Several years ago I was talking to a friend about marketing and she said, “I was struggling with how to market my business, but one day I had a breakthrough. I just realized that duh, marketing is just about _________!”
And I totally expected her next word to be “focus”. (It wasn’t.)
Focus was my breakthrough word/concept that helped me “get” marketing – you have a niche, you have a great product, you know who you are, you take a stand, you stay in one spot, you don’t try to be everything to everyone, and then your perfect customers recognize you and are attracted to you, and your non-perfect customers are repelled instead of becoming your worst headaches.
But no. Her next word was “relationships”.
“Marketing is just about relationships! And I know how to do that!”.
She was excited.
I was nonplussed.
(Can we pause to celebrate the awesomeness of the word “nonplussed”? It sounds like it is about math, but really it means “filled with bewilderment”. Ok, thank you. Word moment over.)
Relationships? Huh? How is marketing about relationships?
See, I think of marketing as a technical problem. You want to (a) get your product in front of your target customers and (b) induce warm fuzzy feelings in them about your company so they want to buy from you. (And of course (c) have an awesome product so they tell all their friends. But that should really go without saying.)
These are problems to be solved, to me. A series of tasks – getting clear on who you are, developing your unique offering, explaining it clearly so your perfect customers can recognize you, figuring out where your customers hang out or look for your services, and being a presence there.
It had never occurred to me to think of marketing as “relationship-building”.
But then after that, I saw it everywhere. “Building relationships with your customers”, “Marketing is all about relationships”.
And I would always think, “But, but, but…my company does alright, and I don’t think of it that way at all…”. Should I be?
Today I finally got some insight into what this is all about.
The common denominator between my idea (“it’s all about focus”) and my friend’s idea (“it’s is all about relationships”) is that they are both about communication.
Mine is about communicating ideas clearly, and hers is about communicating in a way that builds relationships.
Many personality systems make a basic distinction between a task-oriented communication style or personality vs a relationship-oriented communication style or personality.
Task-oriented means you primarily care about how things get done–do they meet expectations, are they on time and correct? You tend to give blunt, direct, and immediate feedback when something is wrong (because you care deeply about the task getting done well). No feedback means you did it right – you give praise if something exceeds expectations, but usually not if it was just the way it was supposed to be. If you make a mistake you correct it immediately and try to make sure it didn’t affect the project as a whole. Doing a good job and not making errors is of primary importance to you.
Relationship-oriented means you primarily care about the people getting things done, and the relationships between the people, and that everyone feels good and is OK with each other. You like to give and receive positive, affirmative feedback and tend to apologize when you make a mistake and worry that you have let the other person down. You are more mistake-tolerant in others and try to be very gentle when offering critical feedback (because you care deeply about the other persons feelings and the relationship being OK).
Now, like introversion vs extroversion and other personality factors, this is one of those “it’s a spectrum” thingies where there is a line going from one extreme to the other and a slider bar in the middle somewhere indicating your personal combination of styles. Also, you probably end up being more one or the other in certain situations or with certain people. It’s not black and white.
As you can probably guess, men tend to be more of the first and women more of the second. But that also depends a lot on the person’s culture and upbringing. For instance, I am female and way more of the first (but I was raised by my dad and two older brothers so I guess that explains that).
And. you can also probably guess that these two style differences lead to all kinds of conflicts and understanding them helps immensely with managing and training employees and interacting with people in general. As well as the whole, you know, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” thing.
But that’s not where I’m going with this.
I want to stick with how this applies to your own personal marketing style. Because the world is full of marketing gurus telling you “how it is” and making it seem really really urgent that you follow their advice. And read their book. And go to their seminars. But I think you can learn a lot by looking inside, understanding yourself and your natural inclinations, and affirming them. And that’s free.
Knowing where you are on the scale between task-oriented and relationship-oriented communication styles can clue you in to which marketing strategies would work best for you and how to approach them – and let you take some marketing advice with a grain of salt until you find the approach that feels natural to you and you can really run with.
For example, one of my main marketing strategies has been search engine optimization. I look at it as a technical problem – it works great for me because it matches my task-orientation.
However, you could also use relationship building skills in SEO.
I won’t deny that you need a technical person to do some on-page optimization or give you some hints about the technical side of things. But getting great incoming links by establishing relationships with other companies and other sites or by interacting with your customers on a blog – those are all great ways of building “link juice” which helps immensely with your rankings too.
On the other hand, if you are more of a task-oriented person, you could also start a blog for link juice, but you could focus more on making it a really interesting or useful resource that people are excited to link to all on their own, rather than being as focused on building relationships with your readers or other bloggers.
There are many different ways to market, and it’s working against yourself to try to do one that doesn’t fit your style.
Even if some marketing guru or another made a million doing it. Even if someone you respect says “It’s all about …”.
It’s never “all” about anything.
When people get excited about their strategies, marketing or otherwise, all it means is that they found something that worked really well for them. So celebrate with them! But remember that you are unique and something entirely different might be just the thing that works for you.
I have absolutely not background in marketing and the topic is daunting. Everything I read (and most ads I see) simply doesn’t gel with my style. I would prefer to try something that is more “me”, but I’ve wondered if it would really work….
My product is a reflection of me, so, surely the copy should be too.
Perhaps I simply give it a go.
I think authenticity is your single biggest marketing asset as a small business owner – regardless if you take a more idea-oriented or relationship-oriented approach. Give it a shot – we are all out here making it up as we go along. I certainly am – I have no formal training in marketing or business or any of the rest of the stuff I do. I learned what I’ve learned mostly by reading online, talking to people, experimenting, and thinking about it. I have read some books but it’s not the dense MBA type material – ick. “Attracting Perfect Customers” is a book I got some good concepts from. Follow what pulls you, you will be lead to what you need.
When I look at the web design jobs I’ve signed customers up for, I think it’s always been when I am just being truthfully who I am. Rather than worrying about making a good impression, or being who they want me to be, or “closing the deal”. Just being truthful about who I am and what my skills are. And surrendering the outcome to the Universe.
So essentially when I “market” who I truly am, that’s when I get the business. Hmmm 🙂 I think I am agreeing with what you said “I think you can learn a lot by looking inside, understanding yourself and your natural inclinations, and affirming them.” I’ve gotten in the habit of practicing something like this before I visit with potential customers.
Heya. I really like how you’ve made your values part of your branding; I think that’s essentially what I’m saying here. On the spiritual level, it’s about alignment and attraction.
Huh, I like that idea of a practice of affirming your values before meeting with a client. I really like that!
Bill Weaver says
I stumbled on your blog from a reply you made on Mark Silver’s a while back…I like the way you say what you say!! Especially, the significance of a spectrum or continuum, because nothing is always one thing the world is made up of flux. Seeing marketing or anything else for that matter as a one size fits all thing or “right way” disregards our uniqueness and pretty much furthers the old myths.
This lesson of learning the continuum and that I am often more than one place on the continuum has been a long journey…your post added another level of clarity. I teach and write about marketing for artists who for the most part are repulsed by “business” for a variety of reasons, you just helped me add more to my vocabulary.
The more we can see that spectrum/continuum the dimmer those floating neon “right-wrong” signs grow and the fewer folks see and live by them.
Thanks it was a great read!
Heather Schwartz says
Yes, yes, and yes!!! I love how you think (and your humor, too!). Thanks, Emma!