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Be yourself – whatever that means

Thoughts on the marketing process

I’ve been interviewing other writers about their approaches to marketing 1) because I was curious and when I’m curious about something I like to ask lots of other people about it and 2) because learning about marketing over the last year has been a real journey and I wanted to hear other, contradictory opinions – to challenge some of the paradigms.

The Quality-Bar: not a new kind of Quality Street

Let me repeat, in case you didn’t read my other posts (shame on you), that there’s a quality-bar issue here. No that’s not a new kind of Quality Street. Your product has to be good enough to be worthy of marketing to an audience. I’m not talking about selling stuff that’s rubbish here.

The trouble with ‘being yourself’

I have realised much over this last year of being self-employed, but one big thing I have learnt about marketing is this, and it applies to individuals and to organisations: you have to be yourself. Now I know that ‘be yourself’ doesn’t stand up to philosophical readings, and frankly, the phrase itself doesn’t even make logical sense, and presents a puzzle to anyone who has more than one (conflicting) cultural identity – for example, when I’m confronted with a form that asks me about a disability, I often have to pick one because it won’t let me ‘be’ more than one kind of disabled. However, idiomatically, surrounded by its cultural contexts, the phrase ‘be yourself’ is a thoroughly recognizable one, and that’s what I’m talking about here.

If you try faking this when you’re marketing something – again whether you’re an organisation or an individual writer or creator – it doesn’t work.

Why ‘be yourself’ is hard for the under-represented

‘Be yourself’ is hard if you fall into a group that in some cases is ‘other’ to the rest of the society or culture you live in. My main ‘others’ are disabled and queer. Sometimes ‘woman’ makes me an ‘other’, sometimes ‘lesbian mum’, sometimes it’s my body being read as ‘inadequate’ for the space I’m in. I was brought up white but there are occasions when being brown means people read me as ‘other’ (or on rarer occasions has meant people have claimed me as part of their own culture). I could go on (see my PhD thesis for more 🙂 ). I’ve been told a lot of times not to ‘be myself’, so much so that 1) it makes me default to hiding and 2) it can make me wonder how to be myself authentically, in a world that pushes back.So it takes some bravery, and you get to decide how much of yourself you want to share.

Don’t be fake

One way of understanding this is to think of it the other way round: don’t be fake. Write in your own voice. Talk about your own experiences. Why is this to do with marketing? Because, to use the title of a Seth Godin book, to market you need to ‘find your tribe’ – people who may or may not be like you, but definitely people who get you.

Find people who get you

Look at it this way. Who makes up the potential audience for your book? So your first answer might be ‘everyone’. Clearly, that’s not true, not everyone can read. Not everyone will like your book. So you’re going to have to narrow it down, you’re going to have to identify the people most likely to like your book. And those are 1) people who like similar books 2) people who get you.

Read the marketing interviews here

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