What is marketing? I want to talk to you about that, because a lot of folks wrongly assume they understand it (and then dismiss it because they think it isn’t important or isn’t for them).
For a while, I wrongly assumed I knew what it was as well.
When I started my business, I was like, “Meh, marketing is for people that lack talent, because if they had any talent, they wouldn’t need to promote what they did.”
But then I started noticing a trend with the people I worked with.
For nearly 20 years I helped businesses create websites to sell something (from services to products to a punk record label). This gave me really rad insights into how businesses of all sizes and successes worked.
Some of my clients had marketing plans that were some variation of this:
- Hire an expensive web designer (me!) to create a website that looked really great.
- Setup a newsletter and social media accounts.
- Add products they had spent years creating in secret (because they didn’t want anyone to steal their ideas).
- Launch the site, and then go looking for an audience to sell those existing products to. (Square peg in a round hole anyone?)
- Ask me to change the colours and fonts every few months because their products weren’t selling, and they figured it was colours and fonts that were the problem.
- Create a new product in private, because the first didn’t sell well, and then try to find an audience for it.
- Growth-hack (they don’t know what it means but they’ve heard people use the term).
I stopped working with these clients because they’d eventually run out of money. And then, once I noticed the glaring trend in doing business like this, I didn’t even let those types of clients hire me ever again because I didn’t want them to waste their money (I’ve only ever enjoyed making money from folks who get a real benefit from what I do). Their list of “wants to have” overlapped with what was actually needed (this is bad).
On the other hand, some of my clients had marketing plans that were some variation of this:
- Prior to hiring me, they spent a year or more talking to their audience, learning what made them tick, and helping them as often as possible through content, paid one-on-one services, consulting or coaching, etc.
- They listened to what their audience was gladly paying them for and begging them to create.
- Then they’d hire me to design them a website for that specific group of people and with a very specific purpose and goal in mind (not just to look great).
- They’d launch their product (and new site) after months of getting their audience pumped up about it.
- They’d make a bunch of money, then hire me again when they had a new product or new audience that they’d created – only after a long period of talking to and listening to the people who were begging them to create it.
These clients were the ones that never went away, in the best possible way. I ended up working with these clients for 5 years, 10 years, even 18 years!
Once I started to notice this pattern, it made me only want to work with clients like that. It also helped me realize that if I was going to make my own products (I was strictly a freelancer at this point), that I’d have to create a similar process.
I learned so much from these clients that it shaped how I went about creating products. But, since I’m both stubborn and egotistical, it wasn’t until I tried creating products in my own way – with some variation of the first type of clients (that’s a story for another time though) – that I realized how smart their plan was (the latter one).
From there, I started to develop my own process, then tested and refined it with each new project and each new launch until I had a process that worked.
So, here’s where a lot folks go wrong with how they think marketing works. And let me remind you before we dive in, the way you think something works is typically correct.
If you think marketing is stupid or unnecessary or something you tried once by attempting a single tip you read on some thought-leader website, then you’ll be 100% correct. However, if you assume that maybe the reason marketing isn’t working for you is because you’ve been thinking about it completely wrong, well then my friend, read on.
Marketing is a process
Marketing isn’t the same as telling people to “buy” or pitching what you’ve made. That’s only a singular portion of what marketing is, because: marketing is a damn process.
The final step of that process is asking people to buy what you’ve made. But unless you’ve done the other work to lead up to that step, it won’t be that productive of a step.
Marketing is simple(ish)
Understanding what marketing is, is simple. Applying what marketing is, is only complex in that it can require a lot of steps to do correctly.
But really, marketing is listening to what people want from you and then creating it. Step one: find an audience, step two: make them what they’re asking you to create.
It’s only made out to be complicated if someone is trying to sell you a marketing product. Even my own marketing course – it’s not complex or hard to understand at all – is just a series of stackable steps. I purposely made it and market it as simple.
Marketing requires trust and consistency
Being smart about marketing is simply using trust and empathy with a specific group of people by consistently communicating with them.
It’s no coincidence that I send out a weekly newsletter and my products sell well. Nor is it a coincidence that the Being Boss ladies have released over 100 full-length podcast episodes (and many more “mini”sodes) and make 6-figures in sponsorships per year.
In both cases we regularly communicate with and listen to our audience. We read the emails people send us, we do surveys for product ideas and spend our time completely immersed in the groups we serve.
Trust, like in any other aspect of life, comes from honesty and is built over time. It’s not built with a single sales pitch email or one carefully written landing page that a person sees once. It’s an ongoing relationship.
Yes, it takes work. But the result is being both mentally and financially sustained by what we create.
The smartest marketers spend time communicating with their audience even when they don’t have something to sell. Especially when they don’t have something to sell, staying top of mind with their audience only makes it easier to sell once they do.
Don’t just scratch marketings surface
A lot of people have a hard time with marketing because they only scratch the surface of it without an overall game plan or strategy.
Adding a popup to your site isn’t marketing, no more than adding share icons to your blog posts are a social media strategy.
Single tips on websites don’t do shit unless they fall into a bigger plan or process.
You can’t encourage signups by interrupting someone’s reading on your site unless you’ve got a good reason to. And regardless of how big or how many share icons you put with your content, if the content isn’t worth sharing by the specific people you wrote it for, no one’s going to click those buttons.
Marketing isn’t one thing that you try one time. It’s an entire process that needs to start when you have an idea for an audience you want to serve and doesn’t ever end unless you close shop.
Marketing needs to be measured
There’s no way to know if part of your process is doing well or failing unless you’ve got data to measure and then act on.
Just seeing a “sale” doesn’t paint the whole picture. Where did the sale come from? Social? Your newsletter? A direct link from another website? It’s hard to know where to put your time and efforts when you aren’t sure what’s currently paying off. Who on your email list already owns what you’re selling? You probably don’t want to pitch your product to previous buyers, especially if you’re offering a deep discount (like a black friday sale). Just last week I was sent an email from a really smart dude who reaches a list of 200,000 people with an offer to buy a $150 product on sale for $50 – the problem was I had bought it for $150 the day before. If I hadn’t gotten that email I wouldn’t have even known about the sale. If he had just segmented out previous buyers, there’d have been zero complaints.
Tracking who on my own list bought or didn’t buy something is the main part of my marketing launch strategy. It’s how I figure out what my best sales channels are. Same with knowing what calls to action produce the best results by A/B testing them.
For me, the way I created and sold products absolutely changed for the better when I started to measure everything. I was then able to figure out which of those measurements were important and which were useless or vanity metrics.
For example: having 100,000 on your mailing list might sound great, but if your open rate is 1% and your click rate is 0.00001%, then your list is pretty much useless (for non-mathys, that’s 1 person clicking per email). Or, you may have 50,000 followers on Instagram, but none of them buy anything you create. If it doesn’t help sell anything, then it’s just a number that looks good on (digital) paper.
Those are great vanity metrics that seem important but accomplish nothing. Unless you can take what you’ve measured and act on it in some meaningful way, all it will do is make you feel good (or badly).
Marketing isn’t pushing circles through square holes
Most people try really hard to push people towards buying what they make (like my first group of clients). I’m sure there are ways to do that, but it can be really hard and even feel defeating because you’ve assumed so many things and created a product based on those assumptions.
It’s easier to let people pull themselves towards what you create because they’ve been asking you for it for a while. Then you assume far less because people are telling you exactly what to make.
It’s so much easier to build a product or even a business around demand than build a product and then try to create demand for it.
To accomplish the former, it requires what I said earlier: trust and empathy. Trust in that people trust you enough to ask for your expertise/help – which happens when you talk to them often (typically through content you create). Then, because you’ve been talking to, listening and noticing what you audience has been saying, you’re empathetic towards their struggles and know exactly how to help.
Marketing is a rallying flag
Think of your own marketing plan as a proclamation.
You’re the ruler of your business, the king or queen if you will, so you get to make the rules. You get to set what’s acceptable or not-acceptable. You get to choose how far you go with creating urgency or using tactics.
Your business, your rules for marketing. You get to set the tone, style and methods for going through and creating your marketing plan with your audience.
What is marketing? Hopefully the above summed it up
That’s it. That’s why you may be wrong in how you’re thinking about marketing, and how it might be hurting your business. I was wrong when I started out too.
I assumed marketing wasn’t important because I had no idea what it really meant to market something.
Oh, and if you’re keen to learn more, check out my course called Grow Your Audience. If you’re a freelancer who’s thinking about products or a product-maker who’s struggling with products, then I can help. The course will walk you through a process you can use in your own business, in your own way/words, to learn how to use marketing correctly.
No shortcuts, no gimmicks, no bullshit. Just lessons, expertise and examples of how to grow your audience and make great products they’re begging you for.