As creatives, we are pretty savvy about what advertising looks like. We can feel advertising trying to sneak up on us in social media. We are not fooled by branded content. Hell, its most of our jobs to create it. We know that traditional marketing has morphed into a much subtler animal. Not so much a bull anymore, but a slippery snake that wants to charm us with stories, and visuals, pulling away at our heart and sentimentality. We know that at the end of the day, the beautifully crafted imagery is still geared to quietly whisper to us, “BUY”.
Our aversion to advertising is well founded, as we are still constantly bombarded with garish tactics and near psychological warfare ploys by mainstream media and marketing. It is hard to tell an honest campaign from fluff.
With all this in mind it seems that many of us with start-ups and small businesses have gone almost cold turkey on marketing as we know it. We have come to believe that there is something inherently deceptive about advertising, marketing, and to some extent, selling. Our community, in theory should embrace us and support us, and our work if it is relevant and contributory to a better quality of life through our product or service.
This is true, but even within the constraints of ethical and sustainable business there is still a lot of saturation. Everyday a new bootstrap start up, or small business opens up with the hopes of creating something better for their community, and existing companies are ever growing. There is still a heavy burden on any business owner to get the message out and be heard. Without investing the effort in communicating the stories of our work, we may be doing a disservice to ourselves, and even to potential customers that would love to know about us. In an effort to seem authentic have we pushed too hard on the breaks? Is it possible to grow a brand in the current marketplace to a sustainable place without having to push a little, or even a lot? Have we gone too soft on the soft sell? It is worth taking a look.
Imagine you have small, made in USA, environmentally sustainable, artisanal bakery that is using all organic and locally sourced ingredients. You are running your Instagram, and Twitter accounts yourself along with your accounting, and doing almost all of the baking. You are going to the local farmer’s markets, and craft fairs, and things do well enough for you to get a physical space to work from. But all of a sudden business takes a hit. You are not sure exactly why you know you have to get people in the door to keep things running.
Just running your social media when you get around to it may not be enough to keep your business in the buzz. At the same time, it feels “forced” to constantly post and tweet, and hashtag when you would rather be developing new recipes and doing what you love. Here is the dilemma that many of us face when our organic growth has gotten us to a good place, but variables outside of our control effect our business. For others it may seem that the light touch isn’t getting us where we want to be.
You’ve got to have a voice in the world, and you have to make sure it is heard but being ethical in how you do so is paramount. First, ask yourself why you are creating a piece of content or material. You should always be striving to inform people of your cause and business purpose, never to create a false impression. For frequency defer to your own email blasts. What feels natural for you and what feels like overkill can be a good compass for how your audience will perceive your contact.
Do not try to compensate for low sales with being too overly aggressive in trying to get the word out. Instead, contact your best customers or strongest supporters with a personal message. Ask them to help you get the word out and if it feels right, offer a small incentive. They will appreciate your forthcomingness about your business and will be open to helping out because they want to see you succeed. Their referral or direct support will go a lot further than any expensive campaign that you could put together to pitch yourself to a new audience.
Transparency is the most important key. The more open and honest you can be about your story and business, the more it will resonate with your community. This resonance is what all this branded content is about in the first place, simply telling a story.
It is absolutely possible to grow your business, push through the noise and get to where you want to be in an ethical way. To be honest, it is not even an option.