

My sense is that, when we say we want to do “authentic marketing,” we mean more than simply not lying.  Of course we don’t want to claim to have experience we actually lack, or that our products do things they don’t really do, but that’s not enough by itself.  Ultimately, I think, what we want is to feel refreshed and uplifted when we’re promoting ourselves, rather than drained and frustrated.  Ideally, we’d enjoy promoting our work as much as we enjoy the work itself.

In my experience, whether we get this feeling depends on how we see ourselves.  If we perceive ourselves as adequate and complete, exactly as we are, and our marketing efforts are driven by that belief, we’re likely to feel fulfilled.  But if we think of ourselves as not good enough, and we try to compensate for or conceal our inadequacy with our self-promotion, we’ll probably suffer.

Completeness Versus Compensation

What do I mean when I talk about “compensating” in our self-promotion?  I’ll illustrate with three basic ways I’ve noticed people trying to cover up some perceived problem with themselves in the marketing context:

1.  “I’m Too Small.” If we see ourselves as inferior, we may try to make up for it by exaggerating our abilities or accomplishments.  Maybe, for example, we’ll portray the product we’re selling as the answer to every problem a person could possibly experience.  Or, we’ll use tons of bold and underlined text in our sales copy (as in SUPER FAST CASH! $$$!!!), because we’re worried that otherwise no one will notice us or take us seriously.

2.  “I’m Too Big.” If we see ourselves as too loud or taking up too much space, we’ll likely compensate by downplaying or omitting what we have to offer.  Maybe we’ll make a lot of self-deprecating jokes to make sure we don’t come off as arrogant or bragging.  Or maybe we’ll just avoid marketing altogether, because the very idea of “talking ourselves up” doesn’t mesh with our self-image as a modest or humble person.

3.  “I’m Bad.” Perhaps we see ourselves as fundamentally “evil” or dishonest, and we make up for this by trying to appear trustworthy and upstanding.  Maybe, for instance, we begin our sales copy with “I’m not going to lie to you,” or talk a lot about our personal lives to make sure others know we’re “more than just a faceless salesperson.”  (Duff M. writes insightfully about this kind of compensation in his piece on “presenting an authentic image.”)

Getting Conscious of Your Compensation

Naturally, when we’re doing marketing—or anything else—from a place of feeling wrong or deficient, we tend to find it painful and frustrating.  This is why I think it’s important to become aware of the ways we see ourselves as inadequate, and the places where we could stand to be more accepting and compassionate toward ourselves.

So, if you find yourself feeling drained, irritated or nauseated by the self-promotion you’re doing, I invite you to ask:  “am I trying to make up for some problem with myself right now?”  In other words, are you trying to prove that you’re capable, modest, or honest, or perhaps something else?  If so, why is proving that important to you?  What’s going to happen to you if you don’t prove it?

This can be an uncomfortable inquiry, because it may expose areas where you aren’t fully okay with yourself.  But getting conscious of those places, I think, is an important first step toward accepting yourself more fully.  And when you let go of trying to compensate for or conceal some problem with yourself, marketing can become easier and more enjoyable.

(You can read Part Two of this series here.)