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How to be successful at marketing – without selling your soul

“As an authentic and sensitive person whose business is about helping people, I don’t trust marketing – it feels like the opposite of all that.”

“When I look at what others have to do to promote their businesses online and in social media, I cringe. It’s so cheesy, pushy and self-promotional – no, it’s not for us.”

If I could put aside €5 every time I hear someone telling me that marketing is not for them, I’d be able to go to that luxury wellness retreat in Mexico every year. Or become a full member of Tracy Anderson studios in NYC. Or both.

As a marketing consultant working with purpose-driven small businesses, too often the first conversation that we have is about me trying to convince them that marketing is not a dirty word. That it is possible to stay true to your values and keep your integrity while actively marketing your business. And unfortunately, quite often I’m met with disbelief.

Bad marketing is everywhere

Marketing has a reputation problem. Especially among those who are mission-driven in their work. People in the health and wellness space – whose life purpose is helping others – usually don’t feel comfortable using some cheap tricks and pushy tactics to persuade their audience to buy. And very often they believe that this is what marketing is all about. 

They believe that marketing is about persuasion and tricking people into paying for stuff that they may not even need. After all, this is how the advertising industry has worked for years. It’s also how many of those online marketing “gurus” that they see in their social media feeds tell them to approach marketing: Always be selling. Add those annoying pop-ups everywhere. Get people’s email addresses in exchange for anything, valuable or not. Do everything that the algorithm wants you to do. Yes, it may irritate some, but it can work. So stop overthinking it and get out there and sell, sell, sell…

Marketing that doesn’t feel right is risky

With this kind of marketing all around us, it’s easy to believe that this is how it has to be done. Especially if the people you think of as experts are teaching and promoting such tactics. So you just give up, bite the bullet and join the online crowd constantly shouting about their products and services via automated messages in every possible channel. Using the same “brilliant hacks” and templates. 

But it doesn’t feel right. And more often than not, it’s not really working either. The countless hours spent creating and posting content, setting up funnels and sequences, implementing all the tricks in the playbook bring little return on investment. Yes, you get some likes and follows, sometimes even some leads – but no new customers.

In the end, you get disappointed and decide that “marketing doesn’t work”, or at least it isn’t working for you. You might even decide to give up and stop marketing altogether. Which means you will not be able achieve the impact that you could have had with some good marketing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. And the solution is simpler than you think:

Be more human

We as people have not changed that much, despite all the amazing technologies we have at our disposal. We still connect with real people, we act on emotions, we resonate with fundamental human truths. As the old marketing adage goes: “we buy from people that we know, like and trust”.

And there are many genuine, intelligent marketers who understand this. Who know that the key to successful marketing is not mastering some sequences and algorithms, but authentically connecting people who can truly benefit from your help. Letting them discover what you have to offer, so that they can decide for themselves if this is something they want in their lives. Without being “tipped and tricked” into it. 

Good marketing is about respectfully starting conversations and building genuine relationships with your customers. If you apply the same empathy to marketing that you are applying to your other health and wellness work, everything will fall into a place. Marketing will become more intuitive.

Don’t just blindly follow the gurus

Before you say it sounds a bit too idealistic and wishy washy, let me clarify. Marketing is a craft, a discipline with a set of principles to follow and data to consider. But it also has to have a soul.

There are things to know, techniques to learn, strategic frameworks to apply. But this can all be done in a way that feels right, and comes from a place of integrity.

Sometimes all it takes is the courage to think for yourself. To question the algorithm. To take some calculated risks, to make non-obvious choices. To take the bold decision and try something different, because your intuition and your deep understanding of your customers tells you so. To experiment. It’s about looking at the data, but also applying some critical thinking, and trusting your gut.

Most of all, good marketing is about thinking of and empathising with the real person at the receiving end of your communications. And remembering that these are intelligent people, not some mindless “leads” or “eyeballs” that will buy anything just because someone’s funnel sequence decided that that’s what they should do next.

The worst sin that bad marketers are committing is not respecting their customers’ intelligence. Instead, they employ some cheap tricks, pseudo neuromarketing hacks and all that bullshit. Most people can really see through it – and even if they initially buy, they may then feel fooled and never come back. You can’t build a lasting and trusting relationship this way.

How to be more human – and more effective – in marketing

Here are some simple, quite intuitive first steps to get you started on the journey towards marketing that is human-centred and aligned with your values:

1. Observe and think for yourself. Try to to see through the bullshit, and look for what resonates. Find some companies whose marketing makes you feel good and resonates with you as a consumer. Analyse what they are doing. In the same way, take note of the tactics that feel spammy or jarring for you. If you are not falling for those tricks yourself, why should your audience? 

2. Practice empathy. Every time you use some marketing “hack”, imagine yourself as the person at the receiving end of it. Would you be happy or annoyed? Or think of meeting someone from your target audience at a dinner at a friend’s house – would you feel proud or embarrassed to admit that it was you behind that message or campaign they received?

3. Remember it’s about human-to-human connection. Think of your marketing communications as an ongoing conversation, not just a series of one-off campaigns. Campaigns are useful and help your planning, but each should be designed as a two-way interaction with your audience. Make them participatory and accept that you cannot be 100% in control of the outcome.

4. Learn more about human-centred marketing. If there is only one marketing book that you have time (or patience) for, I recommend Mark Schaefer’s “Marketing Rebellion”. I promise it’ll be an entertaining and enlightening read, with a potential to transform the way you think about marketing forever. 

The subtitle of Mark’s book: “The most human company wins” is a true secret to good marketing. Even if you don’t read the whole thing, memorise it, print it out, make it your motto.

It’s that simple and that difficult at the same time.

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Anna Zgadzaj

Anna Zgadzaj

Anna Zgadzaj is a Digital Marketing Strategist with over 15 years of international experience and a passion for marketing that is authentic, human-centred and data-informed. She founded MarketingWell to help small health and wellness brands grow online in a way that feels right and brings real results. Learn more
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Anna Zgadzaj

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What started as my personal journey to wellness ended up giving me a new purpose in life, and led to a pivot in my career. This is my personal story behind MarketingWell.

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