A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a woman (read: seasoned children's performer and newly published author) about ways she could market her business and new book, as well as alternative sales structures and income streams. Impressed with my ideas, she asked me where I learned about this stuff.
To be perfectly honest, I often feel like a sponge - just naturally soaking up everything I see and hear. It's true, I feel I have a knack for observation and studying. (As evident through my ability to learn subtle nuances in conversational French when I lived abroad... among other things).
No, I didn't study business and marketing in school. I am not formally trained with a "license to practice." And... I'm not afraid to admit it.
I've had a much more gritty and real life ride. Observing, studying, practicing and experimenting, interning, making (frankly) amateur mistakes, and occasionally getting it right... oh, and it helps that I follow marketing gurus online; listen to podcasts; read books (!) on business, marketing, sales and human behavior; I talk to people; I go to conferences; I participate in webinars... but the important factor?
The most important factor contributing to my business education is my burning desire to prove that I can make a living (read: thrive) from photography.
So, being the perfectionist and over-achiever I am, I aim to do everything in my power to run a successful (read: profitable and authentic) creative business, so ... really, what's been the most effective tool in learning business and marketing?
Actually having to apply the things that I learn, throughout this journey, to myself and my business.
So, how do I know about branding? Well, I've had to figure out what I want my brand to stand for and be known for. I've had to look inside and figure out my values, my vision, my mission... and do the hard work it takes. And have the courage to commit (over and over again) in spite of all the nay-sayers.
And, throughout this journey of observing and studying online marketing, branding and business, I've been known (mostly in my head, and by some close friends) to get "hung up" on certain terms (in the beginning, it was the concept of marketing, as a whole, and the concept of "systems" in my business). I got hung up on what these things mean and how to apply them. Luckily, eventually, after observing, studying, discussing with others, making mistakes, reflecting, etc. I'd have a eureka moment, where suddenly it clicks and I see how really simple these things were all along.
So, today, I'd like to discuss the concepts of authenticity and value in marketing. I hope that by sharing my experience, I can help you 1. understand yourself better, 2. feel more confident in yourself and your marketing, 3. be intentional in your marketing actions, and 4. really add value to your followers and customers.
Overwhelm & the Just Do It Mentality... Hey, We All Start Somewhere!
I first heard about the concept of "authenticity" in marketing from an online marketing specialist, Fabienne Fredrickson, owner of Client Attraction, at pretty close to the start of my journey in business.
It now seems painfully obvious what it means and how authenticity relates to business/marketing, but at the time, I didn't really understand. You see, because this was the beginning of my research into marketing and business...
I was perplexed. I was overwhelmed. So much advice. So many tactics. So many "have to do its."
But, I hadn't done the reflection and internal work to determine my core brand identity and to understand the relevant pieces of my personal story to share.
I, like so many others, was very focused on "just getting out there" and "getting clients."
It's a mistake I see a lot of people make. But honestly, how can we promote (read: connect with people) if we don't know what we're even trying to say? It is critical.
Anyway, I was getting lost in all the clutter and "advice" I was reading - all the tips of must do marketing tactics "guaranteed" to grow my business. But why? I had no intention or purpose in doing these tactics, I just thought I had to do it because "it's what you do."
"Be on Twitter. It's what you do."
"Be on Facebook. It's what you do."
"Make an 'irresistable' giveaway for your email list. It's what you do."
"Send out emails, it's what you do."
"But what's my message?!?!?!"
Not only did I not have any intentionality, but I didn't understand why or how any of these tactics would benefit me, how they work, how to be effective with them, etc. This means that nothing was strategic or purposeful (read: AIMLESS promotional tactics are ineffective, it's essential to have a purpose for all communications efforts.) Not only that, but, I didn't even have a "list."
Don't "Just Do It" - Rather, Just Do You!
It's impossible to share all the things that contributed to me finally grasping the meaning of authenticity in marketing, because my understanding is a culmination of all the experiences and things I've observed and read.
At present, my understanding is that authenticity is being true to yourself.
It's knowing who you are, what you're about, and what you're good at, then using that to connect with others. It's only doing the things that are right for you (your business). It's having the courage to not do the things that aren't "you." It's doing things because they are right for you, not because someone told you to or because "it's what you do." It's having the confidence and the integrity to follow through when you say you're going to do something.
(NOTE: None of this is a pass to not do marketing because it's "not me." Marketing is essential for business growth, building an audience and producing sales.)
So, the first question has to be: "How do I know what's right for me?"
This is kind of the essential question, isn't it?
This is where the power of things like reflection, meditation, intuition and listening to your heart comes in. Only you can decide what's right for you.
Personally, since as far back as high school, if I was truly honest with myself, I knew what I wanted to do. I was clear, but I allowed other people's beliefs to influence me. So, it took me a long time to come to terms with the fear and doubt. To build the confidence I needed and find frameworks for making decisions on my own and take actions in spite of fear.
The first step in this process of knowing ourselves and being confident is really making a commitment to ourselves and really taking responsibility for the situations we are in. This part can be really hard, because it means we have to admit that we had some part in creating the situations we are in and it can be terrifying to do something good for ourselves - especially when those who are close to us aren't believers. It can bring up all our deepest, darkest fears (rejection, failure, success, what others will think of us, loss, etc.).
2 Ways Feel More Confident and Get What You Want
Two things that have helped me greatly in building up my confidence are journaling and taking control over my mindset.
The first, a daily (or almost daily) journaling ritual that included 1. setting an intention for the day, 2. writing one thing I was grateful for, 3. writing my goals, and 4. collecting "evidence of success." Number 4 is really about listing out the things that I felt good about accomplishing that day, that week, etc. no matter how small. I love this, because it allows me to feel good about the actions I've taken - regardless of the results - and to know that I'm on the right track. That even if I didn't get the result I wanted, I at least did something that was intended to move me closer to achieving my goal.
The other major thing that has helped me was really taking to heart the idea that we are the average of the 5 people we surround ourselves with.
I was feeling like I was surrounded by a lot of negativity, lack mentality and just general disbelief in the ability to earn a living as a photographer. Instead of getting rid of the people in my life that contributed to this, because it's not that simple, I took a different route. I became addicted to positive and empowering blogs, books, and podcasts. I spent some time in the "self-help" section of the library and book store. I still surround myself with inspiring content with the hopes that it'll help me create and maintain a strong, empowered and resilient mindset!
Something really powerful for me in, not only getting past fear, but also staying inspired and taking action, is finding examples of people that are doing what I want to do, successfully, and paying attention to their stories. It's really helpful to know that it can, in fact, be done. All big things start off small - everyone starts somewhere.
These are just a few ways I've learned to feel more confident in myself and my decisions. For more ideas on getting more in touch with what's right for you, check out these three videos from Marie Forleo: 3 Steps to Making Great Decisions - On Your Own, What should I do with my life? Here's how to find your answer., and 4 Ways to Sharpen Your Intuition.
So, You Know Who You Are, Now It's Time to Use That.
If you're good with knowing who you are and what you aim to do, more power to you! Then comes the real hard part... ACTUALLY TAKING ACTION AND PUTTING YOURSELF OUT THERE! (It's relatively easy to be reflective and decide you want things, and think about it real hard... but it's a whole other thing to actually do something about it and have the courage and confidence to go out again and again - in spite of tireless no's and you can'ts, and keep at it.)
I'm sure some of you know the rejection I'm talking about. Well, let's be honest for a sec, ok? It's hard to face countless rejections and still continue in the pursuit of making it happen.
The antidote? Continually telling yourself and believing that it's gonna happen, one of these times, because you'll learn from every experience and improve the approach each time by focusing on what you can control rather than what you can't. Also, remember number 4 in my journaling technique: "collecting evidence of success" - well this is where that technique can work wonders if you do it repeatedly for a while.
So, if you've successfully figured out who you are, what you want and you've understood your fears so you can move beyond them, you may be ready to start creating and implementing your (unique) marketing plan. Following are 5 ways to incorporate authenticity in your marketing.
1. Authenticity in Who: Finding Your Target Market
Like I said above, authenticity in marketing is about using your story strategically - leveraging it, really - within your business and marketing.
The first way to do this is by using it to choose the most appropriate target market(s) for your product/services.
How do you do you determine this? Well, you can use elements of your "story" - i.e. your identity, your lifestyle, your unique viewpoint in the world, your unique combination of experiences and expertise - to determine who you can best serve, who you are uniquely qualified to serve.
For example, if you're a nutritionist and a single mom who has lost weight, you might want to target other single moms (potentially the one's who are looking to lose weight and change their lifestyles) to teach them how to create simple, healthy & delicious meals for themselves and their children, because you understand their needs, hopes, fears and dreams - because you've lived it yourself.
A good place to start is to think about what business your in, take inventory of your personal history and identity, then put it together. Think about where all of these things can overlap, and that's how you can find a niche. If you need some more help with this, check out this awesome podcast. (This isn't just for personal brands either, it's part of the process of building any kind of brand - picking appropriate target markets and being able to communicate why you're the best option to serve them.)
2. Authenticity in Where: Choosing the strategy (media) that are a fit for you and your customers.
Further, being authentic in marketing is also about choosing the medium/media that's the best fit for you and your target market. (As much as we might like to think it's all about us, really, marketing is about meeting your customers where they are.) Why?
Because, much like how branding is about our identity, and is internal, marketing is about connecting with customers - who are, by definition, not us - it's external. (For proof - check out this article with examples of companies who failed to do their research before launching their products internationally, thus failing to connect with the international prospective customers. My favorite fail listed is Panasonic.)
So, this means, not (necessarily) being on EVERY platform, but choosing the ones that both play off your natural tendencies and match your authentic content and - a bit more importantly - are where your customers ACTUALLY hang out.
(Ex. What's the use of being on Twitter if you're customers either aren't looking for your type of content there, or worse, are not even on Twitter to begin with? Yet, for some reason, everyone still suggests being on Twitter.... note: I'm not hating on Twitter, you can be on Twitter if it's appropriate.)
3. Authenticity in How: Choosing tactics that are a fit for you and your customers.
That means, if you're a solo-entrepreneur or building a brand and doing your own marketing, choosing activities and tactics that play off of your natural skills and talents, so that, when you commit to doing them regularly, you'll actually follow through! (This doesn't mean that you won't have to do SOME things that you don't like doing, but that the majority of it should feel "right" and not like a grueling experience that you dread.) And, if you determine there are certain things you need to be doing, but which you can't bring yourself to do, it means delegating those tasks so they get done. This is also about choosing the things that your audience will actually respond to (because what's the point of doing it if your followers aren't going to notice anyway).
For example, I really like to write (obviously) and have been blogging for years now, in a variety of capacities. So, it was only natural that I decided to adapt my blogging for business use. My original reason for blogging was to share my experiences with others, in the hopes that it would be valuable to them. The same is true of this business blog. The aim is to help businesses and entrepreneurs (like yourselves) to find inspiration and confidence in marketing and branding, as well as offer some tactical tips and resources I like. Further, I recently created postcards - to promote my new social media campaign (#FoodieFriday) - that I am handing out and writing personal messages on for photo editors and restaurant owners. The post cards allow me to be personal, while also showing prospective customers what I offer and inviting them to become engaged in my business by joining me on social media - which is not a difficult commitment to make, but which allows them both an easy in to see my work regularly and an easy out if they decide it's not for them.
4. Authenticity in Visual Branding: Choosing the right design, colors, fonts and pictures.
My philosophy is that, when it comes to your business, everything you do should be intentional. That means, having a reason for doing it. That means, everything down to the colors, fonts, lines, photos - every last detail. Which often means, working with a really good graphic designer that asks you all the right questions so that they can realize your vision effectively and give visual voice to your brand. It also means working with a photographer that really gets what you're about and understands how to tell stories within photographs.
Authenticity in your photography doesn't mean doing it yourself. It doesn't even necessarily mean having a "business headshot." It's not an excuse for poor photography or cell phone images.
What it does mean is using photos that are relevant to your values, your vision, your mission and what you do/sell. It means working with a photographer that can create images in a visual style that matches the feeling you want to convey. For example, if you're a "lifestyle entrepreneur" and you work with everyday people, having a very corporate looking headshot is probably not authentic to your brand, but having (high quality) photos of you in more casual, everyday situations and looking nice, would be more authentic. More specifically, if you are, for example, a personal chef and food educator, it would probably make sense for you to have images of yourself cooking, a nice portrait with something you made, before/after photos of your clients (if they've lost weight as a result of working with you), pictures of the recipes you make, etc.
Let me say that again: Authenticity in your photography means investing in a photographer who understands your vision and can translate that into photos that both match the style/feeling you want your customers to experience and accurately represent the story of your brand.
5. Authenticity in Content: Finding Your Voice and Connecting.
Once you've gotten this far, it's time to actually put some content together and choose the relevant elements of your story to share. Why? Because the whole point of this is to connect with people, build trust and stand out from your competition.
Remember, the whole point of marketing is to build value for what you do, build trust and relationships that lead to sales(!) (read: PROFIT! I mean, you are in this to make money right?!))!
So, how do we build trust and value? We must connect on a human level with our audience. How?
With our stories! With authenticity! Everything in this post is how you connect with prospects and customers. It's how you build trust. You share yourself with them. You offer them value. You let them imagine themselves in it. Let's face it, people don't buy WHAT you sell, they buy WHY you sell it and WHO you are. If you don't believe me, why were people compelled to line up at the Apple store for a new iPhone when they one they had already worked perfectly well?
So, how do we actually decide what to share? How do we actually find our voice?
For some people, it means working with a marketing strategist to decide what content to share and a copywriter to create compelling copy. For others, it's natural and obvious.
Assuming that you're not ready to hire consultants, and it's not obvious to you, a good place to start is with the aspects of your story that directly relate to your target market, and the value you offer them. Now, the specific value (benefit) you offer to each client is going to be slightly different - i.e. everyone that buys from you will have a slightly different reason why, but you can generalize a bit. Again, the idea is to create content that establishes trust and causes the person to take an action (Liking, Sharing, Visiting your website, Emailing you, Calling you, Buying, etc.).
So, start by making a list of all these things, and then brainstorm what you might do related to that which would benefit your customers/clients. You can even talk to some of your prospects/previous customers to actually learn what it is they respond to, are looking for, need, why they hired you, etc. Then, create content/marketing materials that address those things in your own way.
Authenticity in content is not just for the entrepreneurs reading either. All companies have their own unique brand and voice, and it's especially clear with the prevalence of social media marketing. Previously, marketing consisted mainly of advertising, and having an "authentic" voice was mainly seen as putting out a consistent message between campaigns and in marketing collateral. But now, with social media, blogs, and websites, "voice" is more tricky. It's more literal, and if you aren't careful, you might accidentally put something out that is "off-brand" - see this Buzzfeed list of business social media fails.
Ahhh!! Value?! What? I don't have anything to offer? I don't want to talk about myself.... I'm not valuable.
So, another concept I've definitely gotten hung up on is the concept of value. It's something that I started hearing about a while back, but, probably because of the lack of confidence, I felt stuck.
This word, value, it's been coming up a lot in my life recently. In reading about networking, in reading about marketing, and in conversations with people.
And two things really helped me realize that value is "giving" with authenticity, and expecting nothing in return.
What does this mean exactly?
Basically it is offering a genuine bit of yourself (or your business, knowledge, contacts, etc.) to someone else without a need for quid pro quo. Offering something helpful or meaningful to someone else with no strings attached.
Being valuable IS being authentic. Vice Versa.
I first understood this from one of the chapters in the book The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. In it a woman gives a speech on her experience as a Realtor. She talks about how she learned every type of sales "close" "in the book" and mastered the presentation, but couldn't make a sale. Then, when she was on her last sales call before being ready to give up, she stopped caring about making the sale. She just acted as herself, honoring her personality, and forgetting about "closing the sale." And what happened? She made the sale. In her speech, she talked about how she realized that she was inherently valuable, and that when she acted with authenticity, rather than following the "close techniques," she was successful.
(Note: this doesn't mean you shouldn't follow guidelines or act professionally, it just means you the value is putting your personality into what you do.)
Marketing is a gift?
The other thing that solidified this idea for me actually happened in that very same conversation with the woman I mentioned at the top of the post.
As I said, I've struggled with the idea of value and knowing what to put out there. I knew I should be putting something out there, but at times I felt like people didn't want to see what I was going to share and that sharing my photos was too much "about me."
Well, during this chat, the woman I was talking to told me about this photographer who emailed her a promo of a photograph a few years ago. She said she was so happy to have received the photo. That it felt like she was receiving a gift - his art. And it stuck out in her mind. The photo was beautiful. It made her happy. It added value to her day.
I really appreciate this story. It shows how simple all of this can be.
Look. I get that on a certain level we all do marketing so that we can make sales and that we do sales so we can make money. But, it really doesn't have to feel sleazy, uncomfortable, or inauthentic. It can feel great! (I'm not even lying, because it SHOULD feel great!) It should feel like you're offering a gift. And if the purpose of your marketing is to connect, add value and help people, then it truly will be a gift.
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Original post available on CC Photo & Media