Lately, I’ve been meeting two types of small business owners. One is inspired by the marketing strategy of large corporations and tries to reach as many people as possible, as automated as possible. Someone will catch on. The other tries to distance themselves from the mainstream. For them, marketing is an evil that a decent businessman will not get his hands dirty with. In my opinion, there is a third way, which I use myself and guide my clients along: authentic marketing.

Marketing, to me, is basically everything a company does. What products and services it offers, how it reaches out to customers, and how it treats its suppliers and employees. Without marketing, you can’t do business. Although it has a bad reputation, even marketing can be done in a way that you don’t have to be ashamed of yourself.

Such a trend is also called “soulful marketing” or “heart centered marketing”. What does it look like in practice?

Authentic marketing:

1. Sells useful products and services

Marketing has historically been “famous” for its ability to sell people meaningless things that they don’t really need. Water in plastic bottles that even people who have tap water at home buy. The baby cry analyzer. Sunglasses for dogs. Or all those disposable kitchen gadgets that you use once and then they just take up space in your cupboard.

Authentic marketing doesn’t invent what else a stupid consumer might spend money on. Instead, it helps the customer solve a real problem. Something that really bothers them. It sees business as a service. The products and services offered are set up to make the customer’s life better. For real and without advertising bullshit.

Utility also means sustainability. Authentic marketing promotes quality products that don’t fall apart after one use or the first wash. It cares about the origin of the raw materials and whether humans or animals have suffered during production. It does not produce unnecessary packaging and does not burden the planet with tons of plastic. It promotes things that are local, original and ecological.

2. Is based on mission and passion

The mission is one sentence that defines what the company does and what it’s purpose is. It defines WHY you do what you do. It has a strong idea behind it that you are willing to get up in the morning and work hard for. When you talk about it, you get carried away and maybe even get a little teary-eyed. It’s something you care about, something you literally burn for. You want to make a difference, leave a legacy.

All companies start with a strong mission. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be worth doing. But for a lot of them, it runs out over time. The enthusiasm wears off. The joy fades. The entrepreneur gets tired of routine and responsibilities, or the business grows so large that they lose access to the original resource.

Authentic marketing returns to its WHY. It puts it into everything it does. It constantly tells its customers about it. It guides their daily decisions. And it doesn’t hesitate to course correct when it strays from its original purpose.

3. Doesn’t lie or manipulate

Many commonly used marketing tools are based on lies, harassment and manipulation of people. The original price is crossed out, but the product was never sold at that price. A seemingly limited number of places, just to give the impression of scarcity. Aggressive telephone sales. Ubiquitous pop-ups. Remarketing that haunts you for weeks after you’ve bought the product.

There are other ways to do it. Personally, I consider content marketing to be the foundation. You prepare useful content that answers customers’ questions and helps them navigate the problem. Articles, videos, infographics, e-books.

Authentic marketing means being generous. Offering free information and useful tools. Being willing to help customers before they spend money with us. Telling your story and your WHY. Yes, sometimes it takes longer. Because instead of a one-time deal, you’re building a relationship.

4. Respects the customer

“Instead of considering the wants and needs of customers, companies are over-automating marketing to the point of constant consumer annoyance,” says marketing consultant Mark Schaefer.

“The heart, the soul, the truest pulse of marketing is vaporizing because our profession is turning into a glorified IT function… We are implementing strategies and tactics based on what statistically is supposed to work, instead of what customers really want,” Schaefer  writes in another article.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s perfectly fine to work with data in marketing. Just like doing market research or tracking website traffic. The problem is when the real person becomes an anonymous clump of data inside a sales funnel. Interpersonal communication turns into mere lead nurturing.

Authentic marketing doesn’t bother. It respects what the customer wants, and especially what they don’t want. It nurtures people instead of leads.

5. Comes from within

A lot of people are looking for a one-size-fits-all guide to marketing. A proven process that is guaranteed to work. As a result, they then spend their days doing things they should be doing according to a manual instead of what they actually want to do. Admittedly, I write those manuals, too. Still, I don’t think one method can work for everyone.

Each of us is unique. We each have a different set of knowledge, skills, and expertise. Different souls and different energies. Different opinions, attitudes, values and hobbies. Different definitions of success. And different biases and mindsets that we need to work on. Feeling weird about something may not be a weakness at all, but a competitive advantage. Business can be built on exactly what we don’t fit in.

Authentic marketing is magnetic. Our personality attracts customers and suppliers who feel the same way. The most important principle is not what the market wants and what would be easiest to make money on. But how to build a business where we can be ourselves.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash