How is it possible for me, a person who cannot possibly deny being a Marketing Professional™, to say honestly that the word marketing can still make me squeamish? I don’t know, but it does.

Like, when I see “marketing” in someone’s Twitter bio, 99% of the time it is a sign to me that I do not want to follow them. And when I go to conferences, I tend to avoid the sessions about marketing unless they clearly indicate they won’t be, well, gross.

Yes – I, too, grasp the fact that most marketing is depressingly gross. That’s because most of it is about amplifying fakeness. Spin-doctoring politicians. Supermodels airbrushed beyond a whiff of humanity. Patently unreal things touted as “real.” Beautiful, alluring promises for empty-shell realities.

Marketing, at its worst, is all of these things.

It doesn’t have to be, though. We’ve all seen examples of marketing that spoke to us, that carried with it the integrity and heart of the person, project, or organization it was representing.

And don’t you want to hear about it when a designer you love, a favourite shop, a lovely getaway spot or a brilliant writer is up to something interesting? Sure. So what’s the difference – and how can you promote yourself without inadvertently (or advertently, for that matter) becoming an icky, artificially-flavoured marketing machine?

Here are my personal guidelines. Maybe they’ll work for you, too.

1. Give More Than You Get.

This goes for every part of your offering that has any kind of value: Be generous – with your customer service, your product designs, your writing. When I think about the people and companies that trigger my ick factor, they come across as stingy.

They tweet about answers to problems, but you have to pay to read the full article (or tolerate endless pop-up advertisements for their e-books). You sign up for a workshop, and a third of the time you paid them for is spent on a sales pitch for their next event. They charge extra for WiFi. They certainly don’t send a handwritten thank you note.

The difference between welcome and unwelcome marketing is this: Icky marketing promises more than it delivers. Good marketing is honest, and leaves room for you to provide a little unexpected sugar on top.

2. Pull, Don’t Push.

We could probably make a lot of progress with all of this if we just deleted the word “marketing” in favour of something like “relationship building” or “community cultivation.” Marketing is all about connecting with your people.

And as in any relationship, you’ve got to do your share of active listening to be an attractive partner. Ask questions. Invite feedback. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and give them both the informationand the spacethey need to make the right decision for them.

Provide ways for people to stay in touch if they’re not ready to buy.

But don’t let the fear of seeming pushy stop you from doing any marketing at all. I’ve known people who made it so difficult for me to buy what they were selling that it was ridiculous. Do let me know what you have on offer. Do make it easy for me to buy it. Just be prepared to take “no” or “not yet” as an answer.

3. Charge Enough.

I hate being nickel-and-dimed. (Did I mention charging extra for WiFi? Yeah, I hate that.) I’m cool with you having different levels of offerings that include additional benefits. What I don’t want is to have to pay extra for every little benefit.

Charge me what you need to charge. Bundle everything in. Give me the real price. And stand in the value of what you’re offering.

Your e-book costs $150? All right, then.

75 minutes of your time is worth $500? I believe it.

I don’t need any more $99.99 price tags. I’m fine with $100. Let’s stop focusing on pennies and get real about value for money.

This may not seem like a marketing rule, but it is – because when you stop artificially lowering your price by making everything an add-on, you start having an honest conversation with your customers about value. And honestly communicating your value is real, honest marketing.


Those are my rules. I’m sure I’ve missed some important ones. Feel free to let me know about yours in the comments.