When we look at the skillsets that make up “marketing,” we’re actually talking about many distinct creative and technical facilities; copywriting, building out “funnels,” analyzing FB ad performance, creating landing pages, writing value-building content, creating partnership and affiliate opportunities, negotiating offline ad buys, designing brand graphic assets, leveraging referrals and word-of-mouth, etc.
And I’m the first to admit, I’m a dedicated generalist. I’m pretty damn good at some of these competencies, and I’m flat out crappy at others which I outsource.
However if there is one thing that MFF (and yours truly) has done pretty well, it’s building a standout brand that attracts the right kind of person for our business.
People that encounter MFF’s brand tend to remember MFF. They also know pretty quickly if we’re going to be a potential love match. And since a lot of success in marketing is making a lasting impression that clearly defines what you’re all about, it’s fair to attribute a lot of our success to this “differentiation.”
As someone who will always consider myself an artist, I’m proud to say we’ve done it by being unapologetically ourselves in service of a very specific audience.
In today’s post, I want to talk to you about a guiding theory of marketing I use to “steer” the ship, and more broadly think about how different people/ businesses approach marketing.
In order to help you visualize this… I’m going to show you a matrix.
(Yay! A MATRIX!)
I’m going to briefly describe each the four quadrants, then discuss the sweet spot. Finally, I’ll offer some practical suggestions for putting this into practice.
The Indulgent Artist
Indulgent Artists do a great job of honoring their true nature and what they authentically care about. They’re gifted at this, because ultimately it’s all about THEM. These are business leaders/ marketers who only care about themselves and their personal interests and passions.
Sometimes Indulgent Artists can accidentally create a business, but it’s indulgent as hell because it doesn’t take into account the needs or desires of others. They are the masters of “personality branding” gone horribly wrong. There is little to no consideration for the audience.
The Sell-Out is the domain of the world’s worst internet marketers.
This is pure clickbait sales at it’s finest. Sell-Outs study copyediting and headlines and masterfully split test everything. Whichever leads to more sales is always the best choice. There’s no consideration for long term brand reputation. After all, the quantative numbers say their tactics are working. And who cares about the long haul, they’re making money now!
By definition, Sell-Outs aren’t motivated by a passion for serving people in a particular way, or contributing to a greater social good, or creating a world-class product or service. Who cares if refunds are at 20% if it leads to an overall greater number of sales? It’s just about making that coin.
The High-Minded Artist
High-Minded Artists are the higher integrity version of the Indulgent Artist.
Once again, there’s not much if any consideration for the audience. But unlike Indulgent Artists, High-Minded Artists aren’t all about themselves; they’re about the work. They’re so laser-focused on creating something truly great, there’s minimal room for considering the opinion of others. The High-Minded Artist simply wants to be fully self-expressed and give their art or service or product to the world.
In the world of non-commercial art, this can actually be an important mindset. What they lose in immediate commercial viability, they often make up for in innovation and pushing boundaries.
The Servant is the ultimate martyr.
Like Sell-Outs, the feelings, values, or passions of Servants don’t play a role in their marketing. It’s only about being of service to their audience.
And from a certain perspective, there’s a lot of honor in being a Servant. You can definitely build a big business this way. And based on the size of the business or the nature of the industry, one could argue 100% focus on the client isn’t the worst way to go (i.e. Amazon).
However, practically speaking it can lead to “faceless” marketing without any of the humanizing elements of personal branding. If you don’t have a genuine passion for the industry that serves your clients, you aren’t bringing your full self to your work.
The Sweet Spot
The Sweet Spot is the perfect lovechild between the High-Minded Artist and the Servant.
When you find the Sweet Spot, there’s room in your brand for both you AND the audience you’re called to serve. In the Sweet Spot, you both matter.
You can’t be truly world class at something you’re not actually very interested in. And you can’t be a truly human business without bringing your personal beliefs, values, and quirks into play.
So your inner High-Minded Artist and and their commitment to self-expression is a key element of the Sweet Spot.
NOTE: This is a bit more obvious when you’re talking about a founder, but less appreciated is that “bringing your full self to work” needs to continue as you create an internal culture with team members joining your mission.
Likewise, you can’t create a world-class business that’s not committed to truly serving someone. When you’re in the Sweet Spot, you never forget the self-expression of the High-Minded Artist needs to be in generous service of a specific audience, or “avatar.” You’re not creating your art purely for your own benefit, or to seek some objective sense of greatness. You’re making it for someone. You’re a Servant. And you’re looking to make a genuine human connection with those clients that believe what you believe.
By its definition, the Sweet Spot is a dance between who you really are and who you’re called to serve.
So just how do you find this Sweet Spot?
While this is clearly something that’s beyond an algorithm, there are two obvious considerations. One, you have to know yourself in a very deep way. And two, you have to know who you’re looking to serve in a very deep way.
While there are all sorts of ways to approach the first piece, a great start is to have a clearly defined set of personal values that guide your business. The more clarity you have around what you believe in and what you stand for, the more specifically you’ll be able to make a stand for it and reflect that in your marketing.
Importantly, this is as much about knowing who you are NOT.
To get you started, brainstorm three to five things you’ve seen in your industry that piss you off or make you uncomfortable. On the other side of that frustration is a personal value that’s being violated.
For instance, if you find yourself getting irritated when you see someone treating their clients in a patronizing manner, you may have a personal value around kindness or humility. Once you’re clear on what you stand for, there’s an opportunity to be more deliberate in making sure this value is reflected in your marketing. The most obvious example would be writing a blog post about why you believe so strongly in a given standard of behavior. An example of this would be my In Defense of Ridiculousness blog post from 2012 on the MFF blog.
The second piece of the equation requires having a deeply-detailed psychological profile of the audience you feel called to serve. Commonly called an “avatar,” there are different ways to approach getting clarity around your dream client.
To keep it simple, create a three to five page document that describes your dream client in painstaking detail. If you have a team (and work with anyone else on your marketing), it’s crucial you’re all on the same page about this dream client.
Make a list of every relevant piece of biographical information for your dream client. Where they live? Are they married? Do they have kids? If so, what ages? What’s their income level? What magazines do they read? What TV shows do they watch? What’s their occupation? Where are they from originally? What did they study in college? What are their hobbies, etc.?
And remember, we also want the “psychographic” data.
At it’s best, marketing speaks to the unspoken needs, fears, and desires of your audience. What words do they use when they talk about addressing the problem your business exists to solve? Who do they talk to about it? Where do they sometimes get in their own way? What are they afraid to say out loud about this problem? What are their secret dreams? What existing strengths will they be able to leverage in solving this problem? If they had a magic wand to fix the problem, what would they do?
Once you’ve got this document, make sure review it on a regular basis and compare it against the words, images, and platforms you use for your marketing.
PRO TIP: Most businesses benefit from some strategy to acquire the emails of potential clients. The most common approach is to create high-value “lead magnet” that you build a landing page for and promote on social media; a free report, a checklist, a calendar of some kind, etc.
The path to creating a lead magnet that really works and draws in your dream clients is by getting crystal clear on just who your dream client is. Not only will it help build out the audience for the ad if you’re using a platform like Facebook, but it will allow you to make sure your lead magnet solves a simple but specific problem for the exact kind of person you want to work with.
None of this exploration will release you from the need to execute the more tactical elements of executing a marketing strategy.
You will still benefit from a marketing and content calendar. You still need to learn and master the technical elements of the various platforms available to you. Most platforms will require an understanding of the specific nuances, as well as the ability to craft a compelling benefit-rich headline and all the other foundational elements of classical marketing. And yes, tracking clicks matter, and you should definitely split test and track whenever possible.
But if you’re looking to build a business that has legs, your brand reputation matters. And the best way to build a thriving human brand is by “being more who you really are” in service of a specific audience.