Marketing (especially in the beginning) can be very awkward for entrepreneurs and creatives. And, that awkwardness often gets in the way of talented, ambitious people becoming successful in their projects.
Here are some reasons why this happens and how to get around it...
Imagine someone gets a brilliant idea for a business, a book, a clothing line, etc. They pour themselves into the idea to make it great. Then, for the company or idea to succeed, it needs to get out into the world, so they move into the marketing phase.
Typically, one of the first groups people bring their idea to is their personal network. And, if you search for marketing advice, you'll see this recommendation absolutely everywhere.
"Reach out to friends and family."
“Tap into your existing network to create initial buzz about your idea."
"Use your personal and professional connections to get the word out."
Personal Networks Can Be a Minefield of Awkwardness
First, personal networks are rarely representative of the ideal target market. Imagine designing a streetwear brand and presenting the first collection of clothes to your 85-year-old grandmother. Even though she really loves and supports you, if the clothing isn't her style, her response will likely be full of confusion, skepticism, and long, painful pauses.
Carefully consider whether your personal connections are genuinely part of your target market. Does this person purchase similar products? If you didn’t know them personally, would you reach out to them for product feedback? Independent of your relationship, have they shown interest in this category?
If someone isn’t a part of your target market, then their response to your idea will more than likely be frustrating and lukewarm. Presenting your work to them won't result in the kind of enthusiasm you're hoping for, and it won't be representative of how the market will receive the product.
Secondly, your personal connections hold too much weight and meaning. Rejection or constructive criticism from a stranger is painful, but when it comes from a loved one, the hurt can be piercing. When entrepreneurs and creatives present ideas to friends and family, if reactions aren't glowing and supportive, it can crush their confidence and can drastically slow down progress. Expectations run too high and connections are too powerful, resulting in incorrect conclusions about the work.
And lastly, early stage business ideas, particularly those that are infused with creativity, can be very personal and important. Putting new, creative ideas out into the marketplace requires a level of vulnerability and bravery that many people don't consider, meaning presenting your creative projects to friends and family is a high-stakes gamble.
Ultimately, this is a recipe for awkwardness, one that will rarely deliver useful information about how your idea will fare in the right markets.
The rule: in the beginning, focus your marketing efforts only on your target customers and ignore everybody else.
Unsolicited Marketing Can Be Awkward if You Don’t Have a Plan
When most entrepreneurs think of uncomfortable pitches, what comes to mind are instances of unsolicited marketing. Unsolicited marketing involves approaching potential customers and presenting your work to them without them asking to hear from you. This includes cold-calling, advertising, direct mail, and other outreach to new markets.
Approaching friends and family with business or creative ideas is a good example of unsolicited marketing. Your personal circle probably didn’t ask to hear the details of your business venture (and, even if they did, they probably weren’t asking to hear about it in depth or given a full pitch.)
Solicited marketing, on the other hand, is customer-driven. For instance, a potential customer might sign up for a presentation from your company or a product demo. They might subscribe to promotional emails or follow your brand on social media.
In cases of solicited marketing, someone is asking to receive information about your work. They expect to see marketing materials and are interested in buying from you. Because the customer is anticipating the marketing, there’s far less awkwardness all around.
Unsolicited marketing is usually the kind of marketing that entrepreneurs resist. And, it’s unavoidable, particularly in the beginning. To get a company off the ground, you have to be willing to reach out to potential customers who’ve never heard of the brand.
But, if you have a plan, you can avoid a lot of the discomfort. There are 2 ways to make unsolicited marketing less awkward.
First, look for places where your audience either has some expectation of seeing unsolicited pitches or expects to be exposed to new ideas and new people.
Navigating unsolicited vs. solicited marketing strategies is ultimately about managing expectations. If someone isn’t expecting a sales pitch, it’s often irritating. But, there are plenty of spaces where people are open to hearing from new brands, seeing new products, and networking with new people. They might not be explicitly requesting information from your brand (solicited marketing), but in these environments, you don’t have to worry much about awkwardness because people, to some degree, expect to see it.
Consider advertisements, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing commercials during TV shows, ads on social media, printed ads in publications, and ads before most YouTube videos. While someone may not be asking to see a commercial, it’s expected in that media so it’s less of a bother.
Or, consider meeting new people. If someone tried to connect with you and develop a friendship in the aisle of a grocery store, that would likely be jarring and unwelcome. If they then started talking to you about their business idea, you’d likely walk away. But, this exact behavior is expected at an industry event or conference, so new connections and business deals are often made with no awkwardness at all.
Both online and offline, your customers have moments in their day when they expect to hear from new brands or meet new people. If you’re worried about bothering them or creating awkwardness, focus on these places first.
(Bonus tip: look for moments when people are bored or idle, folks are more open to hearing about a brand when they aren’t in the middle of a task.)
The second way to reduce awkwardness in unsolicited marketing is instant gratification.
What is it that your customer really wants? And, how can you give them a little bit of that during your interaction?
Consider the weekend environment at Costco, vendors set up shop at the end of the aisles and give away free samples of their products. Customers love it. They expect to be offered samples (they are open to seeing new brands) and sampling food gives people instant gratification. They know exactly what the product tastes like and can make an informed purchase decision (rather than taking a chance on a new product).
Instant gratification doesn’t have to mean giving away free products. It can mean offering tips or advice, making an introduction for someone, providing a quick in-person quote, or even just connecting through a great conversation.
Think about what your customer might want and look for ways to deliver that with instant gratification. Even if it’s something small, this is one of the best ways to market your brand and make a memorable first impression.
Marketing can be awkward. And, conventional wisdom suggests that if you’re driven enough, you’ll just push through it, tolerate it, or get over it. But, mitigating the awkwardness is a better option, an option that will allow you to market your brand confidently, even if you’re just starting out.