I am an enthusiastic reader of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog – he writes in clear digestible chunks about habit-developing techniques that work to create steady self-improvement. My usual reaction to his content consists of nods and thoughtful pauses, but he recently made a generalization that, as an aspiring business owner, I found unfortunate.
In his post “Confidence in Your Business“, Leo describes a situation where an inexperienced entrepreneur, unconfident in the value of what he’s offering but eager to reach an audience, ends up using internet marketing tactics that many of us (on the receiving end) would find manipulative and annoying: frequent mailing list postings, artificially created sense of need and urgency, endless social media updates, etc. Leo goes on to classify such a business owner:
“You’re now a marketer, a manipulator, untrustworthy.”
And I really don’t like it that the term “marketer” becomes equated with “manipulator” and “untrustworthy”.
I get where the negative associations come from. Experienced solely from the consumer perspective, marketing tends to feel like a mysterious social science that’s aimed at discovering the buyer’ emotional triggers and then using them to manipulate the buyer into spending money unwisely. It also seems that a lot of effective marketing strategies hinge on misrepresenting facts and creating a perception of need where there isn’t any. I mean, I hate receiving calls from sales people because I assume they’re going to try and fool and pressure me. However, as I’m gradually developing Wild Naiada Designs, it becomes clear to me that marketing is a large and significant aspect of running a business.
Imagine: you make geometric pillowcases, or hardwood tables, or online content. Let’s say you make an excellent product – it looks great, lasts forever, brings endless joy, and you treat all your customers like potential lifelong friends. You’ve got everything going for you! You know that your product fulfills a real need in the market. You know that there exist people out there who are your ideal customers (and will happily pay that steep price that you yourself couldn’t possibly afford, but which honestly reflects what your time and skill are worth).
Now, for all that, does the mere existence of your product magically result in sales? Heh, I wish! You need to gather descriptive information about your product and make it available to the market. And then you need to make your ideal customers aware of this information. In other words, you need to market your product. Given that marketing is a business necessity, I don’t want it to be a necessary evil. I don’t think it has to be. In the realm of the effective, we should be able to define a subset of marketing techniques that are ethical.
To start, I’ll look at a business that continues to attract my attention and bring me enjoyment with their social media marketing: a Vancouver-based two-people-team leather-working vendor Divina Denuevo (they make bags, wallets, journals, shaving kits, etc). Victoria and Dave market extensively via Divina-Denuevo’s Facebook Page, and after a year of following I continue to welcome their updates in my newsfeed. How come? What is it that they are doing right?
Divina-Denuevo publishes updates a couple of times a week, which feels like a frequency that respects my time and autonomy: I end up remembering that they exist and are working hard, but I do not feel nagged for attention. Also, the posts always contain new information that feels useful or curious to me. Specifically, they tend to focus on four themes:
- markets or shows Divina Denuevo will be attending (and occasional reminders about such);
- custom pieces they’ve completed that differ significantly from their regular offerings;
- new product lines;
- fabrication process, including the choosing of the materials;
If I analyze each of these, I will of course conclude that the main benefits of this marketing approach still go to the business owners. The updates keep leather goods and Divina Denuevo’s brand in my mind as birthdays and holidays roll by. Seeing a greater variety of product options makes it more likely that I’ll see something I like, and gets me generally excited to choose leather as a material. Sneak peaks into new leather colors or the sewing process increases my perceived value of their products – the more I understand the effort and care that goes into their work, the more I’m willing to spend money on it. Overall, Divina-Denuevo’s marketing approach makes it more probably that I will think of their brand the next time I’m looking to purchase their type of product (a belt, for instance). I’ll admit it – they totally got me hooked. So why don’t I mind?
I think it comes down to attitude. I perceive that their marketing contains the intent of being useful and of fostering camaraderie. More than anything, I feel like their marketing treats me as a fellow quality leather goods admirer. Even when their updates are basically to show off stuff they’ve made, they try to engage me by asking “What do you think of the design choices we made?” or by requesting approval and support: “Look at this thing we made! Doesn’t it look cool? We’re so proud of it!”
I think… that’s what good marketing should be like. Like saying “Here’s this thing I love doing, and I’m excited to share it with anyone who might be interested. What?! You liked it enough to pay for it? THANK YOU! That means the world! Your support makes it possible for me to keep doing this thing I love. You’re like, a great person! Want to see other things I’m excited by?”